Reading, Writing … and Recycling

EEI: Environmental literacy inches closer in California

Unfortunately, discussions about the future of K-12 public education in California typically focus on the state’s massive budget problems.  Talks of educational reform seem to exclusively revolve around teacher accountability and charter schools.  Very little of the dialogue centers on how we can educate students more effectively and with new, engaging curriculum. 

But on Oct. 17-18, environmental content will be the focus at the Green California Schools Summit at the Pasadena Convention Center.

California’s budget crisis has been so severe that students have not received new textbooks in the last three years, and they may not receive new ones until 2015.  That means that a student that was a fifth grader in 2008 will never use a state textbook to learn about the United States’ first African American President, the loss of Pluto as a planet, or the global economic recession.

However, an interim solution for environmental education is moving forward: the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI). It’s progress, but the curriculum program to develop environmental literacy in California’s 6 million public school students and their 150,000 teachers won’t reach classrooms in the next few years.

Continue reading

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Samohi's Ocean Sciences Bowl team learned some valuable lessons over the weekend about winning and losing.

I just spent a looong weekend in Texas, hanging out at Texas A&M Galveston overlooking the Bay and the lime green piles of sulfur lining the shores of the port. I flew out to watch the finals of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl and to root for the team from Santa Monica High School. Go Vikings!

I flew in Friday and got to the venerable Galvez Hotel on the Galveston breakwater by the afternoon. Beautiful hotel, but Galveston’s beaches are no match for the sand and surf of Santa Monica Bay. That evening, we went to Moody Garden Aquarium to hear Her Deepness herself give an inspirational talk on the importance of the oceans and why everyone needs to fight for them. Sylvia Earle always has this calm, persuasive way of making humanity realize the value of ocean stewardship.

Sylvia was nice enough to hang with the Samohi crew during dinner in the aquarium. Little did I know that this would be the first of many meals dominated by single-use plastics. Like every event she attends, Sylvia was a rock star, signing autographs, taking photos and answering everyone’s questions.

On Saturday, the games began. Watching my son Zack and his teammates, Dana, Mari and Maddy, compete at the marathon competition on Saturday marked one of the proudest moments of my life. Ingo Gaida, the Samohi Oceans Bowl team coach, did an extraordinary job preparing the students for the nationwide tourney. These guys already know more about the world’s oceans than I’ll ever know.

And they were joined by teams from Alaska to Hawaii, New England to Florida. The whole nation was well represented.

By the end of the day, there were three more plastic-served meals, consisting of Polystyrene plates and cutlery and Styrofoam cups. I don’t think any of our food came on readily recyclable plastics. Haven’t any numbers other than sixes even hit Texas yet? And recycling must not have hit Galveston.

The teams were culled down to the final six. Samohi was the top seed and finished the day undefeated, winning every game handily. This guaranteed a spot in the Final Four. Even the incessant local greeting of “Howdy” and our growing contribution to the global marine crisis didn’t get to me on Saturday. I was so proud.

We decided to ditch another plastic dinner and celebrate with grub at Gaido’s in homage to the coach’s almost namesake restaurant. A magical day ended with us sitting along Galveston high school students dressed to the nines for their prom dinner at the shoreline seafood restaurant that survived the last hundred years of hurricanes.  The giant green crab on the restaurant roof served as the perfect cap to a perfect day.

Saturday was more wonderful and stressful than watching UCLA get to the Final Four. Unfortunately, Sunday brought back flashbacks of Florida and Memphis State. This was Samohi’s Alamo.

Continue reading

A Reel Opportunity

Fish consumption warnings have greatly expanded in Los Angeles, from Seal Beach to Santa Monica

Earlier in the week, Frankie Orrala and James Alamillo gave a staff presentation in our office on the progress of the Pier Angler Outreach Program coordinated by Heal the Bay, EPA and the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative (FCEC).  Frankie and James have run Heal the Bay’s program for eight years.  Their achievements, along with the efforts of the outreach workers, have been nothing short of astounding.

To date, the program has educated nearly 100,000 anglers at eight different piers: Santa Monica, Venice, Hermosa, Redondo, Pier J, Rainbow Harbor, Belmont and Seal Beach piers. (Cabrillo Marine Aquarium educates Cabrillo Pier anglers).  The risk communication efforts focus on the health risks of eating locally caught DDT-, PCB- and mercury-contaminated fish.  The outreach workers encourage anglers to avoid the most compromised fish, and they provide fishermen with cooking methods if they choose to eat any contaminated catch.

Risk communication has occurred in multiple languages, including Tagolog, English, Chinese, Hmong and Spanish. Here is a rough ethnic breakdown of anglers that have been educated:

Continue reading

Chuck Sloan – Leaving Much to Remember

Heal the Bay burst into the public’s consciousness in early 1988, shortly after the creation of the fishbones logo and our aquarium/store in the brand new, Gehry-designed Santa Monica Place. Heal the Bay sold more t-shirts that one summer than every year since.

Shortly thereafter, Heal the Bay reached out to Venice-based advertising agency Chiat Day, to develop an advertising campaign to reach everyone in the LA region.  The multi-media campaign included billboards, television public service announcements (PSA), and movie trailer spots.  The theme of the campaign centered on how we have all been mistreating the ocean.  The dramatic juxtaposition of old Super 8 home movies with the voice of a clearly hurt ocean made us realize that the ocean provides us with so much joy that we should treat it with reverence and respect.  The outdoor campaign used the tag line, “Leave your children something to remember you by. Join Heal the Bay”.

Continue reading

Fight On!

The Gold Family isn't ready to embrace Traveler fully. But Samohi's victory at USC-hosted Ocean Sciences Bowl helped a bit.

I’m a lifetime Bruin (birth, preschool, bachelor’s, Master’s, doctorate and currently teaching) so the title of this post doesn’t come easy.  I couldn’t bring myself to write “I Heart USC” because of the history:  Rodney Peete running down a certain UCLA football victory or Trojan guard Harold Miner punking the Don MacLean-led Bruins.  My own son Jake wore cardinal and gold braces just to piss me off. Despite the fact I’ve sat on the USC Sea Grant Advisory Board for over a decade, I hate that white horse almost as much as I hate the Trojan fight song.

All of that changed last Saturday.  The Santa Monica High School Vikings (they wear blue and gold and use the UCLA fight song as their own) competed in the Surf Bowl, the L.A.-Orange County competition of NOAA’s regional Ocean Sciences Bowl.  As always, USC and JPL hosted the battle of the aqua-nerds.  Last year, USC played host to another heart-wrenching defeat that shattered the Gold family: Arcadia (clad in cardinal and gold) beat Samohi on the last question of the tourney at the buzzer.  A half-court three-pointer cost Samo a trip to St. Pete, Florida.

This year was different.

Continue reading

Dream Schools

LAUSD is taking smart steps to save water.

Today a guest post from Susie Santilena, a member of Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy department:

I graduated from Middle College High School in Los Angeles Unified School District nearly a decade ago, and I’ve had nightmares about returning ever since. In one vivid scene, I come back and end up taking a pop quiz I didn’t study for. Or there’s the one where after years of thinking I graduated, I find out I’m missing a single credit that prevents me from getting my diploma and nullifies all of the college degrees I’ve received since.

After being haunted by these crazy visions, who knew that my work as a Water Quality Engineer at Heal the Bay would bring me back to LAUSD this month? Or that my return would have such a dreamy ending?

On Dec. 14, I testified at an LAUSD School Board meeting on behalf of Heal the Bay in support of a resolution that is sure to save the district a lot of water and a ton of money. That’s great news for all of us.

Continue reading

A December to Remember


Who's naughty or nice? This holiday season holds the promise of great gifts for the regional environment

December brings connotations of the holiday season.  Office parties, vacations, holiday shopping, football bowl games, family gatherings, overeating, lighting the menorah, and Christmas lights and trees.  For Heal the Bay, this December is anything but a time to ease into the new year.  As always, there is our push for year-end giving.  Tis the season for charitable write offs.  Also, once again, Heal the Bay is spearheading the Day Without a Bag event.  Over 25,000 bags will be given away at over 150 locations throughout L.A. County on Dec. 16 as a reminder to bring reusable bags whenever you go shopping.  Once again, partners include L.A. County, Los Angeles, other cities, retailers, grocers and other environmental groups.  This year, the event has spread across much of the state with counties from San Diego to San Francisco participating.

However, this December is as busy as any previous December I can remember.  Continue reading

TEDx Tackles Plastics

Last weekend the Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted a TEDx event in Santa Monica on the Not So Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The gathering was well attended by celebrities (Jackson Browne, Ben Lear, Daphne Zuniga and Ed Begley Jr.), explorers (Dr. Sylvia Earle, Charlie Moore, Fabien Cousteau and David De Rothschild) and numerous other environmental leaders fighting against the scourge of plastic pollution.

The well-produced evening beamed via webcast globally and included a blend of dramatic footage from plastic contaminated gyres (including a short film from the 5 Gyres expeditions from Marcus Ericsen and Anna Cummins), performances from Lear, Browne and others, and solutions-oriented talks from such Heal the Bay friends as Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, Lisa Boyle and Leslie Tamminen.

Attendees also saw the unveiling of an ad campaign from Leo Burnett that asks people to become citizens of the Crapola Islands (also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch) – the only nation we want to disappear.

Two speakers presented potential solutions that won’t have a positive impact on the global marine debris crisis.  Patrick Kenney of Green Harvest Technologies spoke about a green future with bioplastics.  Although there are many eco-advantages to bioplastics, especially in areas with effective composting programs, solving the plastic pollution problems in our oceans is not one of them.

Continue reading

Dorothy’s Class

A water policy class at UCLA aims to inspire the next generation of Dorothy Greens.

Los Angeles Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels and I have just finished teaching a class in leadership in water management at the UCLA Institute of the Environment. The class resulted from a generous gift by the Annenberg Foundation to UCLA to honor the memory of Heal the Bay’s founding president, Dorothy Green.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Dorothy’s legacy than teaching a class designed to educate and inspire the next generation of environmental activists and professionals. Thanks to the Annenberg Foundation, the class will be taught in the UCLA Institute of the Environment for the next four years.

Paula and I took a pretty unconventional approach to the class. Some 55 students, many majoring in environmental science, hung in there while we lectured on water quality, water supply and even the public trust doctrine.

Continue reading

Back to School

MIT: Does a free T-shirt come with the $50K tuition?

I’ve spent the last 10 days with my son Zack on the traditional high school junior rite of passage: the college roadie. Personally, I only applied to one school. Ever. I’m a Bruin – born at the hospital, bachelors, masters, doctorate and a current lecturer. I’ve gone nowhere in life. Literally.

So for me, the roadie was an opportunity to capture lost youth, or just feel really old because I have a son that will be in college soon. Like every other west side parent, I think my child is extraordinary. Only, Zack really is!!

Seriously, how many other kids out there are interested in the same field as their parents?  His interests are the environment, Biology (especially marine) and engineering. Right now, the apple is still on the tree and doesn’t seem ready to fall any time soon.

We travelled from Dartmouth to Brown to Princeton to Duke to Cornell and MIT. I went in to the road trip with the hopes that Zack would hate them all because of the price tag associated with every one of them. I know, the days of $225 a quarter tuition at UCLA are long gone, but $50K a year for college?  Do you get an electron microscope with that? Or at least a “free” t-shirt?

Continue reading