Heal the Bay Blog

Category: About the Bay

How many of us know that the largest underwater Superfund site is in our own backyard? Throughout the 1940s-70s more than 100 tons of DDT and PCBs were dumped into our local waters, deposited in an area known as the Palos Verdes shelf.

But some recent tests indicate that the contamination is disappearing, without being cleaned up.

As the Environmental Protection Agency investigates the mystery of what happened to all of that industrial residue, officials decided to delay their remedying of the Palos Verdes shelf, opting instead to conduct further testing of the area.

Heal the Bay‘s James Alamillo recently took to the airwaves during KPCC’s Air Talk to discuss what should happen next.

Concerned that we continue to find an increase in the number of local fish contaminated by these chemicals, James recommends that the EPA proceed with its remediation, specifically with a limited cap of clean sediment placed on top of the toxic sediment. This cap would have a direct impact on reducing contaminate levels simply because the contamination would be buried, allowing for biological life to thrive within and above the cleaner sediment.

In the meantime, Heal the Bay’s award-winning Angler Outreach team continues to advise local fishermen and their families to avoid fishing in contaminated areas and consuming white croaker among other species.

Learn about more ways Heal the Bay is working to keep our communities healthy.

Angler Outreach Program contaminated fish
The tip sheet that Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach team distributes to fishermen along piers throughout the Santa Monica Bay area, courteresy of the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative. Get yours today!

Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s Director of Coastal Resources, heads to France to share the good news about our state’s blossoming Marine Protected Areas.

If you’ve been lucky enough to go for a dive, surf, or kayak at the Channel Islands, it’s hard not to be captivated by the cathedral kelp forests, large fish cruising the reef, and the occasional harbor seal’s shy game of peek-a-boo.

Sea Lion checking out diver in Santa Barbara Island's Marine Protected Area MPAThese Islands, along with special places throughout the entire California coast, enjoy state protections that allow the marine wildlife inside to thrive. Like underwater parks, the marine protected areas (MPAs for short) here act as safe havens for the garibaldi, black seabass, and giant kelp forests that call Southern California’s coastline home. And, the good news is that globally, MPAs are on the rise. There are more than 6,000 MPAs worldwide, yet less than 2% of our oceans is protected.

Next week, ocean scientists, policymakers, leaders, and conservation professionals will be convening in France to share ideas about how to foster MPA effectiveness around the world at the 2013 International Marine Protected Areas Congress.  And Heal the Bay’s story will be among those in the fold. As one of the prime  players in the establishment of MPAs in the Golden State, we will be part of  a California delegation heading to Marseilles to spread the good news.

We will be sharing stories about California’s MPAs and showcasing the Marine Life Protection Act as a model for other nations that want to build effective community engagement and science-based planning in their MPA development. We’ll also bring back MPA stories from around the world that may enhance MPA stewardship on our coast.

Next time you visit a California MPA to enjoy the majestic kelp forest, just think that at the same time someone else might be enjoying the corals along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, whale sharks in Mozambique, or diving iguanas in the Galapagos.

Please look for our daily blog posts, photos and videos from the conference:

Bon Voyage!

Ruskin Hartley, Heal the Bay’s newly appointed CEO, makes some sweeping comments about L.A. in his inaugural post for his On the Watershed blog.

It’s Wednesday and that means I need to move my car parked in Santa Monica from the north side of the street between the hours of noon and 3 p.m. If I remember, the street sweeper can work its magic. If I forget, I risk a fine. That had me thinking of watersheds. Bear with me.

The concept of a watershed is pretty simple — it’s an area of land where all water falling within it drains to a common point. It’s also the name given to the boundary demarcating this area. Whether we know it or not, we all live within a watershed. Healthy watersheds provide a home for countless creatures and give us clean water. Start to mess with a watershed — by building in it, damming it, logging it, mining or drilling in it — and you start to impair the health of the watershed and the quality of its water. Unfortunately many watersheds around the world are suffering today. And in turn, so does anything that lives there — including us.

It’s hard to image that a heavily urbanized area is also a watershed. Fly over L.A. and all you see are buildings as far as the eye can see. To me, it couldn’t get more different from northern California and its thick blanket of forest. But both are watersheds and both suffer from degradation that affects the health of the watershed and the quality of its water. In turn, poor water quality and degraded watersheds struggle to support life and provide us with clean, drinkable, swimable water.

In northern California, rural roads that dump sediment into creeks and a legacy of aggressive logging are obvious signs of an impaired watershed. Millions are being spent fixing these problems so salmon and other animals can once again thrive. Down here in Los Angeles, it’s different. I now live in a highly urbanized environment where I almost never see a creek, let alone a fish swimming in it.

For 28 years, Heal the Bay has led the charge to clean up Santa Monica bay and its watersheds. At first our founders had to tackle the acute problems, such as the dumping of partially treated wastewater into the Bay that was killing sea life and sickening surfers. Today, the challenges are more those of a chronic malaise. We’ve triaged the worst of it, and now we have to deal with the underlying causes. Foremost is how we deal with stormwater that flushes directly from the street to the bay, untreated, carrying the toxic debris of urban life with it.

Because in most regions all water flows to the ocean, the health of the bay is an indicator of the health of the region and its watersheds. When we can swim in the bay 365 days a year and know that it provides a rich environment for the countless sea life beneath the waves, we know we’re doing our job. While huge strides have been made over the past 28 years, there’s a long way to go to complete the task of healing Santa Monica bay.

And that brings me back to street sweeping. Moving your car once a week is a simple act that helps keep the watershed just that little bit healthier. Every bit of trash swept up is one less piece that is dumped in the bay. And what’s true here, is also true in your neighborhood. As all oceans are really just one body of water, so we all live in the same watershed. And to me that’s a powerful thought as I move my car and help protect the ocean along the way.

To read more about Ruskin’s thoughts about sustainability and his journeys through the natural world, please visit

We’ve got some big news at Heal the Bay! After an extensive national search, we’re proud to announce that beginning Sept. 16, Ruskin Hartley will be Heal the Bay’s new CEO. Conservationists may recognize Ruskin’s name from his prolific work protecting California redwoods, but for those who don’t, here are the top ten things you need to know about the veteran environmentalist. 

1. Ruskin worked at the Save the Redwoods League in San Francisco for 15 years, six of those years as the Executive Director. In its nearly 100 year history, The League helped protect over 180,000 acres of redwood forest and create over 39 redwood state parks and preserves.

2. Ruskin was born and raised in rural southern England by an architect and urban planner and trained as a geographer at Cambridge University. 

3. He was asleep in Kuwait City when Iraq invaded Kuwait leading up to the Gulf War. Subsequently, he spent two years in Kuwait as an environmental planner working on the country’s third post-war reconstruction plan.

4. He’s seen every episode of Battlestar Galactica

5. Clean and healthy water has always been part of Ruskin’s mission. He spent a summer in Oman researching traditional irrigation systems and groundwater recharge. He also studied rural development at the University of East Anglia (that’s in the UK!). 

6. He’s a cricket fan and is learning to love baseball. 

7. He helped add the 25,000-acres Mill Creek property to the Redwood National and State Parks, the largest acquisition in Save the Redwood League’s history.

8. He learned to skateboard for the first time as an adult this year. He rode a longboard while his older son skated on a “trixie.” 

9. He’s tall. And don’t forget that British accent. 

10. Finally, he likes to tweet. A lot. Follow him at @ruskinhartley.

You can meet Ruskin while on the beach this Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21, 2013. For more information on Ruskin, read our full press release, visit his website or watch the video below where Ruskin describes his involvement with the Save the Redwoods League.

Heal the Bay has received many questions from concerned residents in Southern California about potential health and environmental impacts along the California coast that may result from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. Here is our perspective about possible radiation dangers, gleaned by consulting the scientific community:

What is the source of potential radiation?

On March 11, 2011, a massive 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a series of tsunami waves that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant located in Okuma, Fukushima. The emergency generators designed to cool the six onsite reactors and prevent nuclear meltdown were severely damaged during the disaster.

For the past two and a half years, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has been trying to cool the three reactors impacted by the tsunami. Japanese workers are constantly flushing the failing reactors with water and storing this now radioactive water onsite. Many of these onsite storage tanks have documented leaks; Tepco officials reported this month that as much as 300 metric tons of radioactive water is reaching Japanese waters through surface and subsurface flows on a daily basis. In addition to storage tank problems, groundwater contamination from building damage is predicted to reach the Pacific in the near future. The Japanese government has recently taken control of the cleanup, with a promise to stop groundwater from seeping into contaminated plants by sealing it off via a miles-long subterranean wall.

What are the concerns of some California residents?

Media reports have some people worried that a giant plume of radiated water will soon make its way to the California shoreline, exposing swimmers to radioactive water. Others are nervous that local diners might become contaminated by consuming imported fish caught off the Japanese coast. Some wonder if migratory predator fish will make their way from polluted waters in Japan and be caught in local waters, eventually winding up in the regional food supply chain.

Are those fears founded? Is it safe to swim in Southern California?

In terms of human health, the latest academic findings suggest that swimmers off the West Coast of North America face no radiation risks by entering the water. Radioactive concentrations harmful to humans quickly drop below World Health Organizations safety levels as soon as they leave Japanese waters, according to Dr. Erik Van Sebille, a physical oceanographer at the University of New South Wales. Open ocean currents, due to their strength and size, will dilute radioactive concentrations within four months of their release from Japan. Sebille and colleagues also conclude that It is estimated that radioactive material will take three years to travel from Japan to coastal areas along the eastern Pacific (United States, Canada, Mexico).

The bottom line, according to researchers: It is currently safe to swim along our local beaches. Experts also believe that beachgoers will not need to worry about radioactive contamination from the disaster in the future, due to dispersion currents in the open ocean.

Are fish that I get at the store or a local restaurant safe to eat?

It is important to understand the origin of the fish you consume. Much of the fishing that took place in and around Fukushima has stopped since the disaster. Even so, a recent study from the Woods Hole Institute found that the majority of marine species found in and around the Fukushima area do not contain radiation concentrations harmful for human consumption. But avoiding fish species caught in Japanese waters may be a good idea for those that have heightened concerns. We suggest that if you are worried about eating fish with elevated radioactivity, you should avoid fish coming from Japan. Fish caught off our local coastal waters as well as our northern and southern borders are safe to eat. Open ocean currents disperse radiation throughout the Pacific and will not impact local, non-migratory fish stocks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently screening all imported goods from Japan for radiation and does not anticipate any public health effect on seafood safety.

Are fish species found in the Pacific Ocean now radioactive?

At the moment, it is difficult to make scientific conclusions about the radioactivity of fish in the Pacific. Large predatory species, such as Bluefin Tuna, and bottom-dwelling species can bioaccumulate contaminants more readily and may be more prone to having higher concentrations of radiation in their bodies when compared to other species. Also, fish species may test positive for radiation from sources other than Fukushima (e.g. nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s). Additionally, the Woods Hole study found that radioactive contamination levels have not declined in fish following the initial radiation release at Fukushima, suggesting radiation is still present near the disaster site.

Is it safe to pick up trash found on the beach? Could this trash have washed up from the Japanese tsunami?

Yes, trash on the beach is safe, according to federal officials. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the relatively few items of debris originating from the tsunami found on shorelines along the U.S. West Coast have been tested for radiation, and no contamination was found. Heal the Bay is involved with NOAA’s Marine Debris Monitoring Program, where we monitor areas in Southern California for marine debris accumulation along our coast, as well as scout for debris that may be from the Fukushima disaster. Since we began the program in 2012, we have not found any debris on our local beaches originating from the disaster. If you believe that marine debris has washed up on one of our local beaches from the Fukushima event, proceed with caution and contact NOAA states that marine debris from the tsunami is unlikely to hold harmful levels of radiation and should not be of public concern.

Who is monitoring for radiation issues associated with the Fukushima disaster in the U.S.?

Three major federal agencies are currently monitoring the radiation from the Fukushima disaster: NOAA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. NOAA monitors marine debris and atmospheric dispersion of radioactive particles; the FDA tracks Japanese imports to insure food safety; while the EPA monitors air and water for radiation that is harmful to human health.

How can I stay updated on the latest developments?

Heal the Bay is keeping up to date on the most recent news and scientific studies on the Fukushima disaster in order to inform the public and best protect our coastal waters. We will provide updates on our website and social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) on the issue as more information becomes available.

Read Heal the Bay’s recommendations on how to stay healthy while swimming or fishing in Santa Monica Bay.

Japanese tsunami marine debris beach survey noaa radiation nuclear fukushima

Heal the Bay staff monitoring for tsunami debris along our local beaches.

Just in time for the last hurrah of summer, beachgoers on the West Coast can head to the shore this Labor Day secure that they’ll be swimming and playing in healthy water.  According to the 2013 End of Summer Beach Report Card®, beach water quality in California, Oregon and Washington was excellent for the fourth consecutive summer.

We collected water quality data at more than 640 monitoring locations along the West Coast between Memorial Day and Aug. 21, 2013. Then we assigned an A-to-F grade based on bacterial pollution levels. Nearly 96% of California beaches earned an A or B grade. Washington earned A or B grades at 91% of its beaches, and Oregon earned all A grades for the fourth consecutive year. 

To find out which beaches didn’t make the grade and how your county stacks up, consult our 2013 End of Summer Beach Report Card®:

Beachgoers can find out which beaches are safe, check recent water quality history and look up details on beach closures using our Beach Report Card. On the go? Download a free Beach Report Card mobile app for iPhone or Android.

Last year, Heal the Bay speakers reached more than 40,000 Angelenos across Los Angeles with our message about solutions to pollution.

How the heck did we do that? No cloning was involved, just hours of time donated by our Speakers Bureau volunteers, Heal the Bay’s elite pollution fighting team!

We thank our longtime cadre of dedicated speakers who fan out to schools, clubs, cleanups and all kinds of events to help us raise awareness about how to protect the ocean. This week we “graduated” and trained 21 new Speakers Bureau volunteers – a record number for Melissa, our Speakers Bureau coordinator.Thanks  to our new class! We look forward to partnering with you in the months and years to come.

Thank you also to Buca di Beppo, which donated food to fuel our new speakers.

We also thank our neighbors Jersey Mike’s and Fresh Brothers, as well as Just Chill for providing refreshments to our Corporate Healers, volunteers and staff these past few weeks.

Learn more about how you can reach out to – and improve– your own community via one of our volunteer programs.

To present an alternative to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (and cult TV movies like Sharknado), Heal the Bay staff write about the marine animals they love so much. The general public has been fed terrifying misconceptions about these creatures, and our mission is to raise awareness about the unique and important role sharks play in our local ocean ecosystem. 

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
H.P. Lovecraft

For most people the world over, the thought of a solitary fin slicing through the waves in the open ocean is absolutely terrifying. The fact is, you’re more likely to get bit by another person than you are to get bit by a shark. 1,587 people were bit by other people in New York City alone in one year. Shark bites that same year in the US? 13.

On average the number of fatalities due to shark bites worldwide ranges between four and six per year. The yearly risk in the U.S. of dying from a shark bite is roughly 1 in 250 million. In contrast, the yearly risk of dying from a vending machine accident is roughly 1 in 112 million. Vending machines are roughly twice as deadly as sharks. How many people do you think would buy tickets to see Attack of the 50 foot Vending Machine?

So why does this fear of sharks pervade our collective nightmares? We irrationally fixate on extremely unlikely threats, like shark attacks or the zombie apocalypse (which I am personally preparing for), while much more likely and high risk threats like heart disease, car accidents, or even the flu don’t occupy our minds and silver screens in quite the same way.  I guess it’s just not as fun to be afraid of the flu as it is to imagine sharks as crazed, bloodthirsty killers lying in wait under the waves, ready to pull you under, or in some cases, dropping down onto your head from the sky as it’s ejected from a tornado in downtown L.A.

The flu just doesn’t make good television. A bloodthirsty shark does. Jaws is the seventh highest grossing movie of all time in North America. Its famous animatronic protagonist has been etched into the minds and nightmares of so many of us, that it’s hard to shake their tarnished image and convince people that sharks are worth protecting. Peter Benchley, author of the book and screenplay for Jaws, said, “Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today. Sharks don’t target human beings, and they certainly don’t hold grudges.”

We fear sharks because we don’t know them or understand them. We haven’t had positive experiences with sharks and only know the way the media and popular culture has portrayed them – as evil killing machines. This mentality is to blame in part for the ever-increasing slaughter of sharks worldwide, bringing some species to the brink of extinction. 

Your chances of even seeing a shark, much less getting bitten by one, are so slim, that to encounter one in the wild is to be incredibly lucky. During my divemaster training in Utila, Honduras our boat full of fresh-faced dive students had just tied off at a dive spot off the north shore of the island. A few students hopped in the water to relieve themselves, and suddenly one of them yelled “SHARK!” What happened next was comedic. The students who were in the water started swimming frantically back to the boat and clambered aboard as the entire crew of the dive shop jumped overboard like lemmings, falling over each other and practically trampling their students in order to get in the water and catch a glimpse of the shark. I was one of the first in the water and screamed like a schoolgirl into my snorkel at the sight of the beautiful grey shape that gracefully glided out of sight.

Once I learned about sharks and began to understand them I realized there is nothing to fear. I began to see how beautiful they are, how important their existence is to the fragile ocean ecosystem, and how threatened their existence on this planet really is. Their plight is dire; between 20 and 100 million sharks die every year at the hands of humans, and efforts to protect them tend to fall on deaf ears. People are far more likely to want to protect the cute and the fuzzy, and sharks don’t get the kind of conservation attention or empathy enjoyed by pandas or tigers.

You can learn more about these graceful creatures at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, and someday maybe, begin to love them and protect them.

—Ana Luisa Ahern, Interactive Campaigns Manager

Annual Risk Of Death During One’s Lifetime

Disease and Accidental Causes of Deaths 

Annual Deaths 

Death Risk During One’s Lifetime 

Heart disease


1 in 5



1 in 7



1 in 24

Hospital Infections


1 in 38



1 in 63

Car accidents


1 in 84



1 in 119

Accidental poisoning


1 in 193

MRSA (resistant bacteria)


1 in 197



1 in 218



1 in 1,134

Bike accident


1 in 4,919

Air/space accident


1 in 5,051

Excessive cold


1 in 6,045

Sun/heat exposure


1 in 13,729



1 in 79,746

Train crash


1 in 156,169



1 in 340,733

Shark attack


1 in 3,748,067

Sources: All accidental death information from National Safety Council. Disease death information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shark fatality data provided by the International Shark Attack File.

Lifetime risk is calculated by dividing 2003 population (290,850,005) by the number of deaths, divided by 77.6, the life expectancy of a person born in 2003.

© International Shark Attack File
Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida

Have you ever seen small holes on the beach and been perplexed by the mystery of what made them? They are from nocturnal bugs, called isopods, which burrow along our beaches to hide from the heat of the day and predators. They play an important role in beach ecology – breaking down decaying matter, like washed up kelp and seagrass. And, local seabirds, like sanderlings, rely on isopods for a crunchy snack while they walk along the shore.

You might be surprised to hear it, but Southern California’s isopod populations are in peril. Some beach experts fear that they are at risk of extinction, as indicated by a recent study conducted by ecologists, Jenny Dugan and David Hubbard. They examined historical changes in distribution and abundance of two intertidal isopod at SoCal beaches since 1905. The researchers found declining trends region-wide with local extinctions at about 60% of beach sites where they were reported over 100 years ago. Populations were stable at only a handful of beaches – not surprisingly, the more natural areas where beaches aren’t groomed or hardened with seawalls, like Point Dume in Malibu.

Although most people don’t have the same affection for isopods as they do dolphins and sea otters, these little critters are important indicators of change. Living in the upper zone of the beach, they are particularly vulnerable to human-induced environmental threats, like beach grooming and coastal development.

Beach, bluff, and dune protection won’t just help imperiled isopods on our beaches; these natural habitats are also important in buffering coastal communities against the threats associated with climate change.

According to a new study by scientists with the Natural Capital Project on July 14, 2013 natural coastal habitats such as dunes and reefs are vital to safeguarding millions of US residents who live in coastal communities, as well as billions of dollars in property from coastal storms and sea level rise. They found that these natural habitats provide both economic and environmental benefits to coastal communities poised to cope with climate change. Defaulting to seawalls and engineered structures is costly and may have unintended environmental and economic consequences in the long-term.

This research helps stress the importance of local climate change adaptation planning by local governments and the need to build resiliency by investing restoration and conservation of natural habitats, like beaches, dunes, and wetlands to protect coastal communities. Heal the Bay is working with partners in the Los Angeles area to help plan for climate change impacts and advance the adoption of adaptation strategies that protect public safety and the environment.

Check out this interactive map to see sea level rise and storm surge exposure projections for the U.S. over the next century — you can even zoom in to see the risks to your community or favorite spot.

Discover how Heal the Bay is working to address climate change.

California beach funding is a go, as the state’s full $1.8 million was approved and included in California’s budget.

Since 2008 when nearly $1 million was eliminated from the state’s beach monitoring funds, California’s Beach Program has struggled year after year to maintain a sufficient level of beach monitoring.  

State funding was in limbo for several years until Senate Bill 482 (Kehoe) was signed into law in 2011. SB 482 allowed up to $1.8 million in permit fees to be directed towards California’s Beach Program. (Of note, the estimated $1.8 million is based on the minimum funding needed to sustain a model monitoring program in California). Unfortunately, only $1 million of the $1.8 million allowed in the bill was approved in the 2012 state budget, a serious shortfall affecting the entire beach monitoring program.  

Beach water quality monitoring and strong pollution prevention measures are critical for protecting beach goers from waterborne diseases. Reduced monitoring could compromise not only public health protection but also the ability to track chronically polluted beaches.

Through Heal the Bay’s advocacy, along with the leadership of Assembly Member Richard Bloom and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, the full $1.8 million was included in the California state budget to fund California’s Beach Program during the next fiscal year (July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014). Though there are many uncertainties when it comes to the future of beach funding, this is huge victory for water quality and public health!

— Amanda Griesbach
Beach Water Quality Scientist

Is your favorite beach safe for swimming? Find out by checking our free Beach Report Card.