The Conversion Process

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

“Brother, have you seen the light?”

I’m not an evangelist by trade, but I often imagine sharing this question with fellow watermen in the surfing tribe. The question is not religious, but does inquire if a waterman (or waterwoman) has reached the level of consciousness where he sees the connection between the land and sea; where he works and where he plays; where man has conquered his surroundings and where the assault is still underway; where his dwelling is and where his soul longs to be.

Some may never see it, but I am hopeful most will come to understand the ocean playground they enjoy is not immune from the actions of an urban society. And more hopeful that this epiphany will spur a waterman to doing something to protect and preserve the ocean resource that provides so much for him; a resource that is part of his identity.   

I saw the light in the spring of 1993. I was surfing Dog Beach at the San Diego River outlet a couple of days after it rained. It was my first and most memorable lesson in polluted runoff and “dose – response health effects” as they are called in epidemiology. I barely made it back to my apartment after work that night before falling to gastro-intestinal ruin for two days. Unfortunately, this is often the conversion process for many watermen following a session in waves of suspicious microbial quality.

For the brothers (and sisters) who have seen the light, you cannot go back to sleep. For your sake and the ocean’s, it is time to share the good word of pollution prevention. You can start with these eight easy steps to prevent pollution in your own life.

Published in Urban Runoff

Teaching Environmental Awareness to Aspiring Young Lifeguards

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

environmental.educationHave you ever fished in a kiddy pool, participated in a recycle relay, monitored water quality or played environmental Jeopardy? Hundreds of aspiring San Diego Junior Lifeguards did. They got to experience first hand how to recycle batteries, old cell phones and plastic and glass bottles; to experience hands-on how to test our water for pollutants; and what they can do to lesson negative impacts on the environment during a special day dedicated to environmental education.

San Diego Coastkeeper; San Diego Junior Lifeguards; I Love A Clean San Diego; City of San Diego Environmental Services; and City of San Diego Water Department participated in Think Blue, City of San Diego’s 2nd annual Junior Lifeguard Environmental Awareness Day this summer to teach aspiring young lifeguards ways to prevent pollution and keep our coast healthy. In addition to learning important lifesaving techniques, Junior Lifeguards learned how to keep San Diego’s ocean and bays healthy too.

My favorite memory for this year’s event was the enthusiasm each participant brought to the education stations. Their positive energy was contagious!

Junior.lifeguardsCoastkeeper enjoys participating in education and outreach events like Jr. Lifeguard Environmental Awareness Day because we get to interact with more children and families and teach them important conservation information. One of the best things about being an educator is the opportunity to watch kids get it – seeing their eyes widen and watching a big smile crawl on their face.

We love helping children learn how to personally take action to protect our natural resources to make San Diego’s beaches, ocean and bays healthier places to live and enjoy.

Ancient Mayans legacy goes beyond chocolate and predicting the world’s end in 2012

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper


Photo credit Proyecto Arqueológico Uxul

Water – how to get it when you want it, keep it until you need it and survive on what you have is one of the oldest and most fundamental challenges of human civilizations.  In San Diego, many of us probably don’t think about the vast network of pipes, canals, and reservoirs that snake out behind our taps to move water hundreds of miles – crossing mountain ranges, the Central Valley, and several large urban areas before flowing out of our taps. But the certainty of our water supply is increasingly being called into question.

Clearly, we are not the first group of people to face these troubles. Our neighbors to the south apparently figured it out a long time ago. Recently, archeologists working in Mexico discovered a 1,500-year-old water reservoir the size of a soccer field in the middle of the Mexican rainforest. While large ancient reservoirs have been found before in Mexico, the Mayans who built this one apparently figured out a clever way to help ensure that the water lasted – the floor of this reservoir was lined with ceramic shards, which helped seal the reservoir. In this way, the ancient Mayans managed to locally capture and store water for a population of at least 2,000 through the 3-month dry season.

Now, most of us are not going to run out to convert our backyard swimming pools into our own local water supplies. But, we can capture water on a smaller scale right in our own backyard. Backyard rain barrels or cisterns are a great way to help reduce our reliance on imported water and help reduce the impacts of urban runoff at the same time. And now the County of San Diego will help you do it! On September 26, the County of San Diego will host a Rain Barrel Outreach and Sales event at the Fallbrook Village Square from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.   For more information, check out our Green In San Diego calendar. 

Phytoplankton – Canary in the coal mine

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

highlight_planktonSeveral weeks ago, CNN did a story about the toxic effects of oil and dispersants in the Gulf. Researchers from the University of South Florida used the same toxicity test that San Diego Coastkeeper uses to monitor the health of our local waterways. The QwikLite test method uses a type of naturally occurring plankton to indicate how healthy the water is. The particular species we use is bioluminescent; it glows much like the organisms that cause the red tides we are all familiar with. Like a canary in a coal mine, this plankton is very sensitive to contaminants in the water. When the phytoplankton gets stressed or dies, the amount of light emitted is reduced, and we are able to estimate how toxic the water is to these organisms.

In the Gulf, the researchers found that the dispersants used were very toxic to the plankton. As a primary producer in the food web, this is really important to understand, as the consequences to the ecosystem are profound. As the base of the marine food chain, the plight of the plankton is felt all the way up to our dinner plates. The millions of gallons of oil aren’t going away just because it isn’t washing up on the shore.

The same principal works in San Diego. Our inland waterways drain into the ocean. They often carry with them toxic pollutants such as oil, pesticides and heavy metals.  Our monitoring efforts hopefully will be able to identify when these pollutants reach toxic levels. To get involved with our monitoring efforts please contact our volunteer coordinator.

Save water, save energy, save polar bears

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

polar_bearSaving polar bears directly by conserving water may be a stretch, but an incredible amount of our state’s energy, and the associated carbon footprint, is used on transporting water.  California’s Energy Commission estimates that water related activities use “19 percent of the state’s electricity, 30 percent of its natural gas, and 88 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year – and this demand is growing.”

San Diego Coastkeeper will be part of the Center for Sustainable Energy’s Family Energy Day on this Sunday, September 12.  We’ll be talking about the important connection between water use and energy and how people can get involved in local water issues.

Check out all the cool things happening at Family Energy Day and see you there.

Won’t you be my neighbor… who waters less?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper



Photo credit Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood / PBS

Last Saturday morning, I was heading out for a run, when I noticed my neighbor was watering his lawn. It was 11 a.m., and some of his sprinklers had overshot his lawn and water was flowing directly into the storm drain.  The fact that my neighbor was watering during drought restrictions was bad enough, but with the water running straight into the storm drain, I knew there could be some serious water quality impacts, like increased pesticides, fertilizers or sediment ending up in our waters.

I ran back home to grab my phone to report the drought violation (619) 533-7485) to the water department and report the stormwater violation to the stormwater hotline (619) 235-1000). On my way back to my neighbor’s house to get his house number, I saw my neighbor in his garage, putting away his surfboard. I’m not a fan of confrontation, so I was a little scared to say something to him. But I figured that, as a fellow surfer, he was probably as worried about water quality as I am and would want to know what he could do to help out.

So I called to him and asked him if it was his place. I asked if he had heard about the drought watering restrictions, which prohibit lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. He hadn’t heard about it and said he would talk to his landlord about it. I walked him around the front of the house and pointed out the water heading straight into the storm drain. I explained how the water runs—untreated—into the ocean, carrying with it bacteria, pesticides, copper, nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and other pollutants that harm our waterways.

My neighbor was very receptive to what I was saying, and it felt great to be able to share my knowledge and passion for clean water.  So, as scary as it may seem to talk with your neighbors about things they’re doing that could harm water quality, whether it’s washing their car or watering their lawns at the wrong time, failing to fix vehicle leaks or other harmful practices, the conversation will be worth the effort.

But if you’re still a little shy, how about leaving your neighbor a note?  The City of San Diego put together a great form you can print, fill out and leave with your neighbors.

Published in Urban Runoff

Copper brake pads: fish and people don’t have to live in conflict

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Off the top of your head, you could probably list the major problems with cars – greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuels, miles of pavement, etc. Add one more to the list: copper in brake pads. It’s something we overlook; each time we stop our cars, trace amounts of copper dust are shaved off the brake pads and left on the streets. That copper dust is carried through our stormwater channels down to our beaches and creeks. Copper is toxic to marine wildlife, indeed copper in boat hull paint is used precisely because it kills fouling organisms.

As today’s UT story points out, a California bill is nearing the Governor’s desk – SB 346 which will address this threat.  This bill, authored by San Diego Senator Christine Kehoe, will phase out the copper in brake pads starting in 2021 and virtually eliminate the metal by 2025.  Coastkeeper has worked for years on reducing copper and applauds the change. We’ve also joined with Sustainable Conservation’s Brake Pad Partnership to craft the bill’s language to make sure vehicle safety is preserved.

One more example that fish and people don’t have to be in conflict.

An environmentalist’s wine drinking dilemma

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

As we sampled local wines in Temecula, I noticed several wineries now offering organically and bio-dynamically grown wines.

I love wine. I enjoy dark beer, tart lemonade and cold tap water. But I love wine. Especially if it’s red and spicy with hints of berry.

Unfortunately, most of my favorites (Argentinean Malbec, Australian Shiraz and, as of last night, a nice little Petite Syrah from France’s Rhône region) have pretty huge carbon footprints. They may also “benefit” from the latest in chemical pesticides, herbicides and other miracles of modern viticulture. It’s hard to tell.

What’s a girl to do?

I can’t stand to give up all of my favorites, all the time, so I’ve instituted a 50/50 rule. Since I live in California, there’s really no shortage of local and regional varietals. And the local markets and bottle shops usually have a section of organic and bio-dynamic wines. (I used to think that bio-dynamic meant low-water and have since discovered that it’s a little more, shall we say, holistic than that. I’m all for low-impact agriculture, though, even if that means counting the phases of the sun and moon.)

Local growers seem to be rising to the challenge, too. A couple weeks ago, I went wine tasting in Temecula and saw at least two vineyards growing organically and one bio-dynamically. Evidently several others are organic in practice, but not actually certified. I’m planning a trip back next month to check them out. Eventually, my hope is to find enough good wines to go 90/10. I’m keeping 10 percent for that Malbec, but let me know if you have a recommendation.

Don’t let ACC’s trickery fool you! Plastic bags are bad

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

captionWhy is this year’s plastic bag ban (AB 1998) struggling in its final days in the CA state legislature? It’s hard to argue the fact that 19 billion of these bags are used in California each year, while only five percent of them get recycled and the rest are choking our landfills and waterways or killing wildlife.

But somehow, the plastics industry lobbyists from the ACC (American Chemistry Council, AKA the devil) are using fear tactics and gross overstatements in a new ad campaign that must be costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They’ve also created a website called Stop the Bag Police that is overflowing with disinformation and a list of businesses that were undoubtedly mislead about the intent and consequences of the bill.

To set the record straight:

  • First, most of the plastic bag manufacturers are based in Texas, not California.
  • Second, plastic distributors and companies in California sell a diverse portfolio of items with plastic bags making up a small portion of their overall sales (no lost jobs!).
  • Third, the ACC should have been working with their industry factories five years ago when we first met with them to tell them about the harms plastic bags create for our environment, knowing that this change for sustainability was coming down the line.
  • Fourth, you want green jobs?  How about a boom for the 19 reusable bag companies based in California?

This bill is a win-win with a LONG list of supporters (download a list of supporters in San Diego ), and the legislators who are behind it should be applauded for protecting our collective future.

There are about 4 days left to contact your senator to vote Yes on AB 1998. DO IT.

Published in Marine Debris

Please eat this fish to extinction

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper



Please eat this fish to extinction.

What an interesting idea. Personally I’ve never tried lionfish, but word on the street is that it is quite delectable. Lionfish are an invasive species (and aggressive predator) to the Atlantic. And to keep them from chomping their way to domination, NOAA developed an “Eat Lionfish” campaign.

It’s like a reverse seafood watch card – well, if only for this one species.

While it might be hard to get lionfish on the dock down at Point Loma, all you seafood eaters out there can rightfully eat the cr*p out of locally caught striped bass and still feel just as good.

Published in Marine Conservation