Beach cleanup events always amaze me. I'm happy to say our first Mission Possible: Clean the Bay Day was no exception but perhaps exceeded any expectations I had for the afternoon. Created in partnership with SeaWorld, the event was developed to takle water quality issues in Mission Bay through debris removal, an area we all agreed needed attention.
Kicking off from South Shores Park boat ramp in Mission Bay, 149 volunteers woke up exceptionally early on a Saturday and set out by foot, kayak, and boat to do their part in keeping our water clean. While most of the volunteers worked from land, two kayakers from the community came out to collect debris further from shore. San Diego Coastkeeper's 19' Boston Whaler, Clean Sweep, joined the event as well, alongside two SeaWorld vessels.
While most beach cleanups tend to bring out the "best of the best" in San Diego, this was one to remember. These volunteers included families with small children, high school clubs, friends and coworkers. One group was there to celebrate a birthday, with her gift request being that they attend the cleanup with her. "Lauren's Present", as they called themselves, went on to win SeaWorld Tickets and a penguin encounter for collecting the most cigarette butts. For those who are wondering, they collected 200 cigarette butts.
It's going to be difficult to top the work our volunteers did that day. In just a few hours, they collected 430 pounds of debris. For those having a hard time visualizing that, it's the weight of a young male sea lion. By weight, this is the most debris collected at any San Diego Coastkeeper event this year. The next closest was just over 200 pounds removed by 236 volunteers in Oceanside.
Many of the 9,060 items were what we usually see at beach cleanups but in larger quantities than we've seen this year on beaches. 430 plastic bags, 1,582 cigarette butts, 974 plastic food wrappers and nearly 500 glass bottles and fragments topped the list.
It was truly a collaborative event, with SeaWorld and the US Coast Guard joining us and supporting a phenominal effort by the San Diego community. Thanks to SeaWorld, 100 participants returning bags of trash, were rewarded with a ticket to the park, and several groups, like "Lauren's Present," walked away with top honors in special categories including "Bring Your Own Supplies" and "Most Unusual Item." The award for "Most Trash Collected" went to an outstanding group from Poway High School's Surf Club, hauling in 40 pounds of trash and earning SeaWorld tickets and dolphin encounters.
Cub Scout Pack 1209 Den 4 used the event to teach their scouts about the "leave no trace behind" policy. Collecting five pounds in their bag, one parent explained how amazing it was that so many small items, like plastic and styrofoam, added up to be so much. Couldn't have said it better myself.
While San Diego Coastkeeper looks forward to a repeat event next year, we hope that those enjoying Mission Bay throughout the year do their part to "leave no trace," just like the Cub Scouts. Just like each piece of trash adds up quickly, so do individual actions. Help us set a new record next year, making Mission Possible: Clean the Bay our first cleanup where marine debris is nowhere to be found.
San Diego Coastkeeper Education and Marine Debris Manager Alicia Glassco caught up with her friend, Miriam Goldstein, chief scientist on the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) and PhD student at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, to get the latest scientific information on marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre. Coastkeeper works closely with scientists to ensure that we are up to date with the best available science in order to educate and inform the public, policy decision makers and industries.
There has been lots of media attention around the "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch," but there is currently little scientific information about the composition, extent and effects of marine debris. With a desire to find answers to these questions, the SEAPLEX voyage ventured out into the North Pacific Ocean Gyre to gain further insight on the plastics problem.
Alicia: Good morning! It was great to see you at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference! Are you working on publishing some of your research this year?
Miriam: Yes, I am working on publishing our research. In fact, the first paper from SEAPLEX came out in the Marine Ecology Progress Series last June. It's by Pete Davison and Rebecca Asch and its on fish ingestion of plastic particles.
Alicia: Great! Sounds like you are making great progress – this paper should complement the publication from Algalita last year. It’s important to get different perspectives and new data sets on topics like these many of our members and volunteers are concerned about plastic entering the food chain.
Miriam: Absolutely - we all care about our oceans and need as much as information as possible to figure out solutions.
I should note that Pete and Rebecca's paper looked at plastic found in fish stomachs not at toxins. Their results found evidence of plastic waste in more than 9 percent of stomachs of fish. Based on this rate of ingestion, they estimated that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons per year.
Alicia: Wow, that’s incredible! It must have been hard work to trying to figure that out. One of the reasons Coastkeeper is working so hard to reduce plastic pollution is because those smaller pieces that seem to "disappear" are not gone forever. I know at your SEAPLEX cruise you found a lot of these little flecks thousands of miles off shore. Did you calculate a density of plastic for the area of the North Pacific Gyre?
Miriam: We found that density in the North Pacific Central Gyre varies a LOT. There can be 10 times more plastic in one area than in a similar area just a few miles away. This is probably because of oceanographic forces like the wind mixing the upper part of the ocean or small currents bringing particles together in certain places.
Alicia: Commenting on fish eating plastic: Did you ever see that Colbert Report interview with Charles Moore? Colbert said "Well, if plastic lasts forever, and you are what you eat, and the fish are eating plastic, does that mean they're going to live forever?"
Miriam: Hahaha. Yes I did see that. To be all serious and boring, the fish that are eating plastic (lanternfish, called myctophids by scientists) don't live very long naturally. It's hard to be a tasty little fish in the great big ocean.
Alicia: Physical oceanography rules the oceans! I think its great that so many disciplines are coming together to address the issue of marine debris. I also appreciate all you're doing to help Coastkeeper with making sure our science information is on track. Coastkeeper works hard to communicate our local issues and how San Diego contributes to the problem of marine debris (and how our trash is carried to far away ocean places). Many types of data contribute to that communication, including your research and notes. Thanks so much for your input!
Miriam: I think what Coastkeeper does is so important - thanks for letting me get involved!
Alicia: Good luck on your next cruise. Looking forward to following your blog!
Did you know that volunteers at Coastkeeper's beach cleanups are collecting important information to help scientists track the impacts of the Japan tsunami?
In mid-October, the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) released that a Russian ship, the Pallada, found tsunami debris after passing the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The tsunami debris made up of wooden boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets, boots, etc., comes from the tragic tsunami that struck
The IPRC has been working to model the tsunami debris and predicts that the debris will hit the
The tsunami debris that the Pallada encountered helps scientists at the IPRC make more accurate projections about the future course of the debris. San Diego Coastkeeper's beach cleanup data will help track potential accumulation or increases in debris on beaches and our team will report any increases or interesting finds. While we are unsure about how much, where and when the tsunami debris will hit, rest assured that our volunteers are doing their part through prevention, removal and data collection.
Ever wonder about that fresh and clean “just after it rains” feeling?
It seems to feel the most refreshing after the first big rainstorm of the year, when months of accumulated dust particles and leaves are washed away from paved surfaces to the vast underground network of storm drains.
San Diego’s rainfall patterns are such that we typically go about five months without a major rain storm, so as you can imagine there is quite a layer formed on our roofs, streets, and in stagnant pools near storm drains. Unfortunately, the bacteria, trash, and other pollutants carried with the rain water are at high enough levels that we can’t even swim, surf or play in the water for three days after the storm. Welcome to the first flush.
To stormwater monitorers, “major” is anything that registers over one quarter of an inch of rain. That one quarter of an inch is just enough to really get trash moving, to raise the plastics, cigarette butts, food wrappers, Styrofoam, and soccer balls from their temporary resting places and transport them a little closer to their final resting place in the bay or ocean. It's marine debris in the making. And as Travis describes in his blog post, it's coastal pollution and beach closures in the making as well.
After the flush, a short field trip to the beach, bayfront or your neighborhood creek will give a glimpse of how much trash is loose in our environment, and how much gets transported to our world's ocean and potentially the Pacific Gyre with each storm.
But what can we do to prevent this flush from being so impactful? I have a few ideas:
- Don’t litter, intentionally or unintentionally. This is a no-brainer for most of us. But it also includes every little piece of wrapper and cigarette butt. Pack it in, pack it out.
- Participate in cleanup events each fall. Coastal Cleanup Day in September, and Tijuana River Action Month through October, are important efforts which span the period between summer tourist season, bird nesting season and the first rain.
- Organize your own cleanup in your neighborhood streets and canyons. Coastkeeper’s Cleanup in a Box Program helps you do just that and gets us important data to aid marine debris reduction advocacy efforts.
- Help with Coastkeeper’s plastic foam outreach to restaurants to get less take out Styrofoam in our waterways. Always sign petitions and action alerts for better policy.
I took my vacation in Turkey this year. I brought my bicycle so I could ride the back roads through farmland, up into the ruins and down to the coastline. Traveling by bicycle gets me in touch with a country unlike any other sort of traveling. It integrates me into the sounds and smells of a place and gives me the freedom to stop at any moment to take in the sights.
Unfortunately, during my 620-mile through Turkey, some of the sights I took in involved massive amounts of trash.
I can't say this surprised me as I see trash often while biking back countries. I've often thought about rigging a trash bucket to my bicycle so that I could carry one of those long claw-arm trash grabbers to attack litter during my rides. I could then count how much trash one cyclist could recover during work commutes. I bet the amount would be shocking, but I just can't commit to turning my faved two-wheel ride into the greenest trash truck in the region.
In Turkey, I did a lot of camping, and I am a member of the "leave it better than you found it" team. But like Alicia pondered how to begin removing the massive amounts of debris in the Tijuana Watershed, I didn't know where to start at many of my one-night camp stops. So much trash covered the remote natural spaces that it felt inconsequential to pick up the litter in my immediate area.
But I still did.
I can't even fathom how the trash found its way there. Clearly, some polluters dumped piles of plastic water bottles without any care. But in other places, random fast food wrappers, plastic bags, torn pieces of paper and more covered grassy areas, waterways, trees, parks, fields and roadways like fall leaves scatter down country roads.
Just like we experience a "first flush" phenomenon here in San Diego, Turkey's dry climate and empty river beds lead me to believe that the first rains of the season will wash all that unclaimed litter into the canyons and waterways that will all eventually empty into the Aegean Sea. And just like that, the country will again be "clean" as the large bodies of water will eat up the trash.
But does the Aegean Sea really devour trash like Cookie Monster does a chocolate chip treat? Even though the first flush may appear to heal the scars of a country plagued by litter, we know that this trash eventually breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and our aquatic friends feed on it.
My travel buddy and I tried refusing plastic bags offered by the merchants. Best we could in our extremely broken Turkish, we tried to say "no bag please" and we'd try to suggest we already had a reusable bag by pointing to the ones on our shoulders. But they just didn't understand us. Now, I get the language barrier, as I saw how many people giggled when I'd say "thank you" and "hello." I get it--I need a lot more Turkish practice. However, I saw clear as day that the single-use plastic bag habit has Turkish citizens under its wing like Big Tobacco caught smokers. It also made me realize how well our efforts here have made an impact.
Though we haven't yet achieved a plastic bag ban, we have gotten close. And though not everyone carries a reusable bag, they become more popular every day. And though many merchants still offer single-use plastic bags, many give rewards for refusing them and most understand the need to go without.
Our watershed analyst recently returned from India and mentioned that the country banned bags a while ago and fees are in place to punish violators. To her, she said it seemed strange that our progressive country hasn't yet made the law when a developing country like India bagged them years ago. I'm looking forward to hearing her perspective, which we'll post to the blog in a few weeks.
There is a very short window of time each year in which dedicated volunteers can attempt to tackle the insurmountable accumulation of trash and debris in the Tijuana River near Imperial Beach. It starts in September when nesting season ends for threatened birds such as the Least Bell's Vireo and the Light-footed clapper rail, and culminates with the start of the rainy season (typically, late October) when storms make the riverbed too muddy and polluted for volunteers to enter. Various environmental groups have partnered to create activities during Tijuana River Action Month (TRAM), involving thousands of volunteers in native planting events, lectures, workshops and cleanups over just five weekends.
For our contribution to the 2nd Annual Tijuana River Action Month, San Diego Coastkeeper teamed up with cleanup sponsor 101.1 KGB and TRAM coordinators of WiLDCOAST to continue focused cleanup of an accessible reach of the riverbank east of the bridge on Dairy Mart Rd. As a seasoned veteran of cleanups in San Diego beaches, parks, canyons, and rivers, I have coordinated volunteers removing literally tons of trash in one morning from highly impacted areas in Chollas Creek, the San Diego River and post-4th of July celebrations in marshmallow-ridden Ocean Beach. Yet I have seen nothing as shocking as the accumulation of plastic foam and plastics in the Tijuana River Valley.
In San Diego County, the Tijuana River is by far the most polluted and troubling waterway for environmental professionals to try to address. The overarching challenge is that the Tijuana River Watershed is shared by two countries with vastly different policies protecting water quality. For example, Mexico has no bottle bill to encourage recycling of plastic bottles like we have in California; and limited organized trash collection (let alone recycling) from remote shanty neighborhoods, often situated on steep hillsides leading directly to tributaries of the river. And although some infrastructure exists to help reduce the pollutant loads entering the beautiful Tijuana River National Estuarine Reserve, large storm systems bring thousands of gallons of sewage, toxins and trash downstream.
About 70 volunteers at the October 15 cleanup started where volunteers the week before had left off and still managed to collect 1,340 lbs of debris. But ask any one of the volunteers how they spent their morning and its likely that their response will include the word Styrofoam. This river has layer upon layer of debris buried from different storms and sediment layers. We only approached the top layer - and even with an army of 200 people would not have collected every piece of foam from that 1.5 acre area.
There were all types of foam. Styrofoam cups and plates, packaging material and lots of that hard brown foam from inside of mattresses and cushions. It was hard to decide whether to go for larger pieces or smaller pieces and there was not enough time or hands to hardly make a dent in what was out there. We used buckets, trash cans and wheelbarrows to avoid using plastic bags - and the entire cleanup was zero waste. We did our part to reduce our plastic footprint - but what about all the people upstream? What will it take to spread the word about the environmental injustice and flow of plastic pollution from human hands to the sea?
It seems all we can do is lead the way. Improving our daily consumption habits and encouraging others to go green will keep the movement going forward. Volunteers will continue to turn out in droves to help remove this toxic plastic from sensitive riparian habitat. And Coastkeeper is beginning an outreach campaign to San Diego restaurants for support of plastic foam reduction policies. Larger, more sweeping policies for trash reduction may encourage elected officials and agencies to prioritize funding for trash capture devices, rather than relying on scattered volunteer efforts and allowing the downstream transport and burial of this material in our waterways.
"To myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
- Sir Isaac Newton
Pay tribute to the working men and women by respecting the land upon which you celebrate! Despite the beach alcohol ban imposed in January 2008, the type of trash has changed, but not the amount. Based on our beach cleanup data, we have identified a few items that lead to the most beach trash and thought up easy replacements for you AND THE BEACH to have a good time.
What not to bring:
- Styrofoam: I know that cooler is super cheap, but Styrofoam is one of our top finds in our beach cleanups. It breaks up into tiny little pieces and flies into storm drains, bushes, the ocean, etc. It is not only unsightly and difficult to pick up, but it poses a threat to wildlife who mistake it for food. San Diego does not recycle Styrofoam, and Styrofoam is estimated to take over 500 years to biodegrade. Thus, every piece you ever use will be around for the next 5 generations of your own family!
- Plastic bottles: It may seem easy and convenient to bring your Sprite and Coke in those small individual plastic bottles, but try to opt for metal cans that are more cost-effective recyclables. Plastic is one of our Top Three Beach Trash items found in huge quantities at our cleanups and like Styrofoam, takes at least 500 years to biodegrade.
- Cigarettes: San Diego Coastkeeper collected 42,525 cigarette butts off the beach in 2010 and it has been illegal to smoke on San Diego beaches since 2006! If you must smoke, at least be responsible and get your butt in the trash can.
- Plastic Bags: These are so lightweight they will be out of your sight and into the sea in no time.
- Plastic-wrapped food: Try to avoid things that are heavily packaged in what will become trash! You won’t want to deal with it during your celebration, nor will the other partiers when it flies into their mouths.
What to bring:
- Reusable Cooler: This will be a good way to haul out trash once the beverages are gone!
- Tupperware: Pack sandwiches and pasta salad and other homemade goodies in Tupperware, then you can just stack and wash them later.
- Reusable water bottle: Buy your water/beverages in bulk and then you can refill your bottle throughout the day.
- Reusable bag: Pack it in, pack it out!
- Trash bags: If you are going to create trash, be prepared and have a place to stash it. It is likely someone didn’t bring their own bag and they trekked in tons of plastic bags. Ask around, make friends and you could reuse a plastic bag from another beach go-er. You can always reuse an empty chip bag for a trash bag; get creative!
- Finger Food and Napkins: Plastic utensils are not recyclable; what a waste of our precious non-renewable resources! Bring food that doesn’t require silverware. If you’re dead-set on coleslaw, bring chop sticks. You can always bring silverware from home and toss it back in the cooler with the Tupperware at the end of the day. Just make sure to have friends over the next day to help with the dishes.
Thank you for taking the time and care to reduce the amount of trash we create on our Labor Day! It is a time to respect our history, our progress, and yes, to party with friends. It is not too much to ask to plan ahead and take responsibility for the trash you create at your own celebration.
This is the sixth of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.
Last Saturday, San Diego Coastkeeper joined forces with our friends at Surf Diva and 25 volunteers to cleanup La Jolla Shores. Staging on the street and not the beach helped volunteers focus on the gutters, parking lots, sidewalks, and bus stops heavy with foot traffic and litter. The volunteers collected 30 pounds of trash, counting top items such as cigarette butts, food wrappers, and plastic foam pieces.
Over the past four years, San Diego Coastkeeper has facilitated over 20 cleanups around La Jolla Shores to help reduce marine debris entering the water. Considering the importance of pollution prevention in Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS), our cleanup work is valuable in highlighting common pollutants (litter) and engaging community members in helping keep La Jolla clean. We do this by asking volunteers to work in teams and complete data cards while they collect trash - and our cleanup data tells an interesting story. Here are some highlights:
1. Balloon Gloom: Volunteers collected more than 800 balloons and strings from the La Jolla shores area since 2007. This value is many times higher than most other area beaches. Some of those washed up tangled with drifting kelp at the high tide line, and some were leftover or released from birthday parties and events at Kellogg Park.
2. Volunteerism has steadily dropped at La Jolla Shores cleanups over the past 4 years. Our 2007 cleanup boasted 283 volunteers, and last year’s event hosted only 59 people dedicated to cleaning up the area. Many volunteers worry about parking and transport, while others think the area is so clean that it doesn’t need the help (it does!).
3. La Jolla Shores is one of the “cleanest” beaches in San Diego County, based on the pounds of trash collected per volunteer. The average amount since 2007 is below a value of 1 pound per volunteer, which places it high amongst the ranks of other clean beaches such as Torrey Pines and Del Mar.
4. Single-use & plastic products dominate La Jolla Shores’ top ten. Coastkeeper and friends have been fighting hard to stop pollution from single-use plastics by helping the public switch to sustainable alternatives, such as reusable water bottles, bags, and Tupperware®. And even though smoking is banned on the beach, we still count a lot of cigarette butts right next to the beach – between 1200 and 2000 per cleanup each year.
After the cleanup, I met some friends for a beautiful SCUBA dive inside the marine reserve at La Jolla Cove. I tried not to get upset by the two abandoned lobster traps I saw (one with a big sheep crab traped inside), and instead focused on the beauty and peacefulness under the kelp forest. We saw two giant sea bass, a 4ft shovel nose guitarfish, and a stunning new-to-me nudibranch called Hopkins Rose, and it was a day well spent in our ASBS.
How do you give your friends from London a proper tour of San Diego while they're here on holiday? Make sure they hit all the best beach spots, check. Show 'em a good time downtown, check. Don't allow them to fly back across the pond without catching a Coastkeeper screening of the film Tapped, also check.
One night during their stay last year, Sunny, Anoop and I took the ride up to La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas to check out Tapped. It was the first time any of the three of us saw the documentary which depicts the vast array of negative impacts the bottled water industry has on our environment, as well as our wallets. To boot, the flick has a pretty decent soundtrack.
Sunny and Anoop returned recently for another stay in America's Finest City. As we're catching up, Anoop told me about the profound impact Tapped had made on him. "The movie incensed me. I had no idea about the unethical practices about taking free water from the ground and selling it back. Every one has a basic right to water, no one should pay for it, especially when millions are dying from dehydration around the world". You said it man.
Anoop goes on "When we got home from our SD trip, we immediately bought metal containers for ourselves and all our immediate family. When people inevitably ask me about mine, I immediately tell them everything about plastic, the water industry and the Pacific Garbage Patch. In addition, I wrote to my local council asking them to stop buying bottled water, and start using filtered water, if anything for financial reasons."
Sunny's family just recently opened a boutique hotel in London. The place is chock full of reusable water bottles on the house, making it so simple for guests to abstain from plastic. They're also registered members of an interactive UK database that directs all folks, not just hotel patrons, for a free water refill.
Dang, talk about San Diego Coastkeeper making a global impact!
How should this effect us living here in San Diego? Simple, our backyard is the Pacific Ocean. It's got enough plastic already swimming in it. Let's do our part to not perpetuate this awful trend. Continue to use your aluminum water bottles. If you don't have one become a Coastkeeper member. We'll gladly hook you up as a thank you.
Furthermore, we each have a voice. Let's use it! Tell your friends, family and local politicians. Shout it out loud I BOTTLE MY OWN.
San Diego suffers from Plastic Foam Syndrome. With more than 25,000 pieces of plastic foam littering our beaches each year, Coastkeeper is taking an active stance against the most unsustainable take-out material known to man: plastic foam Our advocacy work in the City of San Diego and Sacramento is supporting policy change to get to the root problems of our litter and marine debris woes in San Diego County. With 48 California cities taking a stand against plastic foam via ordinances, its shocking to note that NONE of those foam-free cities are in San Diego County. Hopefully Coastkeeper’s work can pave the way for us to catch up with the rest of the state, and perhaps reduce cleanup costs at the same time.
Supporting Coastkeeper’s work on plastic pollution reduction is more important now than ever. Your membership and donations help us put more time to working on these issues and reducing litter throughout San Diego County. Plus you get a cool reusable water bottle to do your part to stop Plastic Foam Syndrome.
 Coastkeeper is no longer using the term StyrofoamTM to refer to single-use take out products such as cups, clamshells, and plates because of this clarification by its maker Dow Chemical. Other groups refer to it as extruded polystyrene or expanded polystyrene (EPS), but Coastkeeper is keeping it simple at plastic foam. No matter what we call it, its bad for our beaches.