Thursday, January 28, 2010

SMC Marine Biology Field Trip to Palos Verdes - 1/27/10

I've mentioned before that my husband Garen teaches Marine Biology at Santa Monica College. After missing out on many Palos Verdes field trips, (his favorite), I got to go along yesterday with about 20 or so of his winter term students.
The view from the top was stunning. The path to the bottom was treacherous. Soil with a high clay content, steep slaking rock ledges, and a sharp decline to the bottom made many of us hold our breath on the way down.

But Garen insisted this hair-raising decline was worth it because this place was pristine, allowing you to find octopi, rare crabs, and other "beasties" as he calls them.
He was right, but unfortunately one of the first unusual things I saw was this foaming can of toxic something or other.....
And when I inspected the high tide line, this is what I encountered. It looked like someone had taken a blue recycling bin and sprinkled it over the beach.
I walked away from the distressing sight after snapping a few pictures, resolving to address the trash later, and joined the group in time to see this.
Garen passing a brittle star off to one of his students for closer inspection. So cool!
My friend and fellow art teacher, Matt Mac Farland designed the crab that holds an old fashioned trash picker in the middle of The Daily Ocean logo. This little green crab reminded me of his beautiful illustration design. Matt has studio space in downtown LA at the Brewery and can be found teaching classes at The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, where I also used to teach.
A tiny, baby Brittle Star. Unbelievable that these small creatures survive the thrashing tidal environment to grow to their full size.
Garen cupped his hands around a fish larvae that he wasn't able to identify, but that impressed the hell out of everyone. "Beautiful," he said with a big smile before laying in gently back into the water.
Can you find the Octopus in this picture?
Well here is the same one from the photo above. It darkened its color as soon as it dropped from the safety of the rock into Garen's hand. I had no idea that we were going to be finding Octopuses that were so small! Although small in size, they had a huge presence, making it clear to me that what I have heard about them is true. They grow into intelligent creatures with likes, and aversions to specific people, the ability to use tools, and their all around cool attitude!
The student that found it. Garen kept emphasizing that the Octopus was choosing to stay and play with us. That if it wanted to, it would be gone in a second, back in the water, and out of our reach.
Doesn't this look like some kind of tough Algae?
Here's another shot of it for closer inspection before you decide what it is.....

It is a piece of tough bike rubber, or other plastic miscellaneous item that has been assimilated into the tidal zone as part of the environment. I left it behind, not wanting to strand its inhabitants for the sake of collecting trash. This happened to many of us. We would find a piece of plastic, or synthetic material that was now the home to a small colony of creatures forcing us to choose whether or not to destroy the home of some unsuspecting small "beasties."
Another example of trash turned habitat.
A view looking out to the bay from the tidal pools we were exploring.
After becoming aware of the abundance of litter that was invading the high tide line, many students braved the steep trek back up while holding shoes, buckets, broken plastic plates, aerosol cans of exploding hard foamy stuff, and many other miscellaneous pieces of trash.

They noticed that most of it was PLASTIC, and I emphasized that plastic is designed to last forever, but we use it to package items we only use for minutes.

Garen and I discussed how plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller parts but never truly bio degrades. We told them how these small, toxic pieces enter the food chain at the base level, making its way back to us by consuming the fish we eat.

And that one solution, although seemingly small, is to RETHINK what we buy in our everyday life. Sure a bottle of your favorite soda is easy to grab on the go, but look where the bottles end up..........

Garen will be covering more of these problems, and some of the solutions in his class next week, and I am curious to hear what the students have to say.

I asked them that if this vibrant environment, teeming with unexpected life made an impression on them, to please also take away the impression of just how much trash we found on a seemingly secluded beach.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beverly's Beach Cleanup in Florida - Day 2

Beverly's Florida Vacation Beach Cleanup

Community Count Collection: Beverly
location: Florida
day: 15 & 16 of 365
pounds collected: 10.3
total pounds collected to date: 130.5

My friend Beverly is vacationing in Florida. Here is her second chapter of beach cleanups. She got information and support from the local Surfrider Chapters, which was really cool of them. To read more about my Community Count Collection invitation where you can do a Daily Ocean style beach cleanup, and I will post it for you on my blog, adding your pounds to the community tally, follow this link

And as always, thank you Beverly, thank you very much for your enthusiasm, dedication, and love for the ocean!

The Daily Ocean – Florida Week 1 – Florida Beach Cleanup - 1/20/10

Martin County – South Hutchinson Island
Jensen Beach and Bathtub Reef Beach

The south end of Hutchinson Island is in Martin County. Heading to the southern tip I cover two beautiful beaches – one very popular and one out of the way but no less beautiful.

Jensen Beach – 4 lbs. 15 oz. collected

Jensen Beach is known locally as sea turtle beach, with signs warning beachgoers to be cautious from March 1 through October 31 when sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. There are warnings about no lights at night, to be careful of nests, and to respect this yearly activity so important to the life of this species. Sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs all along Hutchinson Island, and signs about sea turtles are at every beach, but Jensen Beach seems to be a central spot.

It’s January so sea turtles are not due to arrive for over a month. On this sunny day the parking lot is filled with cars, and beachgoers and fishermen are covering Jensen Beach. You can buy lunch and breakfast there, and sit on a lovely boardwalk area with covered picnic tables. With changing stations and rest rooms nearby you can easily spend the day.

I walk along the beach, and it’s crowded but fairly clean of trash. At first I walk by families enjoying the first warm day in awhile and as I walk farther there are fishermen dotted along the shore, most with more than one pole and buckets of bait, many having very good luck today. A clean beach but in the end I collect 4 lbs. 15 oz. – most pulled from seaweed raked at the back end.

Bathtub Reef Beach – 5 lbs. 6.4 oz. collected

Bathtub Reef Beach is at the very tip of south Hutchinson Island. It’s been closed for a few years due to erosion. Piles of sand are in the parking lot and a bulldozer blocks the entrance. Turning around, I park nearby at an unguarded – and unnamed beach. Families are here, most with dogs, enjoying the day. It’s an ‘official’ beach with restrooms and a walk and stairs to the beach, but unnamed.

There is more trash to gather at this beach – straws, bottle caps, cigarette butts – and it feels a little more neglected than the other beaches I’ve visited here. I head south, and after a short walk I arrive at Bathtub Reef Beach. While the parking lot is blocked, the beach is accessible from the shore – no barriers. A low reef hems in an oval area, creating a small basin – hence the name ‘Bathtub Reef’. A father and two children are snorkeling. Mangrove stumps are just offshore, and this beach looks slightly abandoned but not neglected. Despite the closing people are walking along the shore, collecting shells. However, birds are in control at Bathtub Reef Beach – a seagull parades along the front of the beach and a few sandpipers dart in an out around him. The seagull stands his ground as I walk along the shore, his head cocked to view me, so I give him respect and walk out of the way. As usual, I pick up trash thinking ‘this is for you’.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day 92 - Jan 24

life guard tower 26 - Ocean Park, Santa Monica CA
trash collected for 20 minutes
pounds of trash collected today - 3.6 (due to a very soggy diaper)
pounds of trash collected to date - 386.4

Nancy - Day 14 of 365
trash collected for 20 minutes
pounds she collected today - 1.2
total pounds collected to date - 120.2

I am a big, big fan of Dr. Carl Safina who founded the Blue Ocean Institute. He was in the LA Times Op-Ed section recently covering the Obama Administrations decision to follow in the footsteps of failed Bush policy, therefor not taking the necessary steps to revitalize the Pacific Northwest Salmon Stocks:

"The likeliest outcome of a salmon strategy based on just avoiding extinction will be extinction -- and not only of salmon."
- Dr. Carl Safina, "Save the Salmon and Us" - LA Times - Jan. 24th, 2010

Find the entire article here.
"Where's Waldo?" Remember those books? I have no idea if they are still around, or if they remain popular, but that book title came to mind when I saw this transparent, barely visible piece of plastic that had been run over by a Life Guard SUV on the beach.

Plastic, even when nearly invisible, is still dangerous for our oceans. Here is an update from the Sargasso Sea found on Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen's blog on their 5 Gyres website.

Finding yet another good article in Surfrider's Online ENewsletter Soup, I wanted to pass it along here. When I picture Japan I don't picture seeing the beaches that were described in this article:

"For two months during the summer the beach is a pigsty. Fast food wrappers, empty beer and soft drink cans, dog turds, broken glass, rotting fruit, a million plastic bags and a billion cigarette butts. The smell of decay makes one want to dry retch.

It is futile trying to escape the crud by getting into the water — it feels like an oil slick. And faeces floats everywhere."

I share this to illustrate the point that we face a global pandemic of ocean pollution, that left unaddressed will not only make it impossible for marine life to exist, but makes it impossible for us to thrive as well.

The rest of the article can be found here.

A pride of lions laying in the sand.
A used diaper leaching into the beach sand that surrounds it.
Luckily, my walk ended on a high note. I looked up from my diaper find, to witness a Pacific Sunset in winter. The world is beautiful.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beverly's Florida Vacation Beach Cleanup

Community Count Collection: Beverly
location: Florida
day: 12 & 13 of 365
pounds collected: 5.06
total pounds collected to date: 119

Some of you who have been following The Daily Ocean may know that I invite people to collect trash off their local beach from anywhere in the world, and send me the information that I will then post on this blog, adding to the Community Count Collection Tally.

The 20 minute beach cleanup that I do can be done anywhere, that's part of the reason why I designed my project this way. If you feel inspired to action my reading The Daily Ocean then my hope is that you will take that enthusiasm out into your own community. When people see you collecting trash off the beach:

1. It may inspire others to do the same.

2. Which in turn will spark their curiosity to learn more about the problem of Marine Plastic Pollution, and trash clogging our beaches and oceans.

3. Lets you see first hand that many of the same items that we buy as part of our TO GO lifestyle, end up in the ocean and are ruining the marine ecosystems.

4. This first hand interaction with the huge problem of Plastic Marine Pollution, as my friends Anna Cummins and Dr. Marcus Eriksen describe it, lets you make more informed choices in your life to change from a throw away life style, to a sustainable one.

Remember, "When you throw something away, there is no "away"."
- David Bach, Author

One person who has taken to the idea of collecting trash off the beach for 20 min. is my friend Beverly who I met when she contacted me through this blog.

This is the 2nd time she has taken valuable vacation time to meticulously weigh, photograph and write about the trash she is finding on the beaches she visits.
Last summer we got a detailed account about her trip to Rhode Island, and this January we get to follow her as she explores, cleans, and spreads awareness during her Florida vacation.

I can't thank her enough. Every time I get one of her well thought out, beautiful, cohesive email attachments with text and pictures to post I think my heart swells a size. So thank you Beverly. You inspire me, and I know you will inspire those that will read your post below.

I'd like to mention a big thank you to Surfrider!
Beverly knows that I am a member of Surfrider here in California, and so before she visits her next coastal vacation spot, she looks up the local Surfrider Chapter for information. Every time she has done this they have provided her with a list of beaches, supplies, local information and support.

Surfrider works as a grassroots, community organization all over the world. It is just awesome to see her making these connections, so thanks again to the local Florida Surfrider Chapters that helped Beverly.

The Daily Ocean – Florida Beach Cleanup – 1/18/10

St. Lucie County, Florida – South Hutchinson Island
Waveland Beach and Walton Rocks Beach

South Hutchinson Island, part of Florida’s Treasure Coast, has a long stretch of beach that’s a pleasure to surfers, fishermen and beachgoers. I’m here this week and once again taking some time for beach cleanup while I’m on vacation. The local Treasure Coast SurfRider group recommended a number of beaches to visit and today I write about the first two. More to come later this week.

Waveland Beach (2 lb.s, 1 oz. collected)

Waveland Beach is just a mile north of the St. Lucie county line, and is a guarded beach. Florida’s just warming up from her record cold spell, it’s a windy day, and the waves are rough and crashing – even the surfers are in today. This is a very clean beach, and as I walk along I find some pieces of plastic here and there but mostly natural items – a coconut and lots of shells. Pelicans are flying overhead, and sandpipers are running toward and then away from the waves. A crab scuttles along.

On the beach there dead fish are washed up every few feet, some fairly large. The birds are not touching them. It’s an uncomfortable sight. As I leave I ask a lifeguard, “Why are there so many dead fish?”, and he answers, “The water got so cold the past few weeks they couldn’t survive.” I ask, “Why aren’t the birds eating them?”. “They have been but there’s just too many.”

I walk back to my car and weigh what I’ve collected – 2 lbs., 1 oz. on this clean and windy beach.

Beach Cleanup Sighting from Balcony

I’m lucky enough to be right on the beach this week and I spend a lot of time looking at the beach from my balcony. This morning I spotted a couple walking along the beach with plastic bags, bending down every few feet to pick something up. I recognized what they were doing immediately.

“There are people doing beach cleanup out there!” I cried. “I’m getting my camera!”. I watched them for a few minutes and snapped a picture.

It was really nice to see someone picking up trash along a beach. I don’t know who the couple are, or how often they do beach cleanup, but if they’re responsible for the clean beach outside my balcony, I thank them for what they’ve done.

Walton Rocks Beach (3.0 lbs. collected)

Walton Rocks Beach is further north from Waveland Beach, and is a dog-friendly beach. I drive in along a smooth dirt road and wind around to the parking lot. The wind’s died down a bit today and there are cars and trucks in this lot. Surfers and families with dogs are heading to the beach.

This is not a guarded beach, and fishing is allowed. Today there’s more activity along the beach – the sun is shining and it’s warming up. Surfers and some swimmers are in the water, and people are sitting in the sun with their dogs. Farther up, fishermen are casting their nets into the surf.

This beach is also fairly clean, and there’s lots of sea life washed up on shore – a few fish here and there as well as crabs and a starfish. Lots of shells. I find a huge net with shells tangled in – too big to haul away. I pick up pieces of plastic, net and some plastic bottles as I walk along.

I wouldn’t mind returning to this beach; everyone was enjoying themselves on this first warm beach day in awhile – including the dogs. Walton Rocks Beach is a beautiful beach and a beautiful walk along the shore. In the end I collected 3.0 lbs. of trash.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Team Marine of Santa Monica High

I have the privilege of working with Team Marine of Santa Monica High School. They made these incredible shirts for this year's 09'-10' team. I got one with my name on it, which made me feel very honored, (and so did my husband Garen, thank you.)

But also check out their copy righted list of 10 Re-Thinks. Are these guys smart, or what? They inspire me constantly and are always impressing me with their in depth knowledge. Thank you Team Marine, you are the best!!

By the way Val, your turtle is so beautiful! What a cool design. You're a very talented artist.

Day 91 - Jan. 21, 2010

life guard station 26 - Ocean Park, Santa Monica CA
estimated pounds of trash collected today - 3.3
estimated pounds of trash collected to date - 382.8
There was a break in the week long storm front that has rolled over us here in southern California, so I headed to the beach to see what had washed up, and what had been uncovered.
This little yellow bug is a cute find, but still plastic left on the beach...
Kite Surfing inbetween thunderstorms takes the term "Extreme Sport" to a whole new level.

My neighbor Marvin is an avid surfer who I routinely see tying his board up to go out to Topanga, but when I saw him the other morning he made the point of telling me that he will not go into the water for a whole week after it rains in LA. In fact, he thinks people that only wait the recommended 72 hour limit are taking too much of a risk.

What's the problem?

Bacteria levels (fecal matter), and viruses wash into the water from run-off and storm drains causing stomach flu symptoms, ear, nose, and throat infections, and plenty of variations there of. WOW.

Well the Teach and Test Club at Santa Monica High School which is co-sponsored by Heal the Bay and Surfrider test the water quality in the Santa Monica Bay. Check out their site here.
My fellow local activist and blogger Whitney of Eco-Vegan Gal sent me a link to a recent post that talks about how she has invested in a handy tool called the Gopher to help her collect trash as she walks her dog in Venice. Find her post here. Thank you Whitney!
I'd like to direct you to a blog that I really like attached to the website for Wallace J Nichols who is an accomplished Scientist, Activist, and Author among many other things. His website is a great resource for Ocean Lover's as you will see by clicking here
We've had hail, pelting rain, lightning and thunder for the last week off and on, and I have to admit that I love the variation in weather. What I don't love is the trash that washes off our 90% concrete cityscape that is Los Angeles. But I guess that is why I started this project in the first place. Love the ocean, not what is happening to it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 90 - Jan.19, 2010

life guard tower 26 - Ocean Park, Santa Monica CA
trash collected for 20 minutes
estimated pounds of trash collected today - 7.5
estimated pounds of trash collected to date - 379.5

As you can see, the beach was very windy when I arrived. I collected trash for 20 minutes, but did not make it all the way to the life guard tower 28, which is my turn around marker.

Why? Because it has been raining in LA, and so the beach is stuffed with trash. Trash that has been uncovered by the wind that was buried under the sand, and trash that has washed up on the shore from Santa Monica Bay.
I usually link a bunch of articles, or organizations in my posts, but today I would like to talk a little bit about The Daily Ocean. Recently I was interviewed for an inspiring blog called Planet Connect, and since I am not practiced at being interviewed, so I realized after the fact that I could have clarified and stressed the message that I am trying to send with this project better.

Here is an attempt to remedy that:
I chased a sea gull away from this ball while it was eating the fuzz off.


I collect trash from the beach for a small amount of time, in the same designated location, (my "backyard" beach if you will), to illustrate the point that there is a lot of crap littering our beaches!

It is not just a problem in places like the North Pacific Trash Gyre, the problem starts right here, where I live, where you live. 80% of the Marine Plastic Pollution that ends up in the ocean is blown in from the land. SO....
If you can see it by going to the beach yourself, picking it up, or by looking at my pictures, I am hoping that you will see the tragic fact that we are polluting our precious marine eco-systems with trash that is as mundane as a Cheezit's Bag, or an M&M wrapper, or tennis balls....plastic bottle cap lids, cigarette butts...the list is long, but PREVENTABLE.

* however, many of these seemingly inert pieces of trash are made of plastic, which turns out to leach toxins into the water, break down into smaller and smaller pieces that get into the marine food chain and back to us, and kill 100's of 1,000's of marine animals each year. Just to name a few of the problems from trashing our oceans.....


I collect from the beach to illustrate how much trash is out there, even on a beach in a very environmentally minded city like Santa Monica, and on a beach that is racked for trash daily, and has on average 15 trash cans lined up between life guard towers.....I still found 7.5 pounds of trash yesterday in 20 MINUTES.

I use a beach cleanup as a vehicle to show the problem in a tangible way. I encourage participation in cleanups because I have found that it helps me to pick up a water bottle, or food wrapper and ask myself next time I am hungry or thirsty,
"Do I need to buy a Single Use Plastic wrapped product? It will end up in a land fill, or in the ocean. I just picked one up off the beach the other day! Could I just make it home instead and remember my reusable water bottle next time?"
In brings an awareness that your life style choices make an impact to see these items littering the beach first hand. Like I said above, the problem is no longer floating in some far away gyre, it is right in your hand.
OK - SOLUTIONS: If recovery at sea is impractical for many reasons, and one of the most obvious being that to sail out into all the world's gyres would leave a huge carbon footprint, then, as was said by - Dr. Marcus Eriksen, of Algalita, Livable Legacy, 5gyres
"The idea of "Recovery" begins and ends on land."

One organization I will mention that I like very much is the PLASTIC POLLUTION COALITION. Who, the other day, had an email discussion about changes to support that make a real difference in terms of Plastic Pollution, especially in the Marine environment. I'll pass some of them on below:

1. REFUSE Single Use Plastics. Sign their S.U.P.E.R. Pledge (Single Use Plastic Emergency Response)

Example - bring your own reusable shopping bag to the market. Do you really need a handy little plastic bag for those apples you'll wash anyway? If you want, go to Beth Terry's blog where she chronicles her two plus years of, "LIVING LIFE WITH LESS PLASTIC" on her blog Fake Plastic Fish. She brings organic cotton produce bags with her to the market.

2. ECONOMIC INCENTIVES PER PRODUCT: Another solution promoted by the PPC, and Dr. Eriksen explains it well here:

"One solution we advocate is an economic incentives to recover plastic waste on land. A post-consumer value, let's say 25cents/pound for mixed plastics, would keep the waste off the land, beaches, roadsides, out of trees and watersheds.

Improving recovery is key to solving this problem. Economic incentives per product (EPR) or per pound would work. Bring back the school paper drive, but for plastic. Recovery is essential, but it doesn't happen at sea."

3. Ban Single Use Plastics ( SUP ) - Get involved at the local level and promote the ban of single use plastic bags for example. Team Marine (a local environmental group of high school activists) is circulating an online petition to get our city of Santa Monica to mobilize the ban of plastic bags.

Learn about local hearings on topics like these being held in your area. Attend and comment when they allow Public Comment. The local/state politicians who hold these meetings want to know what you think.

Finally, here is a comment left on a previous post of The Daily Ocean by Dan of NEEF (National Environmental Education Foundation) who is in Washington D.C.. He talks about the successful implementation of a $.05 TAX on Plastic Bags in D.C.:

"Our plastic bag tax in Washington DC has made a major difference. NO ONE takes bags anymore at grocery stores, CVS, Target, etc. It's only $.05, but they're not out anymore. It's only been two weeks since it was enacted, but it's night and day here. I will hope to remember to report back when we get some stats from the city on the reduction in plastic bag usage. Downside - I am running out of my dog poop clean up supply."

These were just a few suggestions. I'd like to hear more from you. Leave me a comment if you'd like to share.

The problem of Marine Plastic Pollution is HUGE, but there are solutions. They require work, some personal sacrifice to change our life style, perhaps the donation of your time/energy to get involved in local government, or by belonging to an environmental organization that you believe is working towards these solutions.

But the more I learn about this issue, the more I feel like now that I know, this knowledge has become my responsibility to act. At this point, for me, it would be way more painful to not take action, than to start to be part of the solution. I hope that The Daily Ocean inspires you to do the same in your life.