The Great Trash Migration


At any moment, millions of individuals are migrating. Literally tons of animal mass moving from the ocean depths to the surface (zooplankton’s diel vertical migration), from the North Pole to Baja California and back (Gray whales make the longest animal migration), from Arizona to San Diego each summer (We all know about the influx of “zonies” on our local beaches). These Great Migrations pale in comparison to the daily movement of common pieces of litter from human hands to the Pacific Ocean.

Coastkeeper’s March 2011 Signs of the Tide forum focuses on this Great Trash Migration, since the larger problem of trash in the oceans is coming from inland areas. The event’s speakers come from the State Water Board to talk about storm water management of trash, EDCO Disposal to talk about where trash comes from and where it goes, and the Friends of 47th St. Canyon to talk about how community members are cleaning up trash in local canyons. San Diego City Council Member Todd Gloria will moderate the event, taking questions from the audience and guiding the conversation.

My contribution to the topic discusses San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup data and our Coastal Cleanup Day data. The information our volunteers collect at cleanups tells us a lot about what’s escaping into our environment – and where. There is a big difference in the trash problems facing beaches and those in more inland areas. For example, our beaches see higher numbers of certain single-use plastic pollutants, such as cigarette butts and small pieces of Styrofoam, while our inland cleanup sites see more of the larger items associated with illegal dumping. Either way, it all flows downstream and threatens marine life. Anything we can do on land to stop the Great Migration of trash to the ocean, from cleanups to policy change to reusable water bottles, will help our ocean environment.

To learn more about the Great Trash Migration, attend the Signs of the Tide event. To help stop the Great Trash Migration, become a Coastkeeper member.