Top

Heal the Bay Blog

Category: About Us

Heal the Bay welcomed Dr. Shelley Luce as its new president and CEO this week. Shelley joins us from the influential Environment Now Foundation, where she led several statewide campaigns to improve water quality and protect forest lands. But she began her advocacy career at Heal the Bay, and was promoted to science and policy director in 2004. (You can read more about her background here.)

With a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Shelley can talk the acronym talk as well as walk the walk. But she’s as humble, funny and down-to-earth as they come. She’s also a working mom, raising two daughters with her husband in Baldwin Hills.

In a recent conversation with Communications Director Matthew King, Shelley shared her vision for Heal the Bay – and what’s on heavy rotation on her iPod.

What is your favorite memory of the sea or the beach?

Sitting on my surfboard and being startled, and then thrilled, and then mesmerized by a whale surfacing just a few feet away from me in Santa Monica Bay.

What’s a common misconception about scientists?

That we are not emotional. I think most people don’t know that scientists are full of wonder, and overcome by our admiration for this huge planet in all its beauty. Just because I like to learn the scientific names of those sea creatures doesn’t mean I don’t also marvel at them.

You were born in Canada. What’s unique about the Canadian sensibility?

I am proud of the values I learned growing up in Canada. Canadians seem to appreciate the global community, and that we need to take care of the water and air that we all share. There is a sense that it’s okay to give a bit more than you get sometimes, if it means that everyone can be better off. I like that.

What do you think the biggest threat to the Bay is right now?

I am concerned about the federal administration undermining the work of Heal the Bay and others by rolling back the laws that protect our clean water. We need a strong EPA to ensure the health of our kids and future generations. Heal the Bay will never stop fighting for that, but it will get harder if this administration stays on the track it has started on.

What is the most important thing that the average person can do to combat it?

We all need to get informed, at least a little bit. Join a group like Heal the Bay and learn where our water comes from and where it goes. Explore our beaches and rivers and remember why we fight to protect them. Then call our elected officials and demand they vote the right way and stand up to anyone who threatens the things we love. And support environmental groups who are fighting this fight for all of us, every day.

What does Heal the Bay mean to greater L.A.? What’s our role?

Heal the Bay is a symbol, an inspiration, a source of hope and a leader of movements. People trust us to fight for them, because we stand up for what’s right and we won’t back down.


Shelley Luce relaxing with the Stream Team in the Santa Monica Mountains, circa 2004

Heal the Bay is more than 30 years old. Do we need to change? If so, how?

Yes, we all need to adapt and face new challenges. Heal the Bay is always evolving. We started with a laser focus on wastewater discharge to the Bay. We didn’t have an aquarium and we didn’t work all the way up in the watersheds. When I served as a staff scientist at Heal the Bay in the early 2000s, we enacted the first trash policy for the LA. River. So we have taken on new challenges many times. Now, we face climate change, rising sea levels, an urgent need to change how we capture and use water, and a federal government that is hostile to environmental protection. We have to rise to meet these new challenges.

What would you tell a 20-year-old who is pessimistic about society’s ability to make meaningful change?

Hey, meaningful change is happening every single day, all around you. We stopped discharging dirty wastewater, we restored coastal wetlands that were former dumping sites, we banned plastic bags, TWICE. People are protesting the federal government’s appointments, their cuts to the EPA, and their threats to roll back environmental laws. People are coming together to ban Styrofoam, save endangered species, restore the L.A. River. You have to join the movement. That’s the only way it happens.

After your first year on the job, what would success look like to you? What’s top of your agenda?

One year in, I’d like to see Heal the Bay partnering with more communities to create greener, safer neighborhoods, and partnering with other organizations to support funding for green infrastructure, and ensuring everyone benefits from clean water in LA. I’d also like to be charting a path for Heal the Bay’s outstanding Santa Monica Pier Aquarium that takes it to the next level of engaging people’s hearts and minds with the ocean.

Why did taking this job appeal to you?

I’ve always worked for clean water, for our natural environment, and for people who rely on it. When I see something that’s not right I want to change it. I know Heal the Bay fights for what’s right and I want to be part of that fight.

What’s your biggest pet peeve about nonprofits?

Sometimes nonprofits succumb to competing rather than collaborating. It’s natural because of the funding world we live in, but it’s so unfortunate. All these smart, hardworking people should be free to put their heads together and combine their power and multiply their impact. I know we can do better at that.

What book is on your nightstand table? What’s your #1 most played song on your iPod?

Bossypants” by Tina Fey is on my nightstand, along with something about how to be a better parent I’m sure. The #1 song on my player right now is something from Beyonce’s latest album, I can’t stop playing it. And coming in a close second is “Snacktime” by the Barenaked Ladies, because my kids and I love to sing along to that one.

Are you a lover or a fighter?

I am a very loving fighter.

 



Ex-chief of Environment Now Foundation to broaden our reach and impact.

Affirming its commitment to science-based advocacy, Heal the Bay today named Dr. Shelley Luce as its new president and CEO.

Luce joins us from the Environment Now Foundation, where she served as executive director and helped fund innovative clean water and forest protection programs throughout California. During her tenure, Luce became a widely respected voice throughout the state on how nonprofits must reshape themselves to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century.

Before that, she held executive director positions at state agency the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and its nonprofit partner, The Bay Foundation. The work of those organizations dovetails closely with Heal the Bay’s traditional mission.

An extensive nationwide search culminated in the hiring of Luce, who has been tasked with re-envisioning the scope of our advocacy and education programs. While focused on the core mission of clean water and healthy watersheds, she will implement strategies to better engage Southern California in battling the broader, intertwined environmental risks facing our region.

Formed three decades ago as a grassroots all-volunteer organization, Heal the Bay successfully led the fight to keep Hyperion from dumping sewage into Santa Monica Bay, thereby reclaiming Southern California shorelines. But the region now faces much bigger threats, from global warming to an uncertain water supply.

“The environmental landscape in greater L.A. is changing dramatically, and so Heal the Bay must transform,” said Craig Perkins, board chairman. “As a trusted partner in the community, people are counting on us to provide leadership locally to help solve problems that are increasingly national and global in scope.”

Luce, who holds a Doctorate of Environmental Science and Engineering from UCLA and a B.S. in Biology from McGill University, began her advocacy career at Heal the Bay. She served as a staff scientist from 2001-05, spearheading the successful fight to implement the state’s first zero-trash policy in L.A. River.

“Heal the Bay is at the heart of clean water advocacy in Southern California. I’m so proud of our legacy of science-based activism and I am honored to lead Heal the Bay in the next phase of growth,” Luce said. “Protecting our water and our larger environment is more important – and challenging – than ever. And I’m confident we’ll find innovative ways to get the job done, bringing in new practices and new partners.”

The board has given Luce a mandate to re-examine policy priorities, form smart strategic alliances, and grow public participation across the entire swath of greater Los Angeles. In the coming months, we will extend our impact with these key initiatives:

Building a world-class aquarium: We’re now engaged in a visioning process to drastically expand the physical footprint and programmatic offerings at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. A re-imagined facility would be part of a long-gestating Pier construction and refurbishment project, which the city of Santa Monica will likely begin in 2020.

Fighting federal government backsliding: We’re mounting a spirited campaign to protect local safeguards historically provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has seen its proposed budget and staffing levels severely slashed by the new administration. Fundamental work related to climate-change research and enforcement of the Clean Water Act is now in jeopardy.

Replumbing L.A.: We’re playing a lead role in helping build a more resilient water future for greater L.A. Heal the Bay staff is helping to drive the newly formed Our Water L.A. Coalition, a consortium of influential nonprofits working to place a ballot measure before voters in L.A. County next year. The measure would fund increased recycling of treated wastewater and capturing of stormwater and other runoff for reuse, which will reduce water pollution and increase local water supplies.


Luce formally joins Heal the Bay on May 8, taking the leadership reins from Stephanie Medina, a longtime board member who has served as interim president and CEO since last July. Read more about Luce’s vision for Heal the Bay’s future in an exclusive sit-down interview with communications director Matthew King.



Our work at Heal the Bay wouldn’t be possible without our spectacular volunteers, which is why we threw a fantastic intergalactic-themed party to recognize our most dedicated volunteers: Super Healers.

It was a night filled with awe and wonder, as we flew to the moon and played among the stars, all in honor of our down-to-earth volunteers and partners.

Shout-out to Bodega Wine Bar for hosting the party in February; the food was tasty, the staff welcoming, and the atmosphere was perfect for a game of “Defeat the Death Star” cornhole.

We’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge our volunteer party donors and participants, for the breathtaking photo booth, the liquid nitrogen ice cream, the awesome raffle prizes, and more. Much thanks to Allison SUP Race Fins, ChicoBag, ECOBAGS, GoPro, Ice Cream Lab, Lemonade, Life Without Plastic, Manhattan Stitching, REI, Rip Curl, Rockreation, Sidecar Doughnuts, Snapfiesta, StubHub Center, U Konserve, and Washed Ashore Adornments.

And of course, where would we be without our stellar 2016 Super Healers? These are our most dedicated volunteers, who continually go above and beyond the call of duty. Their commitment is commendable, their dedication and passion for protecting water quality and the environment undeniable.

We’re proud to honor the following outstanding individuals with the prestigious Super Healer Award:

David Coles (Speakers Bureau)

While David was getting his masters in Marine Biology, he came to realize that while he is passionate about nature, he’s not really a scientist (endless data analysis, tedious academic journals, etc. – bo-ring!). However, he learned he loved public speaking. Through Speakers Bureau, he continues to use his Marine Biology training in a format that fits his personality and interests. In fact, he has been a guest speaker at over 30 beach talks and lectures since first joining the program in March 2015! He uses his speaking talents to communicate his love of nature to a diverse audience- to inspire people to care about the ocean. Opening up with video footage of dives he did for his thesis research, he gets the room excited while breaking the ice. David is one of our most consistent volunteers to go into the classroom and educate students and adults alike. He reaches out on the regular to volunteer, and can always be counted on when we ask him for help. David is an exemplary reason that the Speakers Bureau program is so successful, reaching out to 40,000 Angelenos annually. Thank you David, for your passion and commitment, for inspiring ocean stewards for years to come.

 

Zeph Nowland (Beach Programs)

(Almost) Immediately after flying into LAX from South Korea in 2014, Zeph volunteered for his first Nothin’ But Sand cleanup at Dockweiler Beach, and nothing has been the same since. Although Alys Arenas was yet to be hired as HtB’s nefarious Beach Programs Manager, Zeph still knew in his heart of hearts that he wanted… nay, NEEDED!… to get more involved. One volunteer training later, he emerged as a newly-minted Beach Captain — capital letters and all (but, sadly, no cape or captain’s hat) — ready to help turn the tide (pun!) on pollution. Donning his super HtB t-shirt (because, again, no cape), Zeph tirelessly sets his alarm every 3rd Saturday of the month (except for December, of course!) and helps erect tents, build tables, and direct humans. Yes, he WILL take care of that needle you found. Of course he’s fine picking up that condom you simply cannot touch. But, no, that dead seagull must not be disturbed, nature taking its sweet time to reclaim it once more. Although Zeph mostly enjoys working the supply tent because of the power it brings him, he’s acquired other super powers over the years, assisting where needed, including packing/unpacking the truck at HtB headquarters, giving safety talks, harassing other HtB staff, and holding the coveted raffle jar! His favorite saying? It’s this: “Most of the trash at the beach is coming from somewhere else, so picking up litter in your own neighborhood is like doing a mini beach cleanup every day.” Copyright. Trademark.

 

Jeri Miller (Wednesday Warriors)

When you think of Jeri Miller, you automatically think of a Wednesday Warrior. Whether she’s inputting those tedious safety waivers or helping bundle cleanup supplies, Jeri’s outgoing spirit always brightens the Large Conference Room on Wednesdays. Her academic background, vocational interest and true passion center around the environment, particularly the marine environment. When she joined the Office Support team in 2015, she was on a break from work and wanted to contribute to an organization she felt was making a difference.  It was here at Heal the Bay, that she felt inspired by the variety of volunteer opportunities, the people and the vibe of the office. To her, the office is such a chill place to be at, yet there is still that buzz generated by a group of people committed to doing what they believe in.  When she’s not helping at HtB, you can catch her volunteering for Reef Check Foundation – she’s since been hired by them on a part-time basis! Her other hobbies include working out, working out, and working out — swimming, walking the beach, going to the gym, riding her beach cruiser everywhere and yoga. When its’ not Wednesdays, she also manages to find time to hang out with friends at any one of the many local Redondo Beach bars and restaurants!

 

Erin LaBrie (Street Fleet)

Erin was inspired to volunteer with Heal the Bay years ago by her mom, Lollie, who teaches at CSULA and has someone from the organization come speak to her class every quarter. Erin knew she wasn’t quite ready to volunteer in a formal classroom setting, so she decided to join the Community Advocates (Street Fleet) crew in 2014. When she’s out tabling, Erin enjoys the ability to reach out to people and teach them about the small, simple changes that can be made to help protect and preserve our ecosystem. Being part of the Street Fleet crew has allowed her meet other amazing and wonderful volunteers and staff that share their passion and knowledge of the environment with her. When she’s not volunteering with HtB, Erin spends some time with several animal rescue organizations and shelters with adoption events, humane Education programs, fostering, and mentoring new pet parents. She spent part of last year volunteering as a summer camp director working with kids 8-17 as well as mentoring young adults as counselors. Her other year-round volunteering activities include working with people in jails that are trying to get/stay sober. What’s her favorite thing of all when she’s not at work or any community service events? Snuggling and spoiling her 4 dogs.

 

Mary Billings (Street Fleet)

Mary is one of Street Fleet’s go-to volunteers. Having retired a couple of years ago, Mary knew she wanted to find something where she could make a difference, meet new people and learn new things. As a long-time Hermosa Beach resident, she feels very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place and decided helping Heal the Bay would be a good use of her time. She began her journey as an HtB volunteer by helping phone bank for the campaign to stop oil drilling in Hermosa. Soon after joining the Street Fleet Crew in 2015, Mary realized that she enjoyed talking to all the different people who visit the HtB table at the fairs and events. The other volunteers she tables with are great too. Since becoming a volunteer, Mary has learned so much about LA water. More importantly, she loves that the Heal the Bay staff are always so welcoming. When she’s not volunteering with HtB, Mary also volunteers for an education organization called “Families in Schools.” Their mission is to work with schools to involve parents and communities in their children’s education to ensure lifelong success. She also recently started tutoring ESL through the South Bay Literacy Council.

 

Ben Kay (Community Leader)

As a high school and college teacher for Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College, Mr. Kay has acted as a longstanding advocate for and steward of the Santa Monica Bay. His involvement with Heal the Bay spans upwards of 10 years, in which time he’s steered his students towards the aquarium, beach cleanups, community eco-events, and youth summits, all while spearheading and mentoring Team Marine and partnering for programs such as Day Without Bag Day, No on O phone banking, STEAM Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, and RETHINK eco-artwork campaign. He’s taken student advocacy to the streets by participating in six SaMoHi plastic bag ban marches, and to the government by bringing students to testify for sustainable solutions at city halls all over LA County and to lobby in Sacramento on Ocean Day. For his unwavering commitment to inspire environmental stewards for over a decade, we are honored to present him with the Super Healer Award for an outstanding Community Leader. Thank you for your service Mr. Kay!

 

Alexandra "Sasha" Ivanona (SMPA Aquarist)

Sasha was a high school student when she first started as an aquarist intern, and now she is in the middle of her first year at UCLA. I knew she was very intelligent, and participated in 3,000 different extracurricular activities in high school, and that number has only increased, now that she in college. But what is surprising to me is her positive outlook on life. Even though she has gone through some hardships, she always looks on the bright side, like how she had curly hair for a while, how fun the children’s ward of the hospital is, and how she got to go to Antarctica and jump in the ocean afterwards. She is usually very cheerful (after a morning cup of coffee or tea), even when she has a terrible migraine, and may seem carefree, but she is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. She is not afraid to take charge and be the boss (in her own quiet way), and I know she will do great things in the future. So, I want to thank you on behalf of Jose and I, for all that you do for us, my fellow lover of the oxford comma, Sasha. – Akino Higa, SMPA Aquarist

 

Grace Luis (SMPA Public Programs)

Grace Luis is like the Swiss Army knife of volunteers. She began her volunteer service almost 2 ½ years ago at the Aquarium, and since then has donated over 1,500 hours of time (even with her busy school schedule) in practically every program we offer at the Aquarium. Whether she is helping to train and guide new volunteers, introducing marine science to preschoolers, entertaining delighted birthday kids and their friends with animal presentations and fun stories, or helping to design fun new activities/displays for the Aquarium, Grace has always brought her friendly smile and incredibly funny sense of humor to any situation. We have all joked about locking Grace in the Aquarium after she graduates so she could stay with us forever—she not only donates so much of her time/service; she also shares her dedication, passion and kindness with everyone she meets. Grace exemplifies what we look for in a Super Healer, and we are so honored to work with her each week.

 

Juan Lopez (SMPA Education)

Juan loves cars.  He builds them, races them and fixes them when they break.  His other passion is the ocean and he matches his same love of cars with the watery world he surfs on, wades in and helps students understand.  This past year we have watched Juan grow from a volunteer, who devoted four days a week to help us teach students about the ocean, to an intern, then summer camp intern and finally as a Key to the Sea Naturalist.  He took the direction we gave him to heart, fine-tuned his deliveries and developed his own teaching style, making him an important part of our education team.  We have the great fortune of working with many wonderful education interns and volunteers, but Juan pushed himself to grow and learn, and always did it with his trademark smile and laugh.  He always steps up when needed and helps the other volunteers grow themselves. Juan has developed so much as an educator, he has found himself teaching at the Roundhouse Marine Studies lab and Aquarium three days a week, yet still comes in to work with us on his free days… a true commitment to educating others about a place that brings him so much joy, the ocean!

 

Michael Barnes (MPA Watch)

“I simply wanted to do some good and looked for a cause that I cared about. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors & nature so environmentalism was a natural fit for me. In searching for a volunteer opportunity, I looked for an organization that shared my passion, had a track record of community engagement, and who used the majority of their funds for actual programs rather than administrative and fundraising expenses. I found all of this in Heal the Bay. Being outdoors while contributing my small part to positively impacting our beautiful coastlines. I never get tired of the sun (remember I’m from the Pacific Northwest) so when I’m conducting an MPA survey its more than just a survey, its a walk on a nice sunny day 🙂 I also volunteer for Tree People and Habitat for Humanity when I have the time. In terms of hobbies, I enjoy surfing, hiking, and running.”

 

Brittney Mercado (Advocacy)

Brittney Mercado, a senior at Da Vinci Communications High School, has been passionate about the environment throughout her life. She knows that it is her future at risk and the only way to make a difference is to let her voice be heard. She did just that by coming to our advocacy training session, and then used her voice to spread information about the Yes on Prop 67 campaign. She organized her friends to call people across Los Angeles at our phone banking events and to walk door-to-door in their Hawthorne neighborhood to canvass for the cause. She wrote a fantastic article in her school’s newspaper to inspire her classmates to use their voices as well. She is certainly a great voice for the environment and will set an example for her generation and generations to come.

 

Ronald Fagan (Development - Donor)

10 years ago Ronald walked into the aquarium and struck up conversation with Nick Fash (Heal the Bay’s Education Manager) about the fact he had just seen a pelican on the pier tangled in fishing line.  This discussion on the impacts that fishing line can have upon our oceans and marine life led to the months long process of designing, constructing and seeking approval from the city and the pier to install 3 monofilament recycling bins on our pier.  He is a contractor who lives nowhere near the coast, and only ventures out to the pier a few times a year but his passion for this project drove him on through multiple design changes and safety checks with the fire department as well as working with the maintenance crew to get them properly mounted with signage.  Over the past 10 years, not only has he made the effort to make sure they are functional, but he continues to send donations for “fishing line recycling”.  Based on the amount of line pulled out over the years, it is clear he has helped save countless animals that would otherwise find themselves entangled in fishing line.

 

Beatriz Lorenzo (Spanish Outreach)

“I love the ocean and I had such a happy times with my elder son in the aquarium, it made sense to give back in both fronts. The sense of community and the fact that you can make a difference. I thrive by continuously learning new things and I like to surf. I love the ocean in all of its ways, I enjoy sailing, swimming, playing in the sand… going to the beach to stroll or just to look for little creatures (or big!) with my family. I enjoyed the sea salty air and the ever changing shades of blue.”

 

Patagonia (Business Award)

Patagonia believes in building the best product, causing no unneccesary harm and using business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis. The brand donates 1% of all sales to grassroots environmental causes, and the 4th Street location in Santa Monica has been proud to partner with Heal the Bay all these years.

 

Erin Selleck (Board Member)

Erin Selleck was first introduced to Heal the Bay through her husband and longtime friend of the organization, Kurt Holland. Kurt is an environmental education consultant and former marine science teacher at Santa Monica Alternative School House. Both avid sailors with a life-long love of the ocean, they took a three year sabbatical and fulfilled a lifelong dream to cruise the oceans in their 41 foot sailboat. Kurt’s passion for the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium was contagious and ultimately led Erin to join the Heal the Bay Board of Directors in 2009.
Since joining the Board, Erin has served on various committees including a seat on the Executive Committee, and serving as Chair of both the Finance and Audit committees. She currently is a member of the Finance Committee, and the Aquarium Advisory Committee, along with Kurt. Through her deep connections and experience in the finance world, Erin has helped guide the organization through some challenging fiscal periods, proven to be an effective fundraiser and has helped us form meaningful, fruitful relationships with potential foundations and donors alike.
Since her recent retirement from a successful 30 year career as a top banking executive, Erin has pursued a portfolio career centered on her other passions, including mentoring and empowering young women. Her deep passion for the ocean and Heal the Bay’s cause, combined with her tireless devotion to motivate and uplift young women have proven to be a positive driving force for the betterment of her community.

 

Doug Wiita (Jean Howell Award)

When Doug first joined HtB he was working in an office, and was looking for volunteer work that was outdoors. MPA watch perfectly fit the bill. Wanting to spread the word, he later joined Speakers Bureau and started doing outreach. He’s favorite thing is talking about the ocean to kids. Doug retired a year ago, and when not spreading the word for HtB, he spends most of his time doing volunteer work for the American Red Cross.

 

Leslie Tamminen (Bob Hertz Award)

Leslie Mintz Tamminen is a consultant for Seventh Generation Advisors, a nonprofit environmental organization in Santa Monica CA. She is the Director of the Ocean Program, and in this capacity she facilitates the Clean Seas Coalition nationwide, a growing group of environmentalists, scientists, students, and community leaders pushing states to strengthen laws reducing plastic pollution at its source. Leslie spearheaded Clean Seas Coalition efforts to create and pass California’s SB270 law to ban single-use plastic bags. Formerly, Leslie was a special advisor to Lt. Governor John Garamendi, and the Legislative Director and staff attorney for the California environmental nonprofit organization Heal the Bay, where she was responsible for development and implementation of statewide water quality regulation and legislation, including the first federal pollution limit for trash in an urban river (Los Angeles). Leslie also worked to pass and implement California’s Education and the Environment Initiative, a state requirement for environmental education principles and curricula development in all core disciplines in public schools for K-12. Leslie is currently appointed to California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Environmental Literacy Steering Committee, tasked with implementing the 2015 Blueprint for California Environmental Literacy. Leslie is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California Law Center, and lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband Terry Tamminen.

 

Check out a few of the many memories from our volunteer party below. Thanks again to our volunteers, and hope to see you there next year. P.S. Our photo booth gallery is available here, with password HEALTHEBAY.

<
>


Nov. 15, 2016 — After its second season predicting water quality in California, Heal the Bay’s NowCast program will hibernate until 2017. It’s a fitting moment for reflection by our fabulous beach water quality scientists, Ryan Searcy and Leslie Griffin.

Many would say that there are two distinct seasons in Southern California: summer and not-summer. By this way of thinking, it’s been hard to tell which season we’re currently in. We did see a bit of rain a few weeks ago, and it is certainly brisker in the mornings (hello fall sweaters!). Surf’s up in a way that whispers ever-so-slightly, “winter is coming.” But ocean water temperatures around here are still warm, and there is still plenty of sunshine, perhaps making the date-challenged among us wonder if Labor Day has indeed passed. You California dreamers out there can keep hanging on, but for those of us in the water quality business, the end of the AB411 season means it is officially not-summer.

State Assembly Bill (AB) 411 requires coastal agencies to sample water quality at popular beaches at least once per week from April 1 to October 31, and to notify the public of high concentrations of bacteria in those samples. Water quality samples measure the amount of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) present in the water, organisms that are known to be associated with the presence of harmful human pathogens. If FIB levels are found to be above the prescribed state standards, that beach is required to be posted as hazardous to swimmer health.

Fortunately for us in Southern California, most of our beach agencies sample water quality year-round. But despite increased testing, these water quality samples have a serious draw-back: because bacterial culture methods (FIB tests) take 1-2 days to process, beachgoers never actually know if the water is safe on the day they visit the beach. This is a serious problem, and it is one that we’ve been trying to remedy for many years.

Historically, the Beach Report Card has only been able to report on how water quality has been at a beach according to the week’s bacteria sample data and the geometric mean of a handful of recent samples. It is still a great guide for beachgoers because it provides more information about beach water quality than any other system on the West Coast. But we wanted to make it even better, and that is why we have worked with Stanford University and UCLA to develop the California Water Quality NowCast system.

Our NowCast system uses statistical models to provide daily water quality information during the AB411 season. These models predict the concentration of bacteria in the water every morning, and are derived from years of water quality data and a whole lot of environmental variables that impact bacteria levels. NowCasting helps us answer what we don’t readily know – how much bacteria is likely in the water each morning, and thus if it is safe to swim – by looking at what we do know – what was the weather like yesterday, were there a lot of waves this morning stirring up the water, is the nearby river a’ flowing, etc. All of this data crunching and statistical hog-wrestling boils allows us to predict whether beach bacterial concentrations are likely to be safe or hazardous each morning.

This was our second summer implementing the NowCast program. In 2015, we provided daily predictions for three beaches in Southern California: Arroyo Burro in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica Pier, and Doheny State Beach in Orange County. This year, we added East Beach in Santa Barbara and Belmont Pier in Long Beach to the program, and were able to make over 120 consecutive days of predictions for these five beaches. These predictions were available every morning by 10AM (including weekends) on our Beach Report Card site and mobile app. The beach agencies we worked with also took our results and posted them on their own sites and telephone hotlines.

And now that the Summer 2016 season is over, we are able evaluate our findings and to see how well our models did compared to the ‘current method’ of using days-old samples to make daily beach management decisions.

The first major finding of the season was expected: the drought continues to positively impact beach water quality. Think about it like this: less rain means less runoff which means less bacteria in the waves. And as Californians continue to conserve water, there is less dry-weather runoff from outdoor watering (nice work, by the way!). Every beach in the NowCast program (except at the Santa Monica Pier) recorded water samples that came back under sample limits (the levels of bacteria below which it is reasonably safe to swim), much cleaner than those beaches’ historical trends! This is great news for California beachgoers – they were able to enjoy cleaner than average conditions this summer at the NowCast beaches, something that we were able to inform them of on a daily basis.

However, since beach conditions were so clean, it makes it difficult to see how we would have done at predicting dirty conditions. Except for Santa Monica Pier, there simply were no dirty samples available to do this. While this is a frustrating for those of us who want to look at the statistics, we can find solace in the fact that the models provided daily water quality predictions to the public (rather than weekly, like most sites).

That being said, we did have one site with more issues than the rest: Santa Monica Pier. The Pier has a chronic history of water quality problems. From 2008-2015, it experienced 28% and 10% exceedance rates for fecal coliform and Enterococcus standards respectively (two types of FIB) in the summer months. This season, it exceeded those FIB standards 41% and 10% of the time respectively, despite drought conditions. This suggests that water quality at Santa Monica Pier is especially affected by other factors in addition to rainfall. Because our models consider wave action, wind speed and direction, and tides, the fecal coliform model for Santa Monica Pier was able to predict 71% of actual exceedances, and 17% more exceedances than using days-old samples in the months of July, August, and September. This was the big result that gives us confidence in our models.

However, in October, the models did miss some exceedances at the Pier, highlighting why we reassess and refine our models every year as conditions change at our beaches, and why we try to incorporate new sources of data into the modeling process. For example, we learned that water quality at Santa Monica Pier is affected by nearby storm drain flows and seabird populations, both things that we currently don’t have a good way to get daily data on. In time, we hope to incorporate these factors into our models, creating more robust and accurate predictions.

Looking forward, we’re excited for the California NowCast program to enter its third year. We’ve got a whole bunch of good stuff up next on the menu. For the Summer 2017 season, we are looking to add up to eight new beaches to the program. NowCasting will eventually expand farther along the California coastline, creating a truly statewide program. Winter models at beaches with heavy year-round use are also on our radar (in case you surfers out there were wondering). We’re designing new NowCast beach signage to post on days where water quality is predicted to be poor. And keep an eye out for our groovy new Beach Report Card website and mobile app, an update launching in 2017 that will look and function better than ever, giving beachgoers up to date water quality information on the fly.

When you go to the beach, we want you to catch waves, not a bug, and hopefully our NowCast program helped you do that this summer. Thank you to everyone who used and participated in the NowCast program in 2016, especially our beach agency partners across the state. Enjoy not-summer, and see you next year!



Aug. 2, 2016 — A day at the beach shouldn’t make you sick, writes Ryan Searcy, our new beach water quality modeler. He’s totally stoked about NowCasting — our new method for predicting pollution levels at popular beaches.

Curious what the weather in Big Bear will be like this weekend? Whether there will be good surf at Malibu this evening? How bad traffic will be on the 405 during your morning commute? It’s easy to get answers to these questions, thanks to your trusty mobile device.

Well ocean-lovers, we have some good news to share: you can now add water quality at beaches across the state to the list of on-demand forecasts that are easily accessible from your phone!

Heal the Bay, in partnership with Stanford University and UCLA, has officially rolled out its NowCast tool in California, a new water-quality forecasting system that promises a whole new way of keeping swimmers safe at their favorite beaches. Thinking of hanging out at the beach near Santa Monica Pier this weekend? Now you can find out that same day if it’s safe to swim or not before making the long drive (or Metro trip) out west.

NowCast Excel SpreadsheetNowCasting is a technique that uses predictive statistical models to forecast water quality at a beach based on observed environmental conditions — such as rainfall, waves, tides and past bacteria concentrations. Just as the weatherman on the 11 p.m. news predicts if it will be sunny for your birthday tomorrow, Heal the Bay’s staff scientists are able to predict if it is safe to swim at a given beach on any given morning.

Under the current monitoring protocol, health officials determine if a beach is safe or not by sampling for indicator bacteria (organisms whose presence suggests that other, more harmful bacteria and viruses are also present). Unfortunately, monitoring results do not come back from the lab for 24-48 hours.

In that time, beach conditions may very well have changed from when the sample was taken, potentially exposing ocean users to bacterial pollution. Additionally, most beaches in California are only sampled for bacteria once a week, leaving it to the public to decide whether to recreate or not based on days-old information.

Our new NowCast program fills these gaps.

Using years of environmental and bacteria sampling data, our team has developed complex models to predict the concentration of indicator bacteria on a daily basis. If the bacteria level is predicted by the NowCast system to be above the acceptable standards set by the state, then water quality is assumed to be poor, and a beach posting is recommended. A new prediction will then be made the following day. And the day after that…

Arroyo Burro Beach, courtesy of Damian Gadal, FlickrThese models are also more accurate than the current method of waiting 24 hours for results to come back from the lab. We launched a pilot program last summer as a proof-of-concept test, and the results were very positive. While we don’t (yet) have the telekinetic powers to predict sewage or oil spills, our models still do a pretty good job of notifying the public each day about local beach conditions.

Over the last few decades, water quality in the Santa Monica Bay (and across the state) has improved dramatically. However, there is still much work to be done to clean up our beaches and reduce the number of swimmers, surfers, divers and other ocean users that get sick.

Predictions are made every morning during the summer based on current environmental conditions. Local health agencies can then use these predictions to notify the public of water conditions before most people arrive to the beach. For the remainder of this summer, you can find NowCast predictions for the following five beaches:

  • Arroyo Burro (Hendry’s) in Santa Barbara
  • East Beach (near Mission Creek) in Santa Barbara
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Belmont Pier in Long Beach
  • Doheny State Beach in Orange County

Arroyo Burro, Santa Monica Pier, and Doheny State Beach were on our radar last year, and all had models that performed well. East Beach and Belmont Pier were added on this year because of good data availability and plenty of willingness from the local health agencies to help implement the program. Over the next three years, we plan to add an additional 15-20 beaches and expand the program across California — from the breezy beaches of San Francisco to the classic surf spots of San Diego.

Ryan Searcy - Beach Water Quality ModelerOur philosophy at Heal the Bay is that no one should get sick from a day at the beach. To make a decision about which beach is best for them and their family, people should be armed with the most accurate and timely water quality information available. Think of the water quality NowCast just as you do sunscreen – protect yourself from poor water conditions before you get in the water. You should be catching waves, not bugs!

Download our beach report card app on your mobile device or head to beachreportcard.org to find daily predictions for all of the NowCast beaches mentioned above. You can also access the lastest grades for our full complement of beaches that we monitor each week statewide — more than 400 beaches up and down the coast!

Download the Beach Report Card App from the App StoreDownload the Beach Report Card App from Google Play


June 16, 2016 — Summertime and the livin’s easy! What a great time to look back on all of your achievements this year.

With the end of another school year comes the promise of a long and glorious summer. Congratulations to all who have finished another year, to those who have earned Club Drops with Club Heal the Bay, and a special congraduation to those who have attended their last high school class!



Nov. 4, 2014 — We’ve got some exciting news to share: Veteran environmental advocate Sarah Abramson Sikich has been promoted to vice president of Heal the Bay.

Sikich, who most recently served as our Director of Science and Policy for Coastal Resources, will now focus on broadening Heal the Bay’s partnerships with diverse stakeholders to improve water quality and ocean health throughout Southern California. As a longtime marine scientist, she will be charged with broadening applied research to better inform our numerous policy efforts.

The promotion completes a recent management restructuring, which saw Alix Hobbs appointed president and CEO in September.

“Sarah brings scientific credibility, years of institutional knowledge and tireless passion to all that Heal the Bay does,” Hobbs said. “She will be a great partner as we embark on our next 10-year strategic plan.” 

Sikich, who joined Heal the Bay in 2005, has led several successful campaigns for Heal the Bay during her tenure. She worked with the state to design and implement a network of Marine Protected Areas in Southern California; advanced a policy to phase out harmful once-through cooling technology at coastal power plants in California; and successfully advocated for policies preventing plastic pollution, such as the recent statewide plastic bag ban.

“It’s an exciting time for Heal the Bay,” said Sikich, “With our 30th anniversary in 2015, we have the opportunity to reflect on the major water quality and ocean health improvements that have been made in the Santa Monica Bay over the past few decades, while charting a new course to address emerging challenges and threats.”

Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy Department has led several water quality improvement efforts over the past five years, including the adoption of landmark regional water quality regulations, predictive modeling research for beach water quality, and measures to advance low impact development in the Los Angeles County area, which will clean up local waters and enhance local water supply.

In the coming year, we’ll address a number of growing threats to our local environment, including a need for integrated water management to improve water quality and local water supply, fighting to keep oil drilling out of Hermosa Beach, and research and planning efforts to help local communities adapt to climate change.

As a result of the promotion, Heal the Bay is in the process of hiring a Science and Policy Director to oversee the department’s advocacy, policy and government relations.  The position will report to Sikich.

 Sikich has a master’s degree from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB and a bachelor’s degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology from the University of New Hampshire. Before joining Heal the Bay, she worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and Catalina Island Marine Institute. 

                     Sikich, right, helped lead Heal the Bay’s successful push to implement plastic bag ban in L.A.



Programs director Meredith McCarthy says the shared history of L.A.’s beaches isn’t always black and white.

“History is messy.” That’s what local historian Alison Rose Jefferson told me when we started planning a day to honor Nick Gabaldón. By designating a day to commemorate Nick, we celebrate our shorelines and also recognize the struggle for equality of beach access. In the post-WWII years, Nick became the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. With our partners the Black Surfers Collective and SurfBus, we are again celebrating his passion and legacy on Saturday, June 14, at Bay Street beach in Santa Monica.

In honor of Nick, we are offering free surf lessons and beach exploration with Heal the Bay naturalists and docents from the Santa Monica Conservancy. In the afternoon, there will be free admission to our Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier. No cleanups, just fun – especially for children visiting from underserved inland communities, many of whom have never even seen the ocean, let alone surfed it. We want people to understand how special Nick Gabaldón was and the incredible backstory of Bay Street. 

Referred to by many whites as “the Inkwell,” Bay Street beach was a safe haven for local African American beachgoers during a time of de facto segregation. I told Alison I didn’t feel right mentioning “the Inkwell” on the flyer announcing Nick Gabaldón Day. “People need to know their history,” she said, and spoke of the importance of remembering places with ugly names—especially as our society continues to grapple with issues surrounding race and ethnicity.

As a young man of African American and Mexican American descent, Nick faced many challenges learning to surf in Jim Crow America, but none of them stopped him from getting into the water. Since he didn’t have access to a car for many years—and you just didn’t see a black man carrying a surfboard on a bus to Malibu in 1949—Nick would sometimes paddle the 12 miles to his favorite spot in the lineup at Surfrider. His grueling trek forces us to recognize how far we’ve come on our shorelines—and how far asea we were when we started. (Tragically, Nick died surfing the Malibu breaks he loved in 1951.)

After watching a documentary about Nick’s life called “12 Miles North: The Nick Gabaldón Story,” I was ready to jump on a board and join the paddle-out for Nick at our inaugural event last year. There was just one problem, though. I can’t surf. I am terrible at it. But by helping to organize Nick Gabaldón Day, I hope I’m doing my part to link people together in a meaningful way.

It’s time to face the messiness of our shared past and address the fact that 70% of African Americans can’t swim. I want to undo all that fear and ignorance that promulgates the misperception that the beach isn’t for everyone. The beach belongs to all of us, and I face the guilt and the ignorance with hope in my heart.

Please join us on June 14 to paddle out for Nick. Or, you can join me on the beach, where I’ll be standing and cheering.

NICK GABALDON DAY



Every minute we spent advocating for shark fin and plastic bag bans. Every piece of trash we picked up in our communities. Every student we led to the beach for the day. At the end of the year when we reflect on all that we accomplished, we are mindful that none of it would have been possible without the support of our network of donors, volunteers and supporters. Thank you! Take a look at what you helped get done this year:

 

 

Seeking more ways to make an impact? Partner with us as we head into 2014!



Since 1985, we’ve partnered with people like you – volunteers, supporters and sustainers — to make Southern Californian waters safer, healthier and cleaner. And 2014 will prove no different.

As another year closes, it’s a good time to reflect, but also to look ahead to the challenges we’ll face in 2014.

Here’s our working list of the goals we’ve set for the coming year:

  • Uphold the moratorium on oil drilling off the South Bay coast. Hard to believe, but the risks from offshore oil drilling could once again become a threat to the health of our local waters. Voters in Hermosa Beach will decide In March 2015 whether to allow energy company E&B Natural Resources to conduct slant-drilling operations off the Hermosa shoreline. Heal the Bay, in partnership with Stop Hermosa Beach Oil, Keep Hermosa hermosa, and the Surfrider Foundation — will mobilize community support to protect our Bay throughout 2014.
  • Support strict limits on a planned string of ocean-based desalination plants along the California coast. If unchecked, these plants could suck in massive quantities of seawater — and marine life — to meet our region’s ever-growing demand for water.
  • Advocate for a regional funding measure that would underwrite numerous multi-benefit, clean-water projects throughout the Los Angeles region.
  • Protect marine life. Coastal oil drilling, power and water desalination plants sucking in sea water, and sonar blasts from Navy operations all harm marine mammals and represent just a handful of the upcoming threats that we’ll be watching closely in the next year.
  • Build a community park in South Los Angeles that will capture and infiltrate stormwater, as well as provide much-needed open space and fitness opportunities. Heal the Bay’s Healthy Neighborhoods team is overseeing the $1.3 million project, which is funded by California State Parks. It will serve as a model of how communities can work together to improve their neighborhoods while protecting the health of the Bay.
  • Implement a plan to mitigate the effects of climate change. Working together, our Science & Policy and Programs teams are reaching out to local communities to educate Angelenos about the simple steps they can take to adapt to climate change, such as capturing and reusing rainwater and planting drought-tolerant gardens.
  • Prime the next generation of eco stewards with the expansion of our Youth Summit programs for high school students throughout L.A. County, as well as expanding our field trip and speakers programs serving local classrooms.
  • Assemble a new predictive modeling tool that will determine water quality much faster than traditional sampling, which can take 24 hours. Working with Stanford University, we hope to predict bacteria levels at an initial set of 25 California beaches via our Beach Report Card®, identify specific sources of pollution in the watershed and better understand new threats, such as an increased number of vineyards in the Santa Monica Mountains.
  • Increase data collection for newly established Marine Protected Areas in Palos Verdes and Point Dume.
  • Strengthen community partnerships. Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium staff looks forward to curating education events for the Pier and working closely with Santa Monica officials on plans for the Pier bridge replacement project.

We don’t take clean water for granted, and we know you don’t either. Sustain our work: Make a donation to Heal the Bay.

Orca breaching Donate Now Become a Member of Heal the Bay