A Breach of Faith

A mass die-off of marine life this week at Surfrider Beach coincided with a breach of Malibu Lagoon.

Today’s guest blogger is Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s Coastal Resources Director. She’s also a Malibu resident.

When people talk about the Malibu stench, it’s usually in reference to septic-related smells. But, there’s a different stink in Malibu right now – that of rotting, dead marine life along Surfrider Beach. It’s impossible to walk along the stretch of beach between the Malibu Pier and the Colony without noticing the thousands of dead urchins washed ashore, strewn amid the seaweed, driftwood and swarms of kelp flies. There’s even an occasional dead lobster, sea hare and seabird in the mix.

I noticed it first over the weekend after heading to Surfrider for a mid-day surf. I had to tread carefully across the beach to avoid stepping on the prickly decaying urchins. I went back down to the beach this week to take some photos of the shocking mass mortality.

Some folks may remember a similar die-off October of last year, after someone artificially and illegally breached the lagoon in advance of projected good surf. The recent mortality seems to have coincided with the breaching of Malibu Lagoon last week. The latest breach occurred near Third Point toward the end of last week, around the same time as our first storm of the year, as well as a late season south swell.

There is a reason the first major storm of the year is called “first flush.” All of the pollution that has accumulated in the watershed and the lagoon over the last six months was flushed out to Surfrider.  The urban slobber poured across the nearby reef, coinciding with the large-scale invertebrate die-off.

Heal the Bay reached out to several marine ecologists and invertebrate specialists last year, and again this week, in attempt to determine what caused this mass mortality. There is a common concern among the scientists we’ve talked to about local marine life health, but we have found no clear cause.

Beachgoers may want to find another place to enjoy this warm fall spell, or pinch their noses to brave the stench of Surfrider.


2 Responses

  1. Biologists don’t think the fresh water killed the urchins. The lagoon breaches occasionally throughout the year, but the urchin deaths have only been seen during the fall.

  2. The water in the lagoon is fresh water. The birds and fish living there are fine- it’s when that fresh water mixes with seawater during breaches, it naturally desalinates it and upsets the salinity balance. Sea urchins have high susceptibility to stress caused by salinity issues. The bird death was most-likely unrelated- just think of all the hundreds of birds living in the lagoon water!
    If you are trying to associate the lagoon water with poisoning fish, birds, or other sea life, you are making a mistake. I’m frankly astonished the “marine ecologists and invertebrate specialists” you talked to haven’t set you straight on a very simple issue.

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