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.

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Brother in Arms

Jonathan Gold: maddening but brilliant

For the last three months, I’ve been yearning to blog or write an op-ed on AB 376, the state bill that would ban the sale of shark fins in California. I haven’t been more excited about a marine conservation bill in nearly a decade.  But to be honest, having an environmental biologist like me write about shark conservation wouldn’t add much momentum to get the bill passed.

After all, nearly every major environmental and animal rights group in the nation strongly supports the bill.  Many of these groups persuaded globally known actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones to advocate for the bill via Twitter and op-eds. Even the Monterey Bay Aquarium, generally neutral on environmental bills, decided to sponsor the bill and hire well-respected lobbyists to fight for shark conservation.

The one person I know that could really make a difference in the fight to enact the shark fin ban is my brother, Jonathan.  After all, there is no food writer more highly respected nationally than Jonathan.  He’s the only food writer to earn a Pulitzer and he’s received seven James Beard Awards, the food industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.

Also, Jonathan’s writing delves into both the worlds of food and modern culture.  His writing on Chinese food is particularly distinct and well respected, as nearly every significant Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley has a copy of one of his reviews plastered on a window or framed in the lobby.

Unlike my brother, I’ve never consumed shark fin soup.  In fact, I remember threatening his physical harm at a Monterey Park Cantonese seafood palace that actually had a cart featuring the item for $30 a bowl back in the1990s.  Jonathan eagerly called the cart driver to our table just to get a rise out of me.  He thought it was hilarious.  I wasn’t laughing.

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Plastic Paradise

Heal the Bay's Kirsten James, left, and Sarah Sikich, right, enjoy a shave ice with their fellow eco-activist Leslie Tamminen. The group participated in the just concluded International Marine Debris Conference in Hawaii.

Today’s guest bloggers are Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s Water Quality Director, and Sarah Sikich, Coastal Resources Director. Here they discuss their experience traveling to Hawaii last week and participating in the 5th International Marine Debris Conference.

Sarah: It’s unreal – spending a week in Hawaii for work! Not to mention meeting some of the leading researchers, government agencies, environmental organizations, and explorers working on marine debris and plastic pollution issues. Was there any research presented that you found particularly memorable?

Kirsten: It’s hard to pick just one presentation but one that stands out is the work being done by Dr. Jan A. van Franeker from the Netherlands.  He gave several revealing talks on his research with Northern Fulmars, a marine bird species. He found that in the North Sea, the “average” Northern Fulmar flies around with 0.3 grams of plastic in the stomach, rising to 0.6 grams in more polluted areas.  If you scale this bird up to the size of an average human, that would equal 30 grams of plastic, resembling a lunchbox full of plastic sheets, foams, threads and fragments!  How about you, did any of the presentations stand out?

Sarah: I’m glad to see how much research is being focused on endocrine disruptors and plastics. Many researchers in the field have raised concerns about whether chemicals associated with plastics are leaching into the tissues of wildlife and fish ingesting this trash. Previously little work had been done to determine whether this was actually occurring. Several scientists presented preliminary research at the conference showing that chemical plastic additives (like phthalates and Bisphenol A) and PCBs that stick to plastics are present in the tissues of animals that have ingested plastic materials. Potential hormone system disruption is also of concern. Pretty scary stuff.  But, at least we were learning about it in blissful, tropical Hawaii. How did the conference location influence your experience?

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Suing Over Septics

spetic-rincon

Despite years of public outcry at Rincon and other locales, the State Water Board has been slow to adopt mandated regulations on septic systems

Enough is enough.  Although Heal the Bay generally only uses litigation as a last resort, we do have our limits.  On Tuesday, Santa Barbara environmental group Heal the Oceans and Heal the Bay filed a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board for its failure to implement Assembly Bill 885, which required the Board to develop regulations for on-site wastewater treatment systems. AB 885 was authored by former assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson in 1999 and Gov. Davis signed it into law in 2000. The bill required the Board to develop regulations for the siting, permitting and operation of on-site wastewater treatment systems, or OWTS, by 2004.

The regulations took aim at septic systems, which pose a serious threat to water quality at several famous beaches up and down the coast.  After seven years of patience and a decade of regulatory negotiations with the state, county health agencies, OWTS experts and local government representatives, the environmental groups involved felt that they had no choice but to sue the state to ensure that the law would be implemented. Coast Law Group filed the suit on behalf of the organizations.

Both groups were instrumental in the passage of the law as bill sponsors.  In the 1990s, while Hillary Hauser and Heal the Oceans led efforts to clean up chronically polluted Rincon, Heal the Bay pushed for cleanup at the even more polluted Surfrider Beach.  Both groups noted scientific studies that found human pathogens in the adjacent coastal lagoons — strong evidence that nearby septic systems were causing or contributing to chronic water quality problems that posed health risks to the surfing community.

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Mapping a Life’s Work

Guest blogger Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s director of coastal resources, offers some advice on navigating the backroom battles of environmental policy-making. She served on a stakeholder panel that helped negotiate a highly contentious network of marine protected areas in Southern California.
 
The holiday season continues with the recognition of a little-known holiday, Underwater Parks Day, this weekend. And, this year we have a lot to celebrate. The California Fish and Game Commission made history last month by adopting the first network of marine protected areas (MPAs) for Southern California, marking our region’s first system of underwater parks. As a staff scientist at Heal the Bay, I played a role in the often contentious efforts to assemble the MPA maps, which set aside strategic sections of our shoreline for protection from fishing and other consumptive uses.

Sikich exploring boundaries off Point Dume

It will take years for the full history of our work to be written, but in the spirit of New Year’s introspection, I’ve been reflecting about the grueling but rewarding process. I’ve felt a slew of emotions – overwhelmed (in a positive way), pride and a smidge of disbelief. I had studied and educated about MPAs for over a decade, as a lowly undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, teaching at the Catalina Island Marine Institute, and then conducting my graduate research at U.C. Santa Barbara. And then I got to play an active role in the actual implementation of MPAs in Southern California. It isn’t every day that you to get to fulfill a professional dream.

As a member of the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group — one of 64 individuals appointed to represent interests including commercial and recreational fishing, conservationists, local officials, and educators — I’ve spent hundreds of hours of personal and professional time over the past several years researching the South Coast, negotiating boundaries and creating MPA proposals that ultimately influenced the final Fish and Game decision. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through professionally, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there were moments I considered quitting the process.

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A Holiday Gift to Big Oil

Another 30 years of tankers in Santa Monica Bay?

No surprises. Today, the State Lands Commission provided an early Christmas present to Chevron.

As if they needed it.

The Commission voted 2-1 (controller Chiang was the no vote) to approve a 30 year lease for the offshore marine terminal used by oil tankers. No changes and nearly free rent of the Bay for the next 30 years (any renters out there getting longer than an annual lease? Even a 5 year lease?). And worse, no new marine mammal protection measures. Zero. Zed. Zippo. Zilch.

Was it the support from Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, the Sea World Hubbs Research institute, the Tree Musketeers, the Roundhouse, and the long beach sportfishing community? I felt bad that all of the recipients of Chevron’s philanthropy were obligated to speak in support of the lease. But I don’t think it influenced the Commission’s decision. That was greased long ago between Chevron, Maldonado and the Governor.

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A December to Remember

Packages

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