This Story Has Legs, er, Arms …


The "culprit." Image: Nick Fash/Heal the Bay.

The pressure to blog on Heal the Bay’s biggest star is overwhelming.  I spend way too many hours each week blabbing on about TMDLs, toxicity levels, water recycling, you name it, in a bid to engage jaded and overwhelmed members of the media. But the public has spoken – they love critters.

Because the eight-armed vandal nearly destroyed our aquarium, she’s a national celebrity. Her story was the most widely emailed-item on the L.A. Times website this morning, and journalists at the Guardian and other European newspapers have written about her dislodging some of the valves at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and flooding the joint. She’s on NPR, CNN and Fox and all the local TV newscasts.  And what does she have to say for herself?  Nothing.  Our lovable brat isn’t even conducting interviews.  Maybe A-Rod could learn something from her behavior.

What we really need is someone to adopt the glass-sucking cephalopod under our Aquadoption program.

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Tapped Out

tap_d_ny_waterThe Los Angeles Times recently profiled a new bottled water business in New York called Tap’d NY.  The company is just getting going, having sold about 50,000 bottles of water at a $1.50 a pop. The twist? The water comes from the tap, pumped directly from a New York City main.

Given that the water costs them less than .07 of a cent per gallon, the business owners are charging a stunning 200,000% mark-up. Pretty sweet. I guess this proves two things. First, P.T. Barnum was right: A sucker is born every minute. Second, that’s a lot of profit margin to pay for the plastic bottles that contain the water, coming at an environmental expense of polluted waterways and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

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‘Cove’ of Death

5snap_dolphin20The Sundance award-winning eco-documentary “The Cove” has justifiably been making some waves in the media.  I was lucky enough to go to a screening this week that was attended by the director, former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos. The documentary chronicles a film crew catching the Japanese fishing village of Taiji in the act of mass dolphin killing in a small cove at a national park. The cover-up by the village to hide their deed is similar to every “hidden secret” horror movie ever made, only the threat is not vampires, zombies, or aliens from outer space.

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Sacramento Blows It

Image: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Image: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

As I opened up what’s left of the L.A. Times this morning, I couldn’t help but feel sick to my stomach. I almost lost my Captain Crunch after seeing photos of smiling legislators celebrating  a budget that offers meaningless “reform” concessions to state Sen. Abel Maldonado and  result in so much pain for so many Californians.

While Rome was burning, state employees got furloughed, thousands of people received pink slips, and hundreds of environmental, research and construction projects were stopped, leading to significant layoffs. Hip, hip, hooray!

Every civic crisis provides opportunity for leadership and reform. Elected officials blew it on both.

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Rethinking Our Future

img_44871Last Sunday on the Santa Monica Promenade, the students from Santa Monica High School’s Team Marine unveiled their opus to the global marine debris crisis: REthink.  The 7′ x 21′ art installation contains 34,727 bottle caps and includes a wide variety of marine life species made of the plastic tops. Think of a Rose Parade float, but one made of trash that doesn’t degrade in the marine environment after a millennium.

The students chose the “Rethink” theme to emphasize that solving the marine debris crisis involves simple personal choices.

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Flunking Out on Beach Testing

beach_testing_photoThe state budget crisis has, sadly, led to cuts in worthy government-funded programs across California.  One of the latest victims is the state’s beach monitoring program, which measures water quality at hundreds of sites along the California coastline. Collected water samples constitute the cornerstone of Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, and more importantly, the basis of health agency decision-making on protecting public health.  With the governor cutting regular ocean testing with his blue pencil, and the budget crisis leading to a freeze on all state bond-funded programs, there now is no more state money to pay for beach monitoring.

How have the health agencies responded?

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Water Crisis in 60 Seconds

stopwatchLast Friday afternoon, state Sen. Fran Pavley hosted a Natural Resources and Water Committee hearing at Santa Monica College, accompanied by state Sen. John Benoit and Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield.  The theme of the hearing was “improving water conservation and management in Southern California.”  Speakers included Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, and representatives from MWD, LADWP, Long Beach, Irvine Ranch Water District and the Orange County Water District. TreePeople leader Andy Lipkis served as the token enviro.  They spoke to a standing-room only crowd in a hearing room that normally serves as a classroom.  No room for me.  I was banished to the children’s room next door. I’m not sure why the Senate couldn’t find a room in Fran’s district that could hold more than 60 people.

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Bait Ball Spectacle at the SM Pier

Heal the Bay - Tara Crow

An up-close look at a tiny fraction of the bait ball at the Santa Monica Pier. Image: Heal the Bay - Tara Crow

Over the last two days, there has been a massive school of bait fish, mostly anchovies, around the end of the Santa Monica Pier.  After getting amazing video and photos e-mailed to me, I finally decided to play hooky and check it out around sunset on Tuesday. 

The biological phenomenon was incredible.  The ocean was literally a sea of shimmering silver bait fish. 

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Jeremy’s Spoken

scripps_j_jackson_webI have finally met my match. I’ve finally found someone more cynical than I am about the state of the environment and specifically our oceans – Jeremy Jackson, the world-renowned marine biologist.

Jackson, a lanky man with a ponytail and a head of red hair of an interesting hue, made two addresses at UCLA last week on the collapse of the world’s fisheries. He is one of the few ivory tower academics that speaks his mind in public about the state of the world. (Jared Diamond is another that comes to mind.)

Jackson’s message was clear. All of the world’s fisheries are collapsing or on the verge of collapse. Don’t look for any marine fish other than sardines or anchovies by the year 2050. We got into this mess of massive ichthyocide through overfishing, pollution and climate change. Not much hope for sound fisheries management with the tragedy of the commons in the world’s oceans, especially if the U.S. doesn’t lead the way. Marine Protected Areas in California and Australia are a good start.

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Life in the Time of Cholera


A Zimbabwean family bury their relative Betty Bvute who died of cholera on December 8, 2008. Image: DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images

The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has no end in sight.  The numbers are stunning.  Some 60,000 people infected and more than 3,100 deaths caused by one of the most preventable environmental diseases on the face of the planet.  Cholera has spread to other African nations, including South Africa, Zambia and Malawi.  Not only is the outbreak far more severe in Zimbabwe, but the fatality rate of 5% far exceeds the 1% rate seen in South Africa.

This isn’t some scene in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. It’s not even London in 1854, when a cholera epidemic took the lives of over 10,000 people and led to the creation of the field of public health.  This is Africa in the 21st century and pioneering epidemiologist Dr. John Snow isn’t coming to the rescue.

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