Bird droppings and poor water circulation are a recipe for bacteria
By Gary Walker
Marina Beach — better known as Mother’s Beach because a lack of ocean currents makes it safer for young children to swim — is once again one of the most polluted public beaches in California, according to Heal the Bay’s 2015 Beach Report Card.
Water quality at Mother’s Beach declined from third- to second-worst in the state since last year in terms of the concentration of bacteria in the water, some of which could sicken swimmers.
California beaches overall had cleaner water this year due to mostly drought-related reductions in urban stormwater runoff, but the coastline near the Santa Monica Pier also made Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummers” list — ranking sixth most-polluted in the state, according to the environmental nonprofit’s June 17 report.
Los Angeles County officials say a high concentration of bird droppings is the prime source of bacterial pollution in the waters of Mother’s Beach. As much as 70% of bacterial pollution has been traced to birds, said L.A. County Dept. of Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Carol Baker.
County officials blamed a broken water circulator for the high levels of pollution at Mother’s Beach last year.
The water circulator has since been fixed, but it isn’t making enough of a difference to improve water quality, according to Heal the Bay.
“As with most enclosed waterbodies throughout the state, poor water quality is exacerbated by poor water circulation,” the Beach Report Card reads.
“When water doesn’t circulate well, it can lead to a situation that can cause a high bacteria growth,” Heal the Bay Vice President Sarah Sikich explained.
Baker acknowledged that poor water circulation is a problem.
“Because it’s in a back basin of the marina, the water doesn’t circulate as much as it does at other locations. Even with our circulator working, the bacteria levels are still high,” she said.
Although dogs aren’t legally allowed on Mother’s Beach, they’re also contributing to the pollution. Baker said about 10% of the bacteria at Mother’s Beach is attributed to dog waste.
County officials plan to step up efforts to discourage feeding sea birds or bringing dogs to the beach — including fines.
“We’ve installed bird-wire and signs, so we hope the public will realize that they’re not permitted to do those things. When a lot of birds congregate at a specific location it can have a very significant impact. Clearly Mary Poppins had never been to Marina Beach or she would have never encouraged anyone to ‘feed the birds,’” Baker said.
Sikich said Dana Point officials took a creative approach to improving chronically bad water quality at Doheny Beach: They hired a falconer to chase away seagulls and installed cutouts of coyotes as well.
“It’s likely that these creative measures led to this beach no longer being on the ‘Beach Bummers’ list,” she said.
The cause of polluted waters near the Santa Monica Pier is less clear than at Mother’s Beach, as Santa Monica has already taken drastic steps to limit urban runoff.
Santa Monica Watershed and Urban Runoff Coordinator Neil Shapiro said there could be many factors unrelated to stormwater runoff that are causing the high level of pollution near the pier.
“There’s a lot of natural bacteria in the water and a lot of bacteria under the pier because parts of it are shaded from the sun. We’ve removed dry-weather [stormwater] runoff, and we’re going to remove wet-weather runoff from reaching the bay, but yet we’re getting these [high] bacteria counts. It’s a conundrum,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro also mentioned roosting by pigeons and other birds, kelp beds washing up on the beach and waste left behind by homeless people who sometimes sleep under the pier.
Sikich said that while there were some problems with stormwater runoff near the pier, the water pollution there comes from “a number of competing uses,” including those Shapiro named.