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Heal the Bay Blog

A word to the wise: Avoid water contact at Los Angeles County beaches for at least 72 hours, following last night’s surprise storm.

All that lightning provided a beautiful show, but the accompanying rain did a number on our beaches.

The county’s 2,800-mile storm-drain system is designed to channel rainwater to the ocean to prevent local flooding. But it also carries tons of trash and bacteria-laden runoff directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro bays following stormy weather.

A single major storm can send 10 billion gallons of water into our bays!

There’s another equally disturbing aspect to the runoff – it’s a huge waste of a precious resource.

Los Angeles imports costly and increasingly scarce water from Northern California and the Colorado River. We now import more than 80% of our water, using enormous amounts of energy and capital to do so.

Stormwater — if held, filtered and cleansed naturally in groundwater basins — could provide a safe, more secure and less costly source of drinking water. If L.A. County voters approve Measure W in next month’s election, the county’s Public Works Department would receive $300 million to build multi-benefit stormwater capture projects throughout the region.

The modest parcel tax would create a lattice of parks, green streets and wetlands throughout the region. Instead of sending runoff uselessly to the sea, the projects would capture and clean more than 100 billion gallons of water for reuse throughout the region. That’s enough to meet the water needs of 2.5 million Angelenos each year.

“It’s depressing to see all the waste on our shorelines after a big storm,” said Shelley Luce, president of Heal the Bay. “But it’s just as depressing to think about all that rainwater we are wasting. By approving Measure W, voters can turn a nuisance into a resource. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we need to seize it.”

More than 70 major outfalls spew manmade debris, animal waste, pesticides, automotive fluids and human-gastrointestinal viruses into the marine ecosystem after storms. This pollution poses human health risks, harms marine life and dampens the tourist economy by littering shorelines.

During the rainy season, Heal the Bay reminds residents that they can take steps in their own home to take pressure off an already taxed stormdrain system. Among them: keep trash out of gutters and stormdrains, dispose of animal waste and automotive fluids properly, and limiting runoff by curtailing such wasteful practices as hosing driveways and overwatering landscapes.



Measure W is a water-quality funding measure on the November 6, 2018 ballot in Los Angeles County. Heal the Bay encourages you to VOTE YES ON W. Help us spread the word: Take part in an upcoming Measure W event -and- get the facts about this modest parcel tax that would increase our region’s local water supply upon voter approval.

L.A. has a once-in-a-generation chance on November 6, 2018 to capture, clean and save up to 100 billion gallons of rain each year — enough water to meet the needs of more than 3 million Angelenos annually.

Let’s not waste water. Let’s not waste this opportunity to secure our water future. Join a phone bank and see our Action Alert to encourage your social circles to VOTE YES ON W.

 

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Get informed:

Frequently asked questions about Measure W:

Q: Why does L.A. County need the Safe, Clean Water Program?
We live in a water-scarce area. Forces outside of our control can threaten our local water resources, including lakes, rivers and beaches. L.A. County residents rely heavily on imported water – as much as two-thirds of our water is imported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Owens River, Arizona, and the Colorado River – hundreds of miles away.

Climate change is causing more and more extreme weather conditions, making these remote sources more unreliable. The impacts of the recent five year drought were widely felt here.

Rainfall is an essential, local source of L.A.’s water. Rain runs through local rivers, creeks
and streams and can be absorbed into the ground, replenishing our local groundwater supply. However, because so much of our region is paved over, when we do experience heavy rain, too much of that precious water is lost to the ocean before we can capture and clean it for use.

Our local water resources are also threatened by contaminants and pollution as
stormwater runs over streets and over paved areas into our rivers, creeks and streams. Pollution flows onto our beaches and into the ocean, posing a risk to public health risk and marine life.

Q: Is clean water normally scarce in the L.A. region or did the recent drought
cause a water shortage?
Even in years with normal rainfall, L.A. County is a water-scarce region. The recent five year drought put even more stress on our local water resources and made our regular situation dramatically worse. As climate change causes more weather extremes like the drought, we need to take significant steps now to protect and improve our local water resources.

Q: I know the drought was seriously harmful for our local water supply, but
didn’t the heavy rains last winter make up for it?
Unfortunately, no. When we do experience heavy rains, like this past winter, our existing stormwater system can only capture a fraction of that rainfall. Each year, L.A. County loses over 100 billion gallons of water – enough to meet the needs of more than 3 million people annually.

 

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In addition to missing the opportunity to capture, clean and save more water, stormwater runoff picks up toxins from parking lots, streets and other developed areas and carries them into our rivers, lakes, streams and eventually our ocean. As extreme weather conditions become the new normal, we need a system that can capture more local rainfall, and clean and save it for future use.

Q: Do we capture and store rain already when we experience storms? How
much rainwater can we capture and store now?
Right now, L.A. County captures and stores enough rain each year to meet the needs of
approximately 1 million locals – about 10 percent of our county’s population.

Existing dams in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains capture rainfall and stormwater that is conveyed to a network of “spreading grounds” – shallow and deep basins that have a sandy, gravelly, and/or cobbled bottom that allows water to pass into the ground, naturally filtering it along the way. The spreading grounds work in conjunction with the dams to capture as much water as possible to minimize the amount that flows to the ocean. Eventually, this water gets pumped into a water treatment and distribution system for us to use.

Unfortunately, our current system can’t capture all the rainfall we get. A major opportunity for a more reliable local water supply is capturing more rainfall, which we can store underground, clean, and re-use.

Q: How much more water could we be saving for our region?
With the Measure W investment, we could as much as triple the amount of rain we capture, preserving enough water to meet the needs of nearly 1/3 of Los Angeles County community, ensuring our region can see benefits from erratic and intense rain events.

Q: What funding exists for these important projects?
While some types of water supply projects are supported by reliable revenue, like regular rates, there is no dedicated funding source for stormwater projects.

Q: Can we count on the federal government to protect our beaches and water resources?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Clean Water Act have
historically been key in establishing stringent water quality standards; however, they provide minimal funding. Today, it’s more important than ever for our County leadership to take action to improve local water resources for L.A. County residents.

Q: How is L.A. County helping to solve these challenges?
There are smart solutions to help address the challenges we face when it comes to protecting and improving our local water resources, our beaches, rivers, creeks andstreams. L.A. County and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District have developed a program – the Safe, Clean Water Program – based on modern science, technology and nature-based solutions to:

  • Keep toxins and trash from washing into local lakes, rivers, streams, beaches and the ocean
  • Take advantage of less regular, more intense rainstorms in order to save more rainfall and clean it for use, which would mitigate the impact of drought and also protect public health
  • Increase community protections against extreme weather patterns and climate change while adding natural areas, shade and green space to enjoy

Q: What would the L.A. County Safe, Clean Water Program do?
If we are able to get out the vote and pass Measure W in L.S. County this November, the Safe, Clean Water Program would fund stormwater capture projects and programs that improve water quality; increase water supply; and invest in communities by developing a skilled local work force, greening schools, parks and wetlands, and increasing public access to natural areas like rivers, lakes, and streams.The Program would fund the construction and maintenance of projects that:

  • Protect public health by cleaning stormwater pollution and contamination
  • Safeguard marine and other wildlife from trash and toxins in stormwater runoff
  • Mitigate severe drought impacts by increasing local water supply
  • Update our local water infrastructure to capture and treat stormwater
  • Help cities meet their Clean Water Act obligation to clean stormwater

The program would prioritize projects that use nature-based solutions to capture, clean, and conserve stormwater, which can beautify communities while improving our resilience against extreme weather patterns of drought and heavy storms.

Q: What types of projects would the Safe, Clean Water Program Fund?
The Safe, Clean Water Program would fund a suite of project types that capture, clean, and conserve stormwater, from regional projects that benefit entire watersheds, to small local projects in communities. Some example project types include large wetland projects, enhancement of spreading grounds to capture water, water infiltration galleries under parks or other open space, or other “low impact development” that uses greening to capture and treat stormwater.

The best way to capture more water is to rely on natural areas, like streambeds, grassy parks, grassy fields at schools and other non-paved areas. These areas absorb rain naturally and refill our underground reserves.

One of the most exciting parts of the Safe, Clean Water Program is that the projects would use this strategy to not only capture more rain, but to also increase shade, parkland and natural areas for people and wildlife in our area in the process. See conceptual examples of projects that the Safe, Clean Water Program may fund.

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program fund any programs?
Yes! In addition to projects on the ground, the Safe, Clean Water Program would also
fund a variety of educational and capacity-building programs for the region, which may include: local workforce job training; curriculum for schools; and public education on stormwater.

Q: How would the Safe, Clean Water Program be funded, and what would it cost me?
The L.A. County Department of Public Works has analyzed costs and funding
mechanisms to support critical rainwater capture and water quality projects in our region, and is proposing that the L.A. County Flood Control District levy a special parcel tax based on impermeable surface area (paved or built areas where water cannot infiltrate, and instead runs off as stormwater).

The modest tax would be levied on private properties in cities and unincorporated areas located within the L.A. County Flood Control District. The ultimate cost of the tax per parcel would be based on total area of impermeable surface on each property. An appeals process would be available for any properties that believe their tax amount has been incorrectly calculated. Currently under discussion are options for crediting those who are already capturing stormwater, and incentivizing others who want to do more. Calculate your estimated parcel tax.

Q: How much money would the Safe, Clean Water Program raise, and how
would the money be spent?
The Safe, Clean Water Program would aim to raise about $300 million per year to
implement needed stormwater capture projects. 90% of the total revenues collected for
the Safe Clean Water Program – currently aimed to be roughly $270 million – would be
available as a funding source to municipalities and communities.

All tax revenues generated for the Safe, Clean Water Program would be allocated as
follows:

  • 40% to a Municipal Program that would return funds directly to cities and
    municipalities for projects that improve water quality and provide additional
    benefits
  • 50% to a Regional Program that would fund watershed-based projects with
    regional benefits including increased water supply and stormwater pollution
    reduction
  • 10% to a District Program for local workforce training, development and
    implementation of educational programs, and for overall Program administration

Q: What is the Municipal Program, and what would it fund?
40% of revenues from the Safe, Clean Water Program would be returned directly to cities and unincorporated areas in the L.A. County Flood Control District proportionate to what each municipality is contributing toward the Program. Projects would be required to at least have a water quality benefit, and are encouraged to have additional benefits, including greening of schools, creation of parks and wetlands, or increased water supply.

The intent of the Municipal Program is to provide flexibility and local control so that funds can go toward those projects and programs each local government thinks best address local stormwater challenges and opportunities. Notably, cities and municipalities can use up to 30% of their local return revenues to pay for operations and maintenance of projects that existed prior to the commencement of the Safe, Clean Water Program, and related activities.

Q: What is the Regional Program, and what would it fund?
50% of revenues from the Safe, Clean Water Program would fund watershed-based
projects that provide regional benefits, including stormwater pollution reduction,
increased water supply, and investments in communities on the ground.

The majority of funding for the Regional Program would go toward regional and small scale capital improvement projects – new infrastructure. A portion of these funds would be made available for scientific studies and technical assistance.

The Regional Program funds would be distributed to 9 identified “Watershed Areas” in
the L.A. County Flood Control District in proportion to the revenue collected in that area. The Program would include provisions ensuring that investments are made in underserved and low-income areas for the implementation of projects that would provide clean water benefits for all.

 

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Q: What is the District Program, and what would it fund?
10% of revenues from the Safe, Clean Water Program would fund: coordination of
stormwater education and capacity-building programs; provision of regional leadership and coordination for water quality planning and modeling; implementation of multi-benefit projects; and overall administration of the Safe, Clean Water Program.

Q: Who would decide how to spend Safe, Clean Water funds?
Municipal, Regional, and District funds will be administered differently, as follows:

  • Municipal Program: Each city and unincorporated area in the L.A. County Flood Control District would have control to allocate funds returned to them in the manner that they believe best meets Program goals
  • Regional Program: Stakeholder committees for the 9 identified “Watershed Areas” in the L.A. County Flood Control District would identify projects, and relay them to a regional oversight committee to make a final recommendation for affirmation by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors
  • District Program: The L.A. County Flood Control District would determine how to use these funds to administer programs, studies, and the Program as a whole

Oversight measures, reporting, and auditing procedures would be in place for each of
these programs to ensure that Program funds are being used in the most beneficial ways possible.

Q: Who would be eligible to apply for funding?
The Safe, Clean Water Program has very broad applicant eligibility to increase access to funding. Any individual, group, special district, school, municipality, non-governmental organization (NGO), non-profit organization, community based organization (CBO), public utility, federally recognized Indian tribes, state Indian tribes listed on Native American Heritage Steering Committee’s California Tribal Consultation List, mutual water company, or other entities that submits a project for consideration would be eligible to receive funding through the Safe, Clean Water Program.

Q: Would schools benefit from the Safe, Clean Water Program?
Yes, schools would be eligible to apply for funding to implement projects. They also
would be valuable partners for developing projects with other entities.
Public school districts would not be taxed under the potential funding measure.

Q: How is the County going to take advantage of other existing funding
sources for this program?
L.A. County and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District are working to identify
funding and opportunities to share costs with other agencies. Several cities in the County are investing limited funds in stormwater capture and re-use plans, and the L.A. County Safe, Clean Water Program would help unify these efforts and maximize resources to support safe, clean local water resources for all L.A. County residents.

Q: Who would oversee the Program and spending?
Oversight mechanisms are critical to ensure that Program funds are being spent
responsibly and that benefits are realized throughout the region over time. Each of the funding recipients within the Municipal, Regional, and District will be required to undergo an independent audit every 5 years.

Q: Is anyone exempt from paying for the Safe, Clean Water Program?
The Program proposes to exempt low-income senior citizens. Public properties, like
public schools, would be constitutionally exempt from the proposed parcel tax.

Q: When will money from the Safe, Clean Water Program be available for projects?
Immediately after the potential voter approval of Measure W, the process for evaluating and soliciting regional projects begins. As part of the Municipal Programs, cities could start receiving funds for local stormwater capture projects and programs as early as Winter 2020.

Q: What are the primary outcomes the Safe, Clean Water Program would likely achieve?
The Safe, Clean Water Program would result in a series of outcomes, including:

  • Meaningful improvements in water quality
  • Meaningful increases in local water supply
  • Community investments, including greening of streets and schools, and improved access to rivers, lakes, and streams
  • Improved collaboration with stakeholders to consider and implement projects and programs that offer the greatest potential for significant impact
  • Tangible benefits in communities throughout the region

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program help our cities comply with current State and federal water quality standards?
Investing in local water quality is a priority for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors wants to ensure that any funds spent through the Safe, Clean Water Program help our area meet standards for clean water, while also addressing other regional priorities, such as adequately protecting the region against impacts of future droughts, improving the resilience of our water system, and delivering tangible benefits to our communities.

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program be better for public health?
Yes. It’s no secret that dirty water from heavy storms results in beach closures following heavy rain in Los Angeles, because of threats to public health. By using smart, nature-based solutions, we could capture more runoff and filter out harmful toxins and pollutants. In the process of capturing and cleaning stormwater, projects in the Safe, Clean Water Program would add more green space, further supporting healthier communities.

Q: How would the Safe, Clean Water Program help low-income and
underserved communities?
Providing benefits to low-income and underserved communities is a priority for the Safe, Clean Water Program. There are many ways the Program will prioritize funding to disadvantaged communities, including: funding available for small-scale or community projects; priority consideration for projects benefitting disadvantaged communities or with strong community support; involvement of stakeholders and community groups in decision-making on funding priorities; funding available for technical assistance and feasibility studies, and funding stormwater education programs.

Through these avenues, the Safe, Clean Water Program hopes to provide equitable access to Program funds, as well as receipt of Program benefits.

Q: Would the Safe, Clean Water Program benefit marine life?
Absolutely. Each year, marine mammals, seabirds, and fish die, either from mistakenly
eating plastic garbage and other harmful contaminants, or ensnaring themselves.

Annually, over 4,000 tons of trash is found on L.A. County beaches. By preventing stormwater runoff from carrying tons of trash and contaminants out to sea, we can better protect marine life.


See our Action Alert: healthebay.org/yesonw

Learn more about Measure W on the November 6, 2018 ballot in Los Angeles County: 



Heal the Bay is celebrating a major victory in the hard-fought fight to clean up chronically polluted beaches in Malibu — the opening of the Malibu Civic Center Treatment Facility. 

Malibu is one of the most breathtaking and desirable places to live in Southern California, but it has held a dirty little secret – septic systems in and around its cultural center have fouled nearby coastal waters for decades.

Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon, and the surrounding ocean, including Surfrider Beach, are critically polluted and numerous studies point to septic systems as a major contributor. Swimmers who recreate in these waters run the risk of all kinds of illnesses.

But today Heal the Bay staff and members celebrated an important milestone in what has been a long and protracted fight to reduce water pollution in Malibu – completion of the Civic Wastewater Treatment Facility.

It was all smiles at a ribbon-cutting Friday, but the battle to get the treatment center built was fraught with tension and even some rancor over the past two decades.

For more than 15 years, Heal the Bay has called for the Malibu Civic Center’s septic systems to be replaced by a centralized wastewater treatment facility. It has been a long and bumpy road, with officials complaining about costs and some residents worried about the specter of development if sewers are put in. But our advocacy  has now yielded tangible results.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a Septic Prohibition in 2009 that required the phasing out by 2019 of all septic systems in the Malibu Civic Center Area (think Malibu Pier, Pepperdine, Malibu Bluffs Park). And in 2015 the Malibu City Council unanimously certified the Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility Final Environmental Impact Report and later secured funding for the facility.

Malibu City Councilmembers, along with Heal the Bay staff and members of the California State and Regional Water Control Boards, were all in attendance last Friday to cut the ribbon on the new facility.

It was especially gratifying to see Mark Gold, past Heal the Bay president and current board member, in attendance. Amid often fierce opposition from city officials and some Malibu property owners, Gold led the charge to demand an end to septic tanks in the Civic Center area for many years. He helped broker an MOU between the city and the regional water board that phased out septic tanks and mandated the building of a more modern treatment facility. (You can read more about his war wounds in one of his blog posts here.)

The wastewater treatment site is located at the intersection of Civic Center Way and Vista Pacifica. The facility will treat wastewater from properties in and around the Civic Center, and use the recycled water produced by the facility for irrigation of local parks and landscaping.

With a snip of the giant scisssors, history was made and Malibu ocean-users can now breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to all our donors and advocates who helped Malibu officials do the right thing!



Talia Walsh, Heal the Bay communications associate director, shares this year’s preliminary list of beach trash finds in Los Angeles, California.

Coastal Cleanup Day is an annual community volunteering effort that reveals insights about the nature of ocean pollution. The 2018 Coastal Cleanup Day event in L.A. County brought together 13,464 individuals who removed over 29.8 tons of ocean-bound trash from 78 cleanup sites in 3 hours. These piles of trash tell a compelling story.

Gleaning early results reported anecdotally by Heal the Bay’s cleanup captains and volunteers, here are this year’s most common — and weirdest — hand-picked beach trash finds in L.A.:

Beach Trash Finds in Emoji:

  1. 🥤 Plastics:  Single-use drink & food containers, Polystyrene, Tiny plastic pieces
  2. 🚬 Smoking-Related:  Cigarette butts, Lighters, Cannabis packaging
  3. ♻️ Recyclables: Glass, Paper, Metal
  4. 💉 Medical and Hygiene:  Syringes, Condoms, Diapers
  5. 💩 Feces:  Humans, Pets, Unknown
  6. 💊 Drugs:  Pipes, Powders, Pills
  7. 🎣 Fishing Gear: Traps, Hooks, Nets
  8. 🚗 Automobile Parts:  Frames, Engines, Tires
  9. 📱 Lost & Found:  Wedding Rings, Watches, Phones
  10. 👟 Shoes:  Sandals, Sneakers, Wedges
  11. 🏄🏻 Broken Boards: Surfboards, Paddleboards, Boogie boards
  12. 💼 Suitcases: Wardrobe change, please!
  13. 🔋 e-Waste: Cords, Parts, Batteries
  14.  🗡️ Weapons: Bullets, Shivs, Knives
  15. 🛴 Electric Scooters: Underwater e-scooter hunt, anyone?

Looking at the above list, it seems we need to rapidly evolve our manner of thinking about product design and usability to combat rising ocean pollution. Here are some ways to start getting involved locally:

Coastal Cleanup Day is one of 735 cleanups Heal the Bay hosts a year. Check out our Marine Debris Database that houses information for 3.5 million pieces of trash collected by Heal the Bay volunteers in Los Angeles County. See the latest water quality updates for your favorite beach by installing our new Beach Report Card app for iOS or Android — and — visit the website at beachreportcard.org for the latest grades.


View Our Coastal Cleanup Day 2018 Wrap Up Book


Take Part

Check out our next beach cleanup in L.A. County! Stay tuned for the full International Report for Coastal Cleanup Day to be released in the coming months.

 



Amanda Wagner, Heal the Bay’s watershed research fellow, recently attended Gov. Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit 2018 as an official youth delegate from UCLA. Despite negative headlines about climate, she left feeling enthusiastic.

The Global Climate Action Summit, recently held in San Francisco by California Gov. Jerry Brown, brought together NGOs, governments, and private companies from all over the world to talk about climate change and potential solutions.

The event inspired me, especially at a time when climate change disasters seem to be making headlines every day and there seems a lack in leadership in Washington D.C. to address these challenges head on.

A majority of the summit consisted of politicians and CEOs announcing their commitment to a low-carbon future. But several sidebar events focused on narrower themes. Most excitingly, the Ocean-Climate Action Agenda became a key summit challenge.

In the context of climate change, oceans are crucial for maintaining a stable climate. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen in return. Maintaining a healthy ocean will be key to curbing climate change.

Unfortunately, climate change is already negatively impacting the ocean by acidifying and warming the waters. Here in Southern California we’ve already made headlines this year with record-breaking temperatures. Our oceans are also acidifying, creating hostile and deadly conditions for many marine organisms. Other negative impacts such as over-fishing and pollution further strain the ocean.

The Ocean-Climate Agenda focuses on the ocean as part of the solution to climate change, rather than a victim. Fortunately, “the ocean is resilient, and it can recover if we help,” Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, pointed out during her talk.

A number of politicians and researchers, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, former NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and the Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama spoke with great optimism and urgency about the ocean.

Among the most pressing recommendations: creating more Marine Protected Areas and investing in fishery reform. These two efforts can dramatically increase ocean resiliency and allow the sea to absorb more carbon.

Dr. Lubchenco called strongly for more protected areas of the ocean, citing the UN’s initiative to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. Currently only about 4% of the world’s oceans are protected compared to the 15% of land that is protected.

Heal the Bay played a crucial role in establishing Southern California MPAs and we continue to monitor them through our MPA Watch program. We love MPAs and know first-hand the great benefits they can provide to both the environment and the public. Protecting the oceans can help to capture and store more carbon, increase genetic diversity and create save havens for fish. They protect coastal ecosystems, which capture and store additional carbon from the atmosphere.

At the end of the ocean specific sessions, speakers offered up business-oriented solutions to the ocean climate crisis. Daniela Fernandez, founder and CEO of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, highlighted her Ocean Accelerator program. The eight-week program brings together start-ups, investors, and mentors to develop innovative ocean solutions using technology.

Coral Vita introduced its unique for-profit business model of growing resilient, diverse coral on land-based farms for transplant into coastal regions. Rev-Ocean announced that in 2020 it will launch the largest research vessel on the sea. The ship will serve as a floating think tank for researchers and help improve collaboration and knowledge of sustainable solutions for protecting the ocean.

I am encouraged by the work we are doing in California and at Heal the Bay to protect our oceans. We must continue to protect them and increase the amount of ocean under protection. Creating more protected areas will help the ocean recover and become a partner with us in the fight against climate change. The summit showed progress can be made when smart people – from all sectors of public life – are committed to working together toward a common goal.



Apryl Boyle, our chief aquarist, celebrates a misunderstood species in our local waters. 

If you’ve spent significant time in Santa Monica Bay during the summer, you’ve probably seen or bumped into a ray in the ocean shallows.

At times I’ll be surfing, look down, and see several swim by that are looking for their next meal. Their graceful stride reminds me of a bird in flight and is mesmerizing to watch. Among the animals you’ll see in the Bay: stingrays (Urolophus halleri), bat rays (Myliobatis californica), thornback rays (Platyrhinoidis triseriata), and the shovelnose guitarfish (Rhinobatos productus).

At the Huntington Beach Pier, I saw a man who had caught a very large shovelnose guitarfish and had it laying out in front of him. As the animal gasped for air, I attempted to kindly convince the man to release it back to the wild. The breeding-age animal surely deserved better treatment.  I tried to explain that larger fish keep our oceans healthy and in balance. He wasn’t having it. Some primordial fear had this man convinced he was doing the world a service by killing this creature. The incident continues to haunt me.

Rays are higher-level predators that hunt and consume mollusks, worms, crabs, and other small fishes. They are in the same group as sharks, as they have a skeleton made of cartilage rather than bone. They’re the most diverse of the cartilaginous fishes, with approximately 600 species around the world.

They range in size from a human adult’s hand to those with a nearly 20-foot wingspan, such as the manta ray pictured below. They can be found all over the world’s ocean, from Antarctica to tropical water (although they’re more abundant in warmer water). Because they have such a wide diversity and distribution, rays are critically important to nearly all marine ecosystems and have distinct niches where they live.

Fossil records indicate that stingrays existed as far back as 150 million years ago but over 100 species are threatened today. Humans pose a real threat to their existence through overfishing, habitat loss, and accelerating climate change.

Like sharks, they are feared and largely misunderstood. They’re not normally aggressive and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some that had amazing personalities and would greet me whenever I was near. Yes I had food for them, but they were always quite friendly.  I’ve even been “hugged” by rays.

But what about being stung?

Stingrays do not indiscriminately sting humans without provocation. Sometimes people accidentally step on a ray as they walk out into the ocean. The animal’s instinctual reaction is for the tail to come up as protection. The tail has a stinging mechanism, or barb. It is jagged and has a fish hook-type shape. If you try to take the barb out of your skin carelessly it will rip more of the flesh than when it entered. If you are stung, you need to immediately soak the area in water as hot as you can stand and seek immediate medical assistance.

How can you avoid being stung? Try shuffling. No, not the Super Bowl Shuffle of the 1980s, the timeless Stingray Shuffle.  Shimmy your feet as you enter the ocean. This creates a vibration that alerts rays you’re near and they need to move. Trust me, they don’t want to be stepped on. I surely wouldn’t want a creature exponentially larger than I am stepping on my back. I would definitely react defensively and that’s what they do.

Want to see a ray up close? Come visit the round stingrays at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.



Heal the Bay staff-members are still buzzing about Al Gore’s recent Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, held at the end of August in Los Angeles. Key members of our outreach team attended the conference, learning how to talk to people about how the climate crisis affects them personally.  The training included discussions with business leaders, scientists, nonprofit leaders, students, entrepreneurs and innovators from across the globe.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti offered a tutorial on how to best engage with elected officials to effect change. Here are his tips, as relayed to us by Apryl Boyle, an attendee and chief aquarist at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium:

Know your stuff. Don’t look unprepared. It always pays to be better educated on an issue than the elected official you are meeting. Thoroughly do your research and become a subject matter expert before you meet with policy makers. Determine what they’ve worked on, their education, and what their allegiances and goals are. You need to come off as an intelligent and confident citizen. Impress with your knowledge and poise.

Be specific. Don’t ask someone to save the entire world. Come with a finite ask on a specific program, e.g. supporting a piece of legislation. Do you want the oil well removed from your neighborhood? Would you like to see the smokestacks by your residence out of commission? Ask for a very specific action.

Be flexible. Get a small victory, bank it, and march forward. Advocates simply can’t get all their goals achieved exactly the way they envisioned them right from the start. However, if you can get a foot in the door, you can start moving closer to the seats of power. Think big, but start small.  A wise person once said that it’s better to have three-fourths of a loaf of bread than none at all. We have to settle for slices at times.

Be inclusive. Stop feeling special, entitled or smug as an environmentalist/activist. Give other stakeholders a break. Understand that most of us have the same goals, but differing opinions on how to reach them. You aren’t better than someone else simply because you work for a certain organization, marched in a particular march, or wrote more letters to your politicians for a certain campaign. Recognize where there is common ground and build from there. Don’t be divisive.

Be proactive. Lay out a plan. This again is part of doing the research. Simply bringing problems to anyone without a proposed solution isn’t adequate. You simply look like you’re complaining. If you want a solution, be the solution. Gather metrics, have goals, meet deadlines and ask for deadlines.



As summer winds down, our science and policy team has stayed busy tracking water- and ocean-friendly bills as they pass through the California legislature. Staff scientist Mary Luna provides a recap:

Plastic Straws

AB 1884 (introduced by Assemblymembers Calderon and Bloom) would prohibit a food facility from providing a single-use plastic straw to a consumer, unless the consumer requests it. This would be a great step for the state and builds upon the local work of many cities in banning plastic straws (Malibu, Santa Monica, and others) as well as Heal the Bay’s 2017 “Strawless Summer” campaign. Awaiting signature.

Smoking at Beach

SB 836 (introduced by Sen. Glazer) would ban smoking on state coastal beaches. Since 1999, Heal the Bay volunteers have collected more than 450,000 cigarette butts at L.A. County beaches. SB 836 would reduce some of these butts from reaching the ocean and harming wildlife. Awaiting signature.

Food Packaging

SB 1335 (introduced by Sen. Allen) would require state facilities to use only food-service packaging that is reusable, recyclable, or compostable. Awaiting signature.

The three bills above  are “enrolled,” which means that they have passed both legislative houses and are on Gov. Brown’s desk, who has until the end of the month to sign or veto them. You can help by contacting Brown’s office and letting him know by email or phone that you support these bills.

Illegal Fishing

AB 2369 (Introduced by Assembly Member Gonzalez Fletcher) is another bill important to Heal the Bay, given that it further protects the State’s coastal and marine resources . It would increase fines on people who repeatedly fish illegally in Marine Protected Areas. Gov. Brown signed this bill in August.

 Climate Change

Heal the Bay is also committed to helping identify and implement solutions to climate change and ocean acidification. We are pleased to see Sacramento take the lead in fighting climate change in our state.

Gov. Brown has signed three bills that address climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. SB 100 (introduced by Sen. De León) requires that the state run on 100% renewable energy by 2045. AB 1775 (introduced by Assemblymember Muratsuchi) and SB 834 (introduced by Sen.  Jackson) will prevent future offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters. These bills will decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, and facilitate the transition to renewable sources of energy.

With the 2018 legislative session coming to an end, we see positive progress to reduce harmful environmental impacts in our communities, watersheds, and ocean. Let your elected leaders know that these issues are important to you!



Apryl Boyle, Heal the Bay’s resident shark guru, says that when it comes to apex predators all you need is love!

When people watch the 1975 movie “Jaws” one of two things usually happens. They become completely terrified to go in any body of water, including their bathtub, or they are motivated to learn more about sharks. I am part of the latter group.

I don’t recall exactly when I first watched this classic tale. But I do remember my instant identification with the shark researcher character, Matt Hooper. Richard Dreyfuss plays Hooper as a laid-back, unaffected rich kid fascinated by sharks. He’s the voice of reason and remains calm, which is opposite of the salty boat captain, Quint. He assists protagonist Chief Brody in finding and dealing with the great white shark terrorizing the New England island in the movie.

The film turbo-charged Steven Spielberg’s career and became a worldwide box office hit. It also became a cultural touchstone that catalyzed a global fear of sharks. It sparked sequels, spin-offs, and a “justifiable” reason for people to be afraid of going into the ocean. The filmmakers effectively created a suspenseful thriller by accentuating the fear of the unknown, hidden natural world. After all, who knows what really lurks beneath the waves? The creators tapped into an anxiety that is unmatched by immersion into any other natural environment.

When you swim in the ocean, you cannot see everything underneath or around you. You cannot breathe under water without aid. And the inhabitants of the ocean are far better swimmers than you and I will ever be. For many people this is terrifying, but for marine lovers it’s a source of wonder and excitement—not fear.

From a young age, I have been enamored with all creatures, regardless of their size, shape, or teeth. But the common myths about sharks seemed to always be at odds with my unwavering passion. When I was in college I was actually told that my last words would be, “That shark won’t bite me.”

Fast-forward a few decades.

After receiving my master’s degree in Biomedical Science and working at various aquariums throughout the U.S.,  I’ve become an expert in the shark research field. I’ve been a part of the well-known “Shark Week” programming on Discovery Channel. I’ve been tapped as an expert in the media not only for sharks, but also for marine research.

A great white shark observed by Apryl in Guadalupe Island, Mexico. Watch the video.

In my travels to Fiji, Peru and Mexico I’ve observed beautiful sharks of all types. My trips have even brought me face-to-face with 18-foot great whites, as well as blue sharks, white tips, tiger sharks, nurse sharks, and many more species. I’ve never had an aggressive encounter with sharks over the decades of countless dives.

Now, as the Associate Director of Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, I get to take care of three types of shark and a host of other ocean inhabitants and get paid to do it. This is my job!

I guess you could say that I’ve become a real-life Matt Hooper. And the kid in me is just as excited about sharks as when I first saw “Jaws.”

Apryl speaks at EcoDive Center’s Dive Club to get the group excited for Coastal Cleanup Day, which features underwater cleanup locations in Santa Monica Bay and helps to keep the local marine habitat clean for sharks and other aquatic animals.

The bottom line is that sharks need our protection. As apex predators they keep marine populations stable and thriving. They help regulate the health of the world’s ocean, which is a major source of oxygen on our planet.

Despite these benefits, humans kill an estimated 11,000 sharks every hour (!) and mostly in the horrific practice of finning. A shark is taken out of the water, its fins are cut off for use in shark-fin soup, a supposed “delicacy.” The butchered animal is thrown back into the water, where it can take up to three grueling days to finally suffocate and die.

Slowly, popular culture is starting to replace fear with facts. Peter Benchley, the late creator of the book and screenplay for “Jaws” realized the harm he had done with his product and, together with his wife, spent the rest of his career as a shark advocate. Programming during “Shark Week” has also become less alarmist since its early days. Effective nonprofits have been formed to help protect sharks locally and globally. Legislators have taken action to try and curb the atrocity of shark finning, such as California lawmakers forbidding the importation of shark fins in our state.

I’ve been surfing at El Porto in the South Bay during what I call “baby white shark season” – the time when newborns and juveniles are migrating. I’ve seen juvenile sharks in the lineup and they want nothing to do with surfers. They’re looking for one of their favorite food, stingrays. Young-of-the-year, or infant great white sharks, are born at around 4 feet long. They’re not bullies and don’t try to pick on anything their size or larger (aka humans).

Even 18-foot great whites don’t want to eat humans. We simply aren’t their food. They’re actually picky eaters and prefer the dense fat of seals and sea lions. There is no such thing as a shark “attack” – no great white is out to deliberately stalk and target human beings with some kind of premeditation or vengeance. In the extremely rare case of a shark encounter, it’s usually the case that a splashing swimmer or surfer is mistaken for a shark’s normal prey – a distressed animal.

To underscore how rare it is for someone to be seriously harmed by a shark in the ocean, you may want to remember some of these factoids. More people die each year from eating hot dogs than by shark bites – by far! You are 25 times more likely to be killed by a random strike of lightning than by a shark encounter.

What can you do to help these 400-million-year-old species?

Become a shark ambassador and educate yourself. Speak up for shark-friendly protections. Come visit Heal the Bay’s Aquarium and see our shark nursery and learn why we need to safeguard these special animals.

Sharks are essentially dinosaurs that have survived mass extinctions, but now face such great pressure from the human population that they may not survive for much longer. Whether or not you have a fear of these animals, you need to be concerned about their survival because their survival mirrors the health and biodiversity in our precious seas.

A swell shark lays eggs at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Want to get an up-close view or our local sharks? Come down to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium for our Shark Sunday programs

 



Staff scientist Ryan Searcy takes a closer look into the state’s decision not to drop fecal coliform regulations at California beaches. It’s an important example of our advocacy at work, and how collaboration with regulatory agencies can lead to better environmental policies.

Advocating for sound, science-based environmental policies is often both frustrating and rewarding. In California, we advocates are lucky that regulators generally share a similar goal of achieving a safe, healthy, and clean environment. However, we often find ourselves at disagreement on how to achieve that goal. In the end, when regulatory officials change policies or adopt a new regulation, our hope is that the best science guides the process. All relevant stakeholders should have their say, so that the policy or regulation serves the public and the environment to the highest benefit.

At the end of August we saw one example of this as the State Water Resources Control Board approved updates to the beach water quality standards provided in the California Ocean Plan. While it is true that Heal the Bay does not agree with all of the changes the State made to these standards, we want to particularly highlight a major success: that in the 11th hour, the State, along with Heal the Bay and other stakeholders, worked together to rewrite the standards to be more health protective by retaining fecal coliform.

In any given sample of ocean water, you are likely to find a veritable zoo of algae, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other organisms. Fecal coliform, along with total coliform and Enterococcus, are the three primary fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) monitored and regulated at California ocean beaches to help us determine if it’s safe to swim. FIB in the water do not necessarily get you sick themselves, but presence of these organisms may also indicate the presence of the organisms that do get you sick, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Norovirus. Swimming in water with high levels of FIB is correlated with an increased risk of skin rash, eye and ear infections, and gastroenteritis. Because of this, the State protects beachgoers by setting and enforcing water quality standards for FIB.

Last year, the State began the process of updating the water quality standards in the Ocean Plan, something that hadn’t been done since the 1980s. Initially, both total coliform and fecal coliform were dropped from the ocean regulatory standards, while standards for Enterococcus only were retained. To support this decision, the State initially cited the EPA’s 2012 meta-analysis of 27 epidemiological studies that concluded, among other findings, that Enterococcus alone was the best predictor of illness from a day at the beach. However, EPA’s analysis is not the most recent nor relevant science on water quality at California beaches. Only two of those 27 studies were performed in marine waters in the United States, and only one was performed in California; both were completed before the year 2000.

Recent epidemiological studies performed at California beaches since 2012 actually show that both Enterococcus and fecal coliform are indicators of elevated health risk. Even more interesting is that some of these studies also show that fecal coliform is a good indicator in certain types of exposure and environmental conditions where Enterococcus is not. The Colford et al. study performed at Doheny State Beach in 2012 indicated that both fecal coliform and Enterococcus were indicative of risk of gastrointestinal illness, and that when a swimmer’s entire body was submersed, fecal coliform was indicative of risk of illness when Enterococcus was not. The Surfer Health Study, performed in San Diego by our friends at the Surfrider Foundation and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) in 2017, showed that fecal coliform was strongly correlated to certain illnesses in periods of wet weather when Enterococcus was not.

Additional to its known correlation to health risk, fecal coliform levels have often exceeded California standards, even at times when Enterococcus does not. Heal the Bay maintains a large database of FIB samples taken by California beach agencies, and these data fuel our Beach Report Card and NowCast programs. Our analysis of over 328,000 historical FIB samples taken at over 700 sites in the summer seasons from 1998 through 2017 showed that nearly 23,000 (7%) of those samples exceeded state standards for at least one FIB. Of those exceedances, nearly 3 out of every 4 days in which a health standard was exceeded at a California beach, Enterococcus was partially or fully to blame. So Enterococcus is undeniably an important indicator at ocean beaches.

However, the remaining measured exceedances were not due to Enterococcus. Fecal coliform exceeded California standards alone (that is, when total coliform and Enterococcus did not) in more than 16% of all recorded exceedances, an amount that Heal the Bay argues is significant when considered with its known correlation to health risk. Looking deeper into the data, we saw that fecal coliform was the FIB in highest exceedance at a number of well-known beaches. Troubled beaches like Cowell Beach, Pismo Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, and La Jolla Cove (among others) may not have been prioritized for getting cleaned up if fecal coliform were dropped from regulation.

Fortunately, a fecal coliform crisis was averted.

The State was set to adopt the revisions to the Ocean Plan, including the amendment that dropped fecal coliform standards from the regulations, at a public hearing in February of this year. Days before the adoption hearing, the lack of consideration of the relevant California science and the historical FIB data mentioned above were brought to the State’s attention, and the hearing was postponed in order to consider fecal coliform standards further.

After a meeting in the spring with a stakeholder group composed of Heal the Bay scientists; expert water quality scientists from Stanford, UCLA (including our former chief Mark Gold), and SCCWRP ; the California Coast Keeper Alliance; and representatives from some of the Regional Water Boards, the State went back and evaluated the relevant California-based science and the historical FIB sample data from California beaches, using them as evidence to rewrite the standards to retain fecal coliform. When the amendments to the water quality standards in the California Ocean Plan were finally adopted last month, the existing fecal coliform standards were retained, and the state agreed to continue to consider the relevant science and data in future updates of the Ocean Plan.

The clawback marked a huge win for California beaches and the people who visit them.

It was also a good example of a regulatory process that involves consideration of sound science and collaboration between a regulatory agency and its stakeholders. The task is not done, though. Heal the Bay looks forward to continuing the conversation with the State Water Board and other stakeholders as we continue to work towards water quality regulations that ensure our beaches are all available for Californians to safely enjoy.

You can read the State Water Board staff report that documents their full analysis here, starting on page 62.