San Diego Coastkeeper is part of the Waterkeeper Alliance, the fastest growing environmental movement in the world, protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable, drinkable water. Waterkeeper Alliance requires each of its member organizations to have a Waterkeeper, a full-time advocate, who speaks on behalf of the water. Matt O’Malley is San Diego Coastkeeper’s Waterkeeper. We like him, and you will, too. Meet Matt.
How long have you’ve been a Waterkeeper for San Diego Coastkeeper?
Since January 2014. I’ve been involved with public-interest environmental and land-use law now for going on 13 years.
What encouraged you to enter this line of work?
I have a passion and a dedication for protecting and restoring our shared environment and improving the living conditions of all living things. As a Waterkeeper, I get to work on doing that every day.
Can you explain how beach pollution affects the waters?
Pollution of all kinds (trash, toxic substances such as metals and chemicals, fertilizer, just to name a few) enter into our waters and kill or injury many types of organisms, from invertebrates to fish to birds to even smaller living things. Those same pollutants often impact human health and the environment, too. Basically, they turn a healthy functioning waterbody into something that is no longer healthy or functioning.
How can young people get involved with keeping our water clean?
Volunteer! It’s never too early to start contributing to your community and doing what you can. Participate in beach cleanups and water cleanups when that’s available, but also start getting involved in the decisions your community representatives make. Go to meetings for the public and get informed. Information is key to a better society, and once you have that information you can begin to push for positive changes.
What are your responsibilities as a Waterkeeper?
I am responsible for being the voice for the waters of San Diego. I’m an attorney, and I’m often tasked with advocating for policies and laws that are protective of the environment. When that fails, I’m also responsible for enforcing the laws (like the Clean Water Act) against polluters. The waters and critters in the water need a voice, too!
When you take Coastkeeper’s boat, Clean Sweep, out on the water, what do you see?
There’s the good: dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sharks, sea lions, seals, fish and all kinds of beauty in coastal San Diego waters. And then there’s the bad: trash, sediment and pollutants. Then there are lots of pollutants you can’t see because they’re microscopic or dissolved in the water and the sediment under the water.
Have you noticed an increase or decrease when it comes to polluted waters?
Overall in the last 30+ years I’ve noticed our waters are healthier than they were when I was a kid growing up along the Hudson River in the 1970s. But, there are also waters that are getting worse, and across America a significant portion of waters are impaired (meaning, they are unhealthy), that still need a lot of work. We’ve got a long way to go!
Have you ever volunteered for a cause like this before your position as Waterkeeper?
Yes. I volunteer for several environmental groups, and I serve on the board of directors of a few. I even volunteered with San Diego Coastkeeper before I was hired. Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people and help the environment, animals, and your community.
How much of your time, would you say, is devoted to this subject?
My whole life! But on a weekly basis, I probably work 50-60 hours. My passion for this makes it more than a job – it’s a way of life for me to want to protect and restore our waters for today and for future generations.