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Heal the Bay Blog

Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch and Outreach Associate, Heather Leigh Curtis, breaks down the science behind pollution bioaccumulation in marine ecosystems, and how local anglers can safely consume fish.

The first time that I was told that the skin of fish caught near Los Angeles could be toxic to eat, the scientist in me was intrigued. Because it is said that fish’s skin can become a “reservoir for toxins,” I wondered if that were additionally true for human skin and I wanted to know what biological mechanisms allowed fish skin to perform this weird function. Perhaps toxins in the water absorb and accumulate in the fish skin? Let’s dive in and investigate. 

The toxins in question here are various molecules known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include the chemicals (DDT) and (PCBs)DDT is an industrial pesticide, and is no longer allowed in the US. PCBs can be found in today’s electrical equipment, but used to be very common and found in insulation, coolants, adhesives, ink, pesticides, and other products. POPs are known for their long-term resistance to decomposition, also known as persistence, as well as their organic nature that allows them to accumulate in the bodies of plants and animals.  

There are many well-documented health and cultural benefits for eating fish, and POPs do not prevent locallycaught fish from being beneficial, but their presence means that local anglers need to be mindful with the types of fish they eat and how they prepare them. Los Angeles is home to many subsistence anglers who rely on fishing for their main source of protein, and these communities are the most vulnerable to POPs.  

It is unfair to ask anglers to change their behavior to protect themselves from pollution that they had no part in creating, and this is a direct example of an environmental justice issue. Where pollution goes is a calculated decision corporations and lawmakers make, and those decision-makers are fully aware of the impacts of those decisions. While POPs are a global concern, it is clear that the majority of public health impacts from this pollution, including cancer and reproductive disorders, are disproportionately experienced by frontline communitieswhich are comprised largely of BIPOC and people of lower socio-economic status.

So, how did these pollutants get in the environment in the first place? 

POPs are a result of local contamination of LA’s sediment, soil, and groundwater. The largest example in LCounty was caused by the Montrose Chemical Corporation, near Torrance. From the 1940s to the 1970s, this factory manufactured DDT and disposed of its waste, including DDT and PCBs, into the sewer system for 28 years, which at the time, released directly into the ocean without treatment. Hundreds of tons of DDT and PCBs were released into the ocean off the Palos Verdes PeninsulaWhile the manufacturing and untreated disposal of DDT has been banned in the United States, the molecule itself still persists in our local water and seafood.  

Now, back to the question about fish skin. POPs are a particular threat in fish because marine and freshwater ecosystems are significant reservoirs for persistent pollutants. POPs are brought to aquatic locations by runoff, wind, or other means, and they stay in those ecosystems sequestered in organic sediments. These sediments are sometimes known as “sinks” because they can harbor POPs for hundreds of years.

These POPs are brought into the food chain by bottom feeding fish. Pollutants accumulate up the food chain, concentrating to levels that can be thousands of times higher than in the water around themotherwise known as bioaccumulationIn addition, plastic pollution is widespread, and further exacerbates the issue. If microplastics are present in the water, POPs adhere to the plastic, concentrate further, and lead to the risk of even higher concentrations of POPs entering the food chain. 

Fish mainly absorb POPs from sediment. Bottom feeding fish stir up sediment to find food, absorbing POPs through their food and digestive tracts as well as their gillsOnce inside the body, POPs dissolve into the fish’s fat for long-term storage. Normal fat stores in fish (and in humans) are located in the liver and the subcutaneous fat, which is the layer of fat directly under the skin. That said, it’s not technically the skin of the fish that stores the pollutants, but the layer of fat just below the skin. When eating potentially contaminated fish, removing the fish skin also removes this layer of fat where the POPs are stored. And that’s why it is recommended to skin certain types of fish caught in LA before eating. 

How does this relate to Heal the Bay? 

Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program educates pier and shore anglers in Los Angeles and Orange County about the risks of consuming fish contaminated with DDT and PCBs. Created in 2003, the program is a component of the Fish Contamination Education Collaboration (FCEC) and managed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a far-reaching public education and outreach program. 

What can we do about this pollution? 

Los Angeles is taking measures to reduce pollution. It’s nearly impossible to remove POPs from our environment and wildlife, so the goal is to stop any more from entering. The next storm drain permit, also known as the municipal sperate storm sewer system (MS4) permit, could be strong enough to enforce and reduce local pollution via the regulation of industrial discharge of wastewater into storm drains. A recent supreme court decision  reinforced MS4 permit regulatory standards. 

Individually, the best first step is to educate yourself on which fish are safe to catch and eat   in Los Angeles and how to prepare them safely. To advoate for clean water, you can contact your local water board and share your support for a simple, transparent, measurable, and enforceable MS4 permit that reduces the amount of new pollutants that enter our environment. Read our recent blog on the MS4 permit to learn more and sign up to stay updated on MS4 calls to action.  


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La primera vez que me dijeron que la piel de ciertos peces capturados cerca de Los Ángeles era tóxica para comer, me intrigó. Nunca había escuchado que la piel humana desempeñara un papel de “depósito de toxinas”, y me preguntaba qué propiedades especiales tenía la piel del pescado que le permitían albergar estas toxinas. Mi primer pensamiento fue que quizás las toxinas en el agua absorbidas a traves de la piel se acumulan allí. Al investigar más sobre el tema, esa no fue la respuesta que encontré.

Las toxinas en cuestión aquí son varias moléculas conocidas como contaminantes orgánicos persistentes (COP), que incluyen los químicos (DDT) y (PCB). Los COP son conocidos por su resistencia a la descomposición a largo plazo, también conocida como persistencia, así como por su naturaleza orgánica que les permite acumularse en los cuerpos de plantas y animales.

Hay muchos beneficios culturales y de salud bien documentados para comer pescado y los COP no impiden que los peces capturados localmente sean beneficiosos, pero su presencia significa que los pescadores deben tener en cuenta los tipos de pescado que comen y los métodos de preparación.

Los Ángeles es el hogar de muchos pescadores de subsistencia que dependen de la pesca como fuente principal de proteínas, y estas poblaciones son las más vulnerables a los COP. Estas preocupaciones con las fuentes locales de alimentos capturados en el medio silvestre provienen de la contaminación local de los sedimentos, suelos y aguas subterráneas de Los Ángeles.

El mayor ejemplo de contaminación por COP en el condado de Los Ángeles fue causado por la compañía Montrose Chemical cerca de Torrance. Esta fábrica elaboró DDT y eliminó sus desechos, incluidos DDT y PCB, en el sistema de alcantarillado durante 28 años, que en ese momento se liberaron directamente al océano sin tratamiento. Más de cien toneladas de DDT y once toneladas de PCB fueron liberadas en el océano frente a la península de Palos Verdes. La fabricación y  uso doméstico del DDT se prohibieron en los Estados Unidos en 1972, sin embargo, la molécula misma persiste en nuestra area y en los mariscos hasta el día de hoy.

El Programa Educacional Pesquero (AOP, por sus siglas en inglés) de Heal the Bay educa a los pescadores de muelles y costa en el Condado de Los Ángeles y Condado de Orange, sobre los riesgos de consumir pescados contaminados con DDT y PCB. Creado en el 2003, AOP es un componente del Programa Educacional sobre la Contaminación de Peces (FCEC, por sus siglas en inés) y administrado por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de los Estados Unidos (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) como parte de un programa de educación pública y divulgación.

Realmente no es justo pedirles a los pescadores o cualquier persona que cambien su comportamiento de esta manera, pero muy pocos aspectos de la contaminación son justas. Si bien los COP son una preocupación mundial, está claro que la mayoría de los impactos de esta contaminación en la salud pública, incluidos el cáncer y los trastornos reproductivos, son desproporcionadamente experimentados por las comunidades de primera línea, que son comunidades compuestas principalmente por personas de color y/o de estatus socioeconómico más bajo.

Ahora, volviendo a la pregunta sobre la piel de pescado. Los COP son una amenaza particular en los peces porque los ecosistemas marinos y los de agua dulce son reservorios importantes de contaminantes persistentes. Los COP son arrastrados a cuerpos acuáticos por escorrentía, viento u otros medios y permanecen en esos ecosistemas secuestrados en los sedimentos orgánicos. Estos sedimentos a veces se conocen como “sumideros” porque pueden albergar COP durante cientos de años, excepto cuando son introducidos en la cadena alimenticia por los peces que se alimentan de los fondos.

Al subir por la cadena alimenticia, estos productos químicos orgánicos se concentran a niveles que pueden ser mucho más altos que el que se encuentra en el agua (también conocida como bioacumulación). Si hay contaminación microplástica en el agua, los COP se adherirán al plástico, se concentrarán más allá y generarán riesgos de concentraciones mayores de COP que ingresen a la cadena alimenticia.

Los peces absorben principalmente los COP de los sedimentos a través de sus vías digestivas y branquias, y solo en pequeña medida a través de su piel. Una vez dentro del cuerpo, los COP son rápidamente “atrapados” por las grasas, donde se disuelven fácilmente para su almacenamiento a largo plazo. Las reservas normales de grasa en los peces (y en los humanos) se encuentran en el hígado y la grasa subcutánea, que es la capa de grasa directamente debajo de la piel y que desempeña un papel en la regulación de la temperatura. Cuando la grasa se descompone debido al hambre u otros factores, los COP se liberan en el torrente sanguíneo y causan daño.

Dicho esto, no es técnicamente la piel del pez lo que almacena los contaminantes, sino la capa subcutánea de grasa justo debajo de la piel. Al quitar la piel del pescado, se elimina esta capa de grasa donde se almacenan los COP. Curiosamente, estas moléculas se comportan y se almacenan de manera similar una vez que ingresan al cuerpo humano a través de su tracto digestivo.

En caso de que esta información te haga sentir mal, Los Ángeles está tomando medidas para reducir la contaminación. Es casi imposible eliminar los COP de nuestro medio ambiente y vida silvestre, por lo que el objetivo es evitar que ingresen más. Existe la esperanza de que el próximo permiso de drenaje pluvial, también conocido como el permiso municipal de alcantarillado pluvial (MS4, por sus siglas en inglés), sea lo suficientemente fuerte y ejecutable como para reducir la contaminación local mediante la regulación de la descarga industrial de aguas residuales en los desagües pluviales. Afortunadamente, una reciente decisión de la Corte Suprema tomada en abril de 2020 (19) reforzó los estándares regulatorios de los permisos MS4 al decir que aplican a las aguas residuales vertidas en las aguas subterráneas, así como a los desagües pluviales.

¿Como puedes ayudar? Lo mejor que puedes hacer es educarte sobre qué peces son seguros para la pesca,  cuales se pueden comer en Los Ángeles y cómo prepararlos de manera segura. Posiblemente, lo mejor que puedes hacer, es comunicarte con la Junta de Agua local y expresar tu apoyo a un simple, transparente, medible y exigible permiso MS4, para reducir la cantidad de nuevos contaminantes que ingresan a nuestro medio ambiente. Lee nuestro blog reciente sobre el permiso MS4 para aprender más información y regístrate para mantenerte actualizado sobre los llamados de acción del MS4 (22).


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Beach Programs Manager, Emely Garcia, highlights how Heal the Bay is relaunching our Adopt-A-Beach cleanup program to be a safe, fun, and refreshing summer challenge.

For more than 20 years, Heal the Bay’s Adopt-A-Beach cleanup volunteers have worked together to keep LA County’s natural and coastal resources heathy and safe. Our Adopt-A-Beach program gives passionate volunteers the tools to lead independent cleanups, collect critical marine debris data, and actively participate in protecting what we love. Since mid-March, Heal the Bay has postponed all public cleanup programming to protect public health in response to COVID-19, and we look forward to hosting public cleanups once it is safer to gather.

With the start of summer, we’re excited to relaunch our official Adopt-A-Beach Program for individuals, families, and households that are eager to be a part of the solution to ocean pollution. Ocean pollution starts at our front doors, and local trash on our streets travels through the storm drain systems, creeks, and rivers to become beach and ocean pollution. Everyone can take part and help prevent ocean-bound trash by participating in local neighborhood cleanups. Heal the Bay volunteers have removed more than 2.5 million pounds of trash from L.A County beaches, rivers and neighborhoods. Our newly reimagined Adopt-A-Beach program is adapted to support you and your household to lead a safe and fun cleanup.

 

About the Official Adopt-A-Beach Program 

Our Adopt-A-Beach program originally began as an effort to protect our coastal resource, but Adopt-A-Beach volunteers are encouraged to participate at any location that needs TLC in LA County, such as a park, street, creek, or beach.  To participate in the Adopt-A-Beach program, a group needs to commit to cleaning up a favorite outdoor location three times in a year. The program is extremely flexible and allows participants to choose the day, time, and location of their cleanups. Plus, it’s a fun and active way to get involved community science research. (See our guidelines for more details*) 

What’s the incentive? 

  • Heal the Bay Educational resources and safety talk from Heal the Bay’s Speakers Bureau. 
  • An official Heal the Bay Adoption Certificate upon completion of all three cleanups. 
  • Opportunity to be featured on Heal the Bay’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
  • TONS of kudos for leaving a special place outdoors better than you found it.

 So what are you waiting for? Take part in the official Adopt-A-Beach Summer Challenge today!  

View the Adopt-A-Beach Guide

 




California has long been a leader in fighting plastic pollution, and our leadership can have rippling impact. When we banned single-use plastic bags in 2016, we were the first state to do so. Now, eight states have done it. It’s up to us to continue to push solutions to an issue that is devastating our oceans and frontline communities.

The California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act of 2020 is a California ballot initiative aimed at reducing plastic pollution, restoring and protecting environments harmed by plastic pollution, and increasing recycling. Among other objectives, this initiative would:

  1. Reduce the amount of single-use plastic sold in CA by 25% by 2030
  2. Ensure the remaining is truly recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2030
  3. Create a “plastics tax”: a fee on plastic producers that will help fund the state’s recycling and composting infrastructure, and restore environments impacted by plastic pollution
  4. Phase out the use of Expanded Polystyrene (so called “Styrofoam”) takeout containers in favor of more sustainable alternatives

If passed by voters, it would be the strongest regulation on disposable plastics in the country. This groundbreaking legislation was introduced in 2019 by Recology, a trash and recycling hauling company, and is supporting by numerous environmental organizations including Heal the Bay.

To get on the statewide ballot in 2022, this initiative needs signatures from California voters, and LOTS of them! As of now, the initiative is on track to qualify thanks to signatures from hundreds of thousands of Californians, but we need your help to get it past the finish line. Because signature gatherers have been pulled off of the streets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are bringing the signature gathering to you. We have fortunately been given an extension on the deadline to get these signatures in, giving us a second chance to get the signatures we need.

To send in your signature, follow these simple steps. It’s as easy as PRINT. SIGN. MAIL. DONE. Please send in your signatures by the end of September for them to count.

  1. PRINT THE PETITION AND TOP FUNDERS SHEET
    • Do not fill out on a computer
    • You will need to print, staple, and submit all 8 pages (double-sided is ok)
    • Review the text if you want more information on the initiative
  2. FILL IN YOUR INFORMATION
    • On Page 8, fill in the county that you live in and are registered to vote in
    • Fill in the signature box with your Printed Name & Residence Address, Signature, City & Zip Code
    • Fill in the Declaration of Circulator box with your: Printed Name & Residence, Address Date range in which you obtained your signature(s) (can be the same day), Date you executed (signed) the Declaration of Circulator (must be signed last), Location of signing, and Signature
  3. MAIL YOUR COMPLETED PETITION
    • Place the signed, stapled petition (all 8 pages) in an envelope and seal securely
    • Use 2 Forever® letter stamps for a standard letter envelope. Use 3 Forever® stamps for a “9×12” envelope (add 2 Forever® stamps per additional petition included after the first)
    • Place in outgoing mailbox to the following address:

CAMPAIGN OFFICES PLASTICS-FREE CA

26500 W. Agoura Rd, #102-146

Calabasas, CA 91302

Want more detailed instructions? Head to the Plastic Free CA Campaign Website or check out this PDF with step by step instructions.

 

FAQs

Why do we have to print all 8 pages? That seems wasteful.

We agree, and we wish it was possible to submit signatures digitally just as much as you do. Unfortunately, the signature gathering protocol set by the state where many signatures are collected on one page by hired employees has been around for a very long time, and up until this year, had never been an issue. COVID-19 changed all that, and the state did not have time to set up a digital signature gathering method that would effectively count and verify signatures. So, printing and mailing is the best method the state has available to collect signatures at a safe distance.

Can others sign the same petition I print out?

Absolutely. We highly recommend having everyone in your household and shelter in place circle sign the same petition that you do. This will save paper AND get more signatures in.

Why won’t it be on the ballot until 2022?

Ballot initiatives appear on the ballot every two years, and this bill didn’t meet the deadline to make it onto this year’s ballot, so our next opportunity is in 2022.

How is this initiative different from Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080?

Although they are very similar, these bills focus on ALL disposable materials, not just plastics, and use different methods to reduce them. These bills also must be passed by the California legislature, whereas California voters themselves can pass the ballot initiative.

What if I have more questions?

Get in touch! Send an email to info@plasticsfreeca.org with your questions.

 


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Heal the Bay is proud to join Latino Outdoors and partners in the celebration of Latino Conservation Week, July 18th– 26th 2020.

Latino Conservation Week (LCW) is an annual initiative presented by the Hispanic Access Foundation to highlight the Latinx experience in outdoor stewardship and environmentalism. Since its launch in 2014, LCW has had tremendous growth across the country in the outdoor engagement and conservation advocacy by Latinx communities.

This week, community groups, environmental nonprofits, and agencies will host virtual and in-person events (where safe to do so) to support Latinx Latino community getting into the outdoors and participating in activities to protect our natural resources. These events are for all ages and typically include hiking, camping, cleanups, and workshops that inspire participants to take part in protecting our land, water, and air and participate in larger conversations around current environmental issues.

How to Participate

This year, participation will take place safely and a lot of it will be online. Every day of the week invites a different call to action and we encourage you to join the conversation by following @LCW_National @HispanicAccess and @LatinoOutdoors on Twitter and @latinoconservationweek @hispanicaccess and @latinooutdoors on IG.

At Heal the Bay, we recognize that social and environmental issues are intrinsically linked. Historical injustices have led to inequitable access to the outdoors for communities of color. Heal the Bay is committed to fighting for environmental justice through our Science, Policy, and Outreach programs.

Currently, Heal the Bay is working to connect Latinx youth to their watersheds and ocean is through Gotitas Del Saber, our new bilingual/Spanish marine conservation educational series. The program includes regularly scheduled Spanish-language virtual webinar for students of all ages about science and the ocean. Join us live or explore past events.

Join us for Gotitas Del Saber

Why It’s Important

Beyond exploring the outdoors, Latino Conservation Week, at its core, is about outdoor connection, education, and cultural expression —and for many US-born Latin American-identifying youth and young adults, it’s a pathway and connection into outdoor advocacy and/or pursuing a degree in STEM through community support and mentorship.

For many Latin Americans, participating in conservation is an act of long-standing connection to nature. It’s a part of cultural preservation that involves nature-based solutions and practices that are deeply rooted in the Latin American cultural expression and identity. Protecting the health of our watershed, fighting for clean air, and protecting robust wildlife habitat is connected to century-old practices and traditions that continue through the enjoyment and protection of our open spaces.

Recent studies show that Hispanics/Latinxs express higher levels of environmental concern and have a higher willingness to engage in climate activism than white Americans, yet Latinos remain largely underrepresented in the environmental sector despite the support of environmental policies and efforts. Nevertheless, Latinx participation in the environmental field and movement is critical to the growth of outdoor equity, solving the climate crisis through science and community solutions, mobilizing communities for environmental justice, and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.

 

 



Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa Moe, shares how we can save a precious water resource, hold polluters accountable, and stay updated on all things stormwater.

Each year, Los Angeles County wastes 100 billion gallons of stormwater as it flows through our streets, into our rivers, and out to the ocean.  But it gets worse. The pollution that is swept up by this stormwater contaminates our waterways, floods our neighborhoods, and even exacerbates the negative effects of climate change: worsening ocean acidification and triggering new growth of harmful algal blooms.

As we look to the future, we can turn this hazard into a resource by capturing, cleaning, and reusing local stormwater. Properly rebuilding our stormwater infrastructure will protect the environment from stormwater pollution while also providing an affordable water supply, equitably stimulating our economy, and creating healthier communities that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

In order to ensure that we responsibly recycle stormwater across Los Angeles County, we need a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot: an incentive for those who discharge polluted water to take action against their pollution. The stick: accountability for dischargers who continue to contaminate our environment with polluted stormwater.

THE CARROT: Measure W

Los Angeles County voters already gave dischargers their carrot when they passed the Safe, Clean Water Program (Measure W) back in 2018. The measure provides a dedicated and reliable source of funding to build the kinds of projects that capture, clean, and reuse stormwater.

THE STICK: The MS4 Permit

The discharge of polluted stormwater is regulated by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. Cities and counties are permittees under an MS4 Permit and are each responsible for their polluted stormwater runoff.

The LA County MS4 Permit has been around since 1990, and yet stormwater is still a major source of pollution in LA’s waterways. The last update to the permit occurred in 2012 and, to our dismay, the Los Angeles Regional Board voted to approve a 2012 MS4 Permit that was nearly impossible to enforce. Because of this lack of accountability, permittees are woefully behind schedule to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements.

The MS4 Permit is up for renewal again this year, which provides an opportunity to advocate for a strong permit that has simple and straightforward requirements, measurable goals with transparent reporting, and enforceable deadlines. This type of simple, measurable, and enforceable permit is more accessible to all stakeholders, including members of the public. It ensures everyone knows what needs to be done and informs people how quickly progress is being made towards achieving water quality goals. A strong MS4 Permit holds permittees accountable to their requirement to reduce stormwater pollution.MS4

LET’S TAKE LA BY STORM

2020 is our year to fight for justice and for the protection of public health. A strong MS4 Permit can help to ensure that our tax dollars are immediately put to good use to equitably invest in our communities and in our water future.

We need more community representation as this new MS4 Permit is finalized so that the terms of the permit are not decided solely by its permittees, but rather by all stakeholders, including YOU, who deserve a healthy environment with access to safe and clean water. The draft permit is expected to be released in mid-August 2020, followed by public workshops and a 60-day public comment period. This is our chance to advocate for a strong permit that holds permittees accountable so we can finally reduce stormwater pollution.

Join Heal the Bay to Take LA By Storm and demand a strong MS4 Permit!

Sign Up For Updates

You will receive:

  • MS4 Permit information
  • Public workshop notifications
  • Public comment opportunities
  • Instructions and guidance for submitting public comment
  • And more!

 



Heal the Bay’s annual River Report Card Rates 28 Freshwater Recreation Sites in Los Angeles River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek Watersheds

2020 so far has been the year of making the best of it. When it comes to freshwater resources in L.A. County, we don’t have many, but we do love our rivers and swimming holes. And many of us will be looking to explore more local freshwater recreation options this summer, whether it’s because we had to cancel our long-distance vacation plans or reconsider a trip to the beach due to Safer at Home measures.

But no trip to the river is worth getting sick. And unfortunately, many freshwater recreation sites in L.A. County do have levels of bacterial pollution that represent a significant health risk. Developed areas tend to be more polluted than those in the mountains and upper watersheds.

Our annual River Report Card is the most comprehensive report on freshwater bacterial water quality and health risks in L.A County. The report grades each freshwater recreation site with a Red, Yellow, or Green rating.

  • Green : Zero parameters exceeded; low risk of illness when there is water contact.
  • Yellow : One to half of the parameters exceeded; moderate risk of illness when there is water contact.
  • Red : More than half of the parameters exceeded; high risk of illness when there is water contact.

In addition to the annual report, which summarizes the data collected in 2019, we also have an interactive map at healthebay.org/riverreportcard, which is updated weekly, so you can check the latest water quality observation before choosing a place to go this summer.

A Note About Swimming in the Time of COVID-19

While we have a pandemic going on, it’s especially important to be safe any time you leave the house, including outdoor recreation. That means wearing a mask and keeping a safe physical distance from others.

Our water quality tests do not detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in the water, but they do detect fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). The COVID-19 virus has been detected in sewage, indicating that fecal matter from infected individuals can contain the virus. We do not know how long the virus survives in sewage or in water, and we do not know if someone can contract the COVID-19 disease from coming into contact with water. Experts have stated that the transmission risk in water is likely very low because the virus mainly spreads through person-to-person contact. Since COVID-19 and FIB both enter our waterways through sewage, measuring FIB concentrations can help keep people safe from both.

Be sure to check for closures and specific restrictions at freshwater sites, trails, and open space before you head out. And, as always when you visit the river, make sure to pack out what you pack in. Be a water steward and keep plastics and trash out of the environment.

Be safe, have fun, and enjoy your local waters.

Download the annual River Report Card

See the annual River Report Card Media Release 

Check out the Weekly Updated River Report Card Interactive Map

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Our 30th Anniversary of the annual Beach Report Card:

Thirty years ago people were getting sick from going in the ocean, and there was no way for them to know when or where they were at risk. Heal the Bay introduced the Beach Report Card in 1990-1991, a tool to help keep the public safe at the beach. It is also a powerful resource used to advocate for water quality policies and improvement projects.

Thirty years later, Heal the Bay is stoked to release the 30th annual Beach Report Card, because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick. This report assigns A-to-F letter grades for more than 500 California beaches, based on levels of bacterial pollution in the ocean.

So, what did our staff scientists find? Here are our major takeaways:

  • California beach water quality improved in 2019-2020, driven in large part by decreased rainfall. Rainfall across coastal counties in California was 12 percentage points lower than the historical average. Less rain means fewer pollutants, including bacteria, were flushed through storm drains and rivers into the ocean. Because of this pollutant flushing, only 65% of CA beaches received good or excellent grades during wet weather.
  • The notorious Beach Bummer list—a ranking of the ten most polluted beaches in the state—includes six bacteria-impaired beaches within San Mateo County. This is an unusually high number of beach bummers for a single county. The remaining four beach bummers are located in Southern California and are frequent pollution offenders. (View the Beach Bummers of 2020.)
  • While scientists remain deeply concerned about water quality issues, there is some good news for beachgoers. 92% of the 500 California beaches monitored by Heal the Bay received an A or B grade for the summer season. During dry weather in the winter season, 91% of beaches received an A or B grade, which was slightly better than average. (Go to pages 5-6 of the report for the full Executive Summary.)
  • Overall, 42 out of more than 500 monitored California beaches made it on Heal the Bay’s coveted Honor Roll this year, which is higher than last year (33) and the year before (37) likely due to lower than average rainfall. To make it on the Honor Roll the beach must be monitored year-round and score perfect A+ water quality grades each week in all seasons and weather conditions. Most beaches on the Honor Roll are in Southern California because many counties in Central California and Northern California do not sample frequently enough during the winter months. (For the full Honor Roll list, see pages 14-15 of the report.)
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life around the world and has devastated households and communities. We must continue to practice physical distancing and other health and safety procedures, and to keep in mind that a large percentage of people can spread the virus without showing symptoms. The closure of beaches in many locations due to COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of beaches in our lives as open spaces for recreation, relaxation, exploration, and places to gather. But, COVID-19 has also exposed major systemic failures; open spaces, including beaches, are not equally accessible to all people and the public health impacts of health crises as well as poor water and air quality are not shared equally across communities. Low-income communities of color tend to be the most burdened and vulnerable communities, bearing the brunt of environmental and economic impacts. As we plan for the future post-COVID-19, we can and must do better to protect everyone. (Learn more on page 49.)
  • Heal the Bay is expanding the Beach Report Card to include three beaches in Tijuana, Mexico: El Faro, El Vigia, and Playa Blanca. These popular beaches in Mexico, along with Imperial Beach in California, US, are impacted by millions of gallons of raw sewage that flow into the ocean through the Tijuana River. As a result, the public is at a greater risk for getting ill and local beaches are often closed for months on end. Heal the Bay is partnering with Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental to help spread awareness about water quality in Tijuana. Margarita Diaz, Director of Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental, says “Showing the integration of what is happening on both the US and Mexican portion of our watershed is a long overdue requirement for understanding environmental health issues—particularly as they relate to water quality in our shared watershed—given that they are intrinsically connected.” (Learn more on page 50.)

Tips for staying safe at the beach:

  • Check beachreportcard.org for latest water quality grades (available on iOS & Android)
  • Avoid shallow, enclosed beaches with poor water circulation
  • Swim at least 100 yards away from flowing storm drains, creeks, and piers
  • Stay out of the water for at least 72-hours after a rain event
  • Wear a mask when not in the water and remain at least 6 -feet away from people not from your household at all times
  • Follow all local health and safety regulations, and check in with the lifeguard on duty for more information about the best places to swim

In analyzing the last thirty years of water quality data, one major finding we uncovered in California was the number of beach and coastal access days the public lost out on due to bacterial-pollution risks.

There have been 66,605 bacterial-pollution exceedance events at California beaches in the last 30 years (Summer Dry, Winter Dry, Wet Weather combined). That’s an average of 2,220 exceedance events per year in California. We estimate the bacterial pollution issue has resulted in 132,130 to 396,390 beach advisory days where the public has not been allowed to access the beach. See pages 22-27 to view an outline of the major policies that the Beach Report Card has influenced over the years as well as whether or not water quality has improved over time.

Download the Report

Download the Executive Summary En Español

Download the Press Release

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About the Beach Report Card with NowCast

The annual Beach Report Card includes an analysis of water quality for three time periods: summer dry season (April through October 2019), winter dry weather (November 2019 through March 2020) and year-round wet weather conditions. The grading methodology is endorsed by the State Water Resources Control Board. All county health departments in California are required to test beach water quality samples for fecal indicator bacteria at least once a week during the summer season. Many counties also monitor heavily used beaches year-round. Heal the Bay compiles the complex shoreline data, analyzes it, and assigns an easy-to-understand letter grade.

In addition to providing weekly water quality grades for 500 beaches statewide, Heal the Bay scientists continue to expand NowCast, a daily water quality predictive service at 20 popular beaches in California. Using sophisticated machine learning, environmental science data, modeling, and past bacteria samples, Heal the Bay accurately predicts when beaches should post warning signs because of potential bacterial pollution. This new approach enhances public health protections by providing more advanced water quality information to public health officials and beachgoers.

Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card is made possible through the generous support from SIMA Environmental Fund, Swain Barber Foundation, and Sony Pictures Entertainment.

For a detailed look at beach results by location, why some beach types are more vulnerable to higher levels of pollution, and detailed report methodology, please refer to our complete report. A PDF version of the 2019-20 annual Beach Report Card is available to download at  https://healthebay.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Report-2020_web.pdf


VIEW A RECORDING OF OUR LIVE CONFERENCE

Heal the Bay hosted a live conference on June 30 at Noon to reveal this year’s annual Beach Report Card findings. Speakers included: Dr. Shelley Luce, President and CEO at Heal the Bay, Luke Ginger, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay, Frankie Orrala, Angler Outreach Program Manager at Heal the Bay, and Laurie Silvan, Director of the Board for Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental (PFEA). View recording: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/2147380701854201099



Every year, Heal the Bay staff scientists assign A-to-F letter grades to beaches all along the California coast. These grades are based on bacteria pollution and help inform public health. This year, 92% of 500 California beaches received an A or B grade for the busy summer season. However, several beaches are on our list of no-goes.

We’re announcing our 2019-2020 Beach Bummers List, a ranking of the ten most polluted beaches in the state based on levels of harmful bacteria. This year, six of the ten Beach Bummers are from San Mateo County and the remaining four are in Southern California.

The Beach Bummers of 2020

  1. No. 1 – Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at San Vicente Creek Outlet (San Mateo County) Fitzgerald Marine Reserve has never appeared on the Beach Bummer list before. The beach generally has good summer water quality, but is impacted by dry weather runoff from San Vicente Creek. This beach is one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year, which is unprecedented for one county.
  2. No. 2 – Poche Beach at Creek Outlet (Orange County) Poche Beach is no stranger to the Beach Bummer list, appearing on the list in 2018, 2013, 2012, and 2011. The beach is impacted by the Prima Deshecha Cañada storm drain (referred to as Poche Creek), which carries pollution into the ocean even during dry weather from the Dana Point area.
  3. No. 3 – Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Avenue (San Mateo County) Pillar Point Harbor at Capistrano Avenue is one of three Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummers this year. There are several storm drains that carry pollutants into the harbor in dry weather, and the seawalls around the harbor prevent pollutants from getting flushed away.
  4. No. 4 – Foster City, Erckenbrack Park (San Mateo County) Erckenbrack Park is a first time Beach Bummer; however, this area of the San Francisco Bay has had a known record of poor water quality. This beach lies within an engineered patchwork of enclosed channels that are impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding residential and commercial developments.
  5. No. 5 – Topanga Beach at Creek Outlet (Los Angeles County) A 2014 study found Topanga Lagoon as the likely source of bacteria pollution at Topanga Beach. The lagoon sees high amounts of bird and dog fecal matter. When breached, the fecal matter flows into the ocean resulting in high bacteria concentrations. Planning for a lagoon restoration is underway and could mitigate poor water quality.
  6. No. 6 – Pillar Point Harbor Beach (San Mateo County) Pillar Point Harbor Beach is the second of three Beach Bummers contained within the Pillar Point Harbor. Unfortunately, it appears that the entire harbor was more polluted than normal this past year.
  7. No. 7 – Linda Mar Beach at San Pedro Creek (San Mateo County) Linda Mar Beach is making its third consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list this year, and is one of six San Mateo County Bummers. This beach is impacted by runoff during dry weather, which flows untreated into the ocean through San Pedro Creek.
  8. No. 8 – Mission Bay, Vacation Isle North Cove (San Diego County) Vacation Isle North Cove is an enclosed beach in Mission Bay that is impacted by dry weather runoff from the surrounding commercial and residential developments. Pollutants are not easily flushed away from this enclosed beach, which is located within a deep cove.
  9. No. 9 – San Clemente Pier (Orange County) San Clemente Pier is making its second consecutive appearance on the Beach Bummer list and is one of two Orange County Beach Bummers this year. This beach is impacted by untreated dry weather runoff that flows into the ocean through a storm drain.
  10. No. 10 – Pillar Point Harbor at Westpoint Avenue (San Mateo County) Rounding out the Beach Bummer list is Pillar Point Harbor at Westpoint Avenue, which is the third Pillar Point Harbor Beach Bummer and one of six San Mateo County Beach Bummers this year. Untreated dry weather runoff appears to be causing significant water quality problems in this enclosed harbor.

For a detailed look at beach results by location, why some beaches are more vulnerable to higher levels of pollution, and more information about the Beach Bummers (pages 16-18), refer to our complete annual Beach Report Card 2019-20

Polluted ocean waters are a significant health risk to beachgoers. We encourage all beachgoers to check the Beach Report Card when planning a trip to the ocean! Because a day at the beach shouldn’t make anyone sick.

Coming into contact with beach water that has a grade of C or lower greatly increases the risk of contracting illnesses such as stomach flu, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and rashes. 

See more highlights from this year’s report.



Recent school closures mean many students are not getting the daily education they need. While we all should be practicing physical distancing at this time, we also need to put our brainpower and creative energy to good use and innovate to give students more opportunities to keep learning remotely.

Gotitas del Saber is Heal the Bay’s new interactive science education series, where our team of scientists, experts, and advocates explores the water world and offers fun lessons about the marine environment. Each session is about 1-hour long and includes a live presentation, Q&A, polls, and videos. Activities are generally geared for 3rd – 8th grade students, but all ages are welcome and encouraged to attend!

________

El reciente cierre de las escuelas significa que gran parte de los estudiantes no reciban la educación diaria necesaria. En estos momentos en los que todos debemos practicar el distanciamiento físico es necesario hacer buen uso de toda nuestra energía y capacidad cerebral e innovar para darle a nuestros estudiantes más oportunidades para seguir aprendiendo de manera remota.

Heal the Bay está respondiendo a esta situación con una nueva serie interactiva de educación científica llamada “Gotas de conocimiento” o Knowledge Drops por su nombre en inglés, donde nuestro grupo de científicos, expertos y defensores exploran el mundo acuático y ofrecen divertidas lecciones acerca del entorno marino. Cada lección tiene una duración aproximada de una hora e incluye una presentación en vivo, una sección de preguntas y respuestas, encuestas y videos. Nuestra nueva serie web está pensada para estudiantes del 3° al 8° grado pero ¡personas de todas las edades son bien recibidas y están invitadas a participar!

______

Click to visit our English language “Knowledge Drop” series.

See all recorded Knowledge Drops.

Gotitas del Saber:

PAST EVENTS (LINK TO VIDEOS BELOW)

4/22 – LA HISTORIA DEL DIA DE LA TIERRA 🌏
5/6 – CONOCE EL FLUJO 💦
5/13 – DESAGUES PLUVIALES 🌧
5/20 – PLASTICOS 🥤
5/27 – PESCADO CONTIMINADOS 🎣
6/10 – VIRUS Y CALIDAD DEL AGUA
6/17 –  SITIO SUPERFUND 🆘
6/24 – ACUARIO Y LIMPIEZA COSTERA 🌀
7/1 – ÁREAS MARINAS PROTEGIDAS (MPAs)🛡
7/15 – TOXICIDAD ACUÁTICA
7/22 – LOS CABALLITOS DE MAR Y GARIBALDI 🐴
7/29 – SHARKS AND RAYS / TIBURONES Y MANTARRAYAS 🦈

If you are a teacher with a topic suggestion, please contact us with your idea.


Resources and Videos/Recursos:

All previously-recorded Gotitas Del Saber webinar videos are posted here as an ongoing marine science education repository for you to access. (To view the webinar recordings please visit the ‘gotowebinar’ links below and enter in your contact information. We will only use your email address to update you about upcoming “Gotitas Del Saber” and you can opt out at any time.)

Todas las grabaciones anteriores de “Gotas de conocimiento” (Knowledge Drops) son publicadas aquí de manera continua para tu consulta a modo de archivo para la educación de las ciencias marinas. (Para ver las grabaciones en la página web por favor visita los enlaces “gotowebinar” ubicados más abajo e ingresa tu información. Usaremos tu dirección de correo electrónico para mantenerte informado de las nuevas “Gotas de conocimiento” (Knowledge Drops) y podrás salir cuando lo desees.)

Gotitas del Saber: La historia del Día de la Tierra

Recorded Webinar/Webinar grabado:: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/4446715700219695361

More Information/Más información:

Gotitas del Saber: Conoce el Flujo

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/2622740259256834566

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Desagues Pluviales

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/6033268098610078222

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Plasticos

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/3195564926916837132

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Pescados Contaminados

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/848989410095476225

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Virus y Calidad del Agua

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/9161552403089257478

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Aquatic Toxicity: Sources and Solutions

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/4000079784492577294

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Sitio Superfund

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/3636684594553388047

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Aquario y Limpieza Costera

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/5657488010514034189

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Áreas Marinas Protegidas (MPAS)

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/6766161868839098128

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: Crustaceans

Recorded Webinar:
https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/1116456609554810369

More Information:

Gotitas del Saber: MicroSafari (en Español)

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/6461401435030243855

Gotitas del Saber: Toxicidad Acuática

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/5609503124519119873

Gotitas del Saber: Los Caballitos De Mar Y Garibaldi

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/3450783567349679107

Gotitas del Saber: Tiburones y Mantarrayas

Recorded Webinar: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/1511927852828490255


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