Melissa Aguayo of Heal the Bay presented information on educating the public about the importance of the ocean and the detrimental effects of marine debris pollution at a meeting of the Marina Affairs Committee Wednesday, January 20th.

Aguayo, speakers bureau manager for the environmental organization, said that Heal the Bay was started 25 years ago in Santa Monica over concerns of water quality in the Santa Monica Bay. Heal the Bay is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making Santa Monica Bay and Southern California coastal waters and watersheds between rivers and creeks safe and healthy for marine life as well as people, said Aguayo.

“One reason the ocean is important is that it’s a food source,” she said. “We like to eat seafood, and there are approximately a million people whose main source of protein is seafood.

“The world’s fisheries employ over 200 million people and we get 70 percent of our oxygen from the ocean,” noted Aguayo.

Aguayo told the audience that many people believe that trash and plastic on the beach is left by beachgoers, but that only accounts for 20 percent of the trash, while the other 80 percent comes from other sources.

She explained that the sewage system was a concern in the past.

The Hyperion Treatment Plant in El Segundo treats the sewage from the City of Los Angeles, which produces up to 360 million gallons, Aguayo said.

Watershed areas in the region are Santa Monica Bay, the Los Angeles River and the San Gabriel River. Aguayo said that the biggest source of ocean pollution is from the storm drain system.

She noted that there are over 150,000 catch basins all over the county, which are the beginning of the storm drain system. The basins are meant to drain urban runoff such as water from washing cars, watering the sidewalk/driveway and lawn, and draining the pool.

This urban runoff and storm water, which is never treated, goes into the catch basin, channels and creeks, meets up with the river and then on to the ocean.

Aguayo said it has become a trash “super highway,” and something thrown out 65 miles away or in front of the house will end up in the ocean.

“This is, unfortunately, a really easy system for the trash to make it right into the ocean with negative consequences,” she said.

Aguayo explained the North Pacific Gyre, which is referred to as the “garbage patch,” is an area of marine debris concentration in the North Pacific Ocean.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the “garbage patch” is within the North Pacific Subtropical High, an area between Hawaii and California.

In taking samples, for every one piece of plankton, scientists have found six times the normal amount of plastic in the ocean at the site, Aguayo said.

There are two main ways trash affects ocean animals; one is ingestion, and the other is entanglement, she said, adding that it’s common to find penguins, fish and birds entangled in plastic six-pack rings.

Plastic bags are also considered a big culprit for pollution, said Aguayo, noting it is estimated that on average, one person every year uses 550 to 600 plastic bags per person per year. In Los Angeles County, six billion plastic bags are used in one year, while less than ten percent of plastic bags get recycled, according to Heal the Bay.

“We need to take a step back and do a behavior check because something is really wrong. Reusable bags are an easy solution,” she said.

Styrofoam is also said to be a problem because when it breaks down, it doesn’t fully degrade, she said.

“We may think we’re saving money by buying the Styrofoam cup, but ultimately we pay a higher price at the end of the day when workers must be hired to constantly clean out areas such as Ballona Creek,” Aguayo said.

A net was installed at Ballona Creek in Culver City to keep trash from becoming marine debris. Using reusable mugs and water bottles for coffee and water can be the answer, said Aguayo.

On the subject of fish contamination, Aguayo said that in the 1950s to the 1970s, now defunct companies were releasing tons of DDT and PCP — toxic and stable chemicals — into the sewage system in the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

“They are still finding that if you catch any of the three bottom-feeding fish — the white croaker, top smelt and the barred sand bass — between Santa Monica Bay and San Pedro Bay, you can’t eat them because they are so toxic,” she said.

“We’re still seeing effects of actions taken decades ago,” said Aguayo.

Heal the Bay has taken steps to provide warnings and other information to fishermen on piers who don’t speak English, said Aguayo.

“We do have a program called the Angler Outreach Program, where we go out to all these piers and try to educate people. There aren’t only Spanish speakers, but many others. We post signs but there aren’t enough. We are working on signage that explains the situation without any language,” she said.

Heal the Bay officials say they are confident the ocean will be able to recover and California is working on Marine Protected Areas, similar to an underwater park. “The Channel Islands have Marine Protected Areas already and we’ve seen that there are more fish and healthier kelp, among other signs,” she said.

Regarding the public’s effect on marine pollution, Aguayo said, “Many times it’s just as simple as following through and taking responsibility and ownership. When you throw something away, make sure it lands in the trash, not the street, for example.”

She said that beach clean-ups and internships for teenagers are some of the many ways for people to get involved in protecting the bay.

The Heal the Bay beach report card can be found online at