Volunteers draw a line in the sand in the fight against water pollution with Saturday’s 30th annual California Coastal Cleanup Day
By Gary Walker
Billed as “the biggest volunteer event on the planet,” the 30th annual California Coastal Cleanup is expected to draw thousands of volunteers to waters up and down the coast, but perhaps nowhere more so than the Santa Monica Bay.
Water quality at Los Angeles and Santa Monica beaches has greatly improved over the past several years, but urban debris from storm water runoff — plastics in particular — remains a huge problem, according to local environmental groups.
They’re calling on thousands of volunteers to deploy to coastal areas from Santa Monica to Playa del Rey from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
• Heal the Bay is hosting 60 cleanup sites, including spots on Santa Monica and Venice beaches and in Playa del Rey. Last year, some 11,000 volunteers helped the organization remove 24,000 pounds of trash over 32 miles of coastline at 50 sites. healthebay.org
• The Bay Foundation is hosting its 10th annual Marina del Rey Kayak and Stand Up Paddleboard Cleanup, where volunteers set off from Mothers Beach or Dock 52 on Fiji Way to remove debris from the harbor — opening a second front by collecting trash that’s already made it to the ocean. Seafaring volunteers and some land-based supporters collected 114 pounds of trash and 30 pounds of recyclables last year. santamonicabay.org
• Los Angeles WaterKeeper and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin are hosting a cleanup at Dockweiler State Beach, meeting at Vista del Mar and Grand Avenue. In addition to the usual routine of removing plastic bottles, cigarette butts and other trash from the beach, there will also be a group of volunteers doing a “dive cleanup” 20 feet under the surface. lawaterkeeper.org
• Friends of the Ballona Wetlands are meeting at the Gordon’s Market parking lot (303 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey), to remove ocean-bound trash from Ballona Creek and invasive plants from salt marsh and dune areas of the surrounding wetlands. ballonafriends.org
“There’s still a lot of trash in our waterways,” said Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager for the California Coastal Commission, which sponsors Coastal Cleanup Day.
Swartz estimates that some 80% of plastic that finds its way into the ocean originates from urban areas. Much of it ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a toxic soup of plastic debris concentrated in the North Pacific Ocean that spans hundreds of miles. Much of that mess, which poisons fish and wildlife as it breaks down, was once a plastic bag, Schwartz said.
When Heal the Bay issued its annual Beach Report Cards in May, the organization fingered storm water runoff as the main culprit for trashing local waters. Improved grades for Venice Beach and other local coastlines were attributed in part to the lack of rainfall during the drought — but that’s only a temporary reprieve.
“We are heartened by numerous individual beach success stories, but extremely dry weather is likely masking the severity of storm water pollution,” said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s science and policy director for water quality.
Steven Fleischli, head of the National Resources Defense Council’s national water program, echoed James’ observations.
“Where there are storm water diversions we’ve seen some improvement. I think generally it has improved during dry weather but we’re still having problems in wet weather,” he said.
With runoff also comes bacteria, which, combined with a lack of water circulation, resulted in Mothers Beach receiving a failing Beach Report Card grade.
“In some areas of the coastline we have seen a reduction in bacteria, but in others the levels are still very high,” said Los Angeles WaterKeeper Executive Director Elizabeth Crosson.
Both Crosson and James say storm water capture is an essential piece to the environmental cleanup puzzle and praised efforts such as the city’s water recycling basin built in 2011 at Penmar Park in Venice, which collects three million gallons of rainwater each year and reuses it to irrigate the park and its adjacent golf course.
“That’s exactly the type of project that we need more of if we’re going to reduce bacteria levels in our ocean,” Crosson said. “We’ve seen lower levels of bacteria in Santa Monica and Venice where there are these types of projects.”
The Bay Foundation wants to extend that success story to the south.
“Marina del Rey harbor is an area that is really in need of a cleanup,” said Victoria Ippolito, the grants and programs coordinator at the Bay Foundation.
The good news, Ippolito said, is that participation in Coastal Cleanup Day activities appears to be growing year over year.
“I believe that people in general are more aware of the impact that they can make when they participate in these cleanups,” she said. “But trash still gets into the ocean. That’s why we need these cleanups,” she said.