Heal the Bay Blog

Category: About Us

Heal the Bay has been making Southern California safer, healthier, and cleaner since 1985. Using the best science and grassroots community action, we mobilize campaigns that have lasting impact on our shorelines and neighborhoods. Here’s a sneak peek at the year ahead:

Thriving Oceans

Our local waters should be teeming with wildlife, not trash.

Rethink The Drink

Beverage-related items form the bulk of trash collected at our cleanups – plastic water bottles, straws, bottle caps, and bits of Styrofoam cups. To stem the deluge, we’re launching a community campaign encouraging people to go reusable, while our policy staff pursues regulations that hold dischargers responsible for drink-related waste.

Why It Matters: It’s estimated that plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean by the year 2050. We simply must end our addiction to single-use plastics if we want to reverse this frightening trend.

How You Can Help: Skip the straw. Pass on the plastic bottle. Forget the foam.

Healthy Watersheds

Vibrant shorelines depend on fully functioning urban creeks and rivers.

Cleaning Our Creeks

Our science and policy team will dramatically expand its water-quality monitoring program by launching regular analysis at more than a dozen locations along the L.A. River and Ballona Creek. Modeled after our A-to-F Beach Report Card, the new grading program will support public health and aquatic well-being throughout the watershed.

Why It Matters: We can’t expect our beaches and wetlands to be clean if the waters that feed them are filled with harmful pollutants. As we fight for tougher limits on polluters, this advocacy requires consistent and scientifically gathered data.

How You Can Help: Take a tour of the L.A. River or the Ballona Wetlands to understand the stakes. Curtail polluting runoff to our creeks by cleaning up after your pet, opting for copper-free brake pads, and curtailing fertilizer and pesticide use.

Smart Water

Los Angeles imports over 80% of its water – a number that’s far too high.

Re-Plumbing L.A.

The Southland needs to move beyond its centralized approach to water, which relies heavily on massive infrastructure – be it pumping water from the Sacramento Delta or Hyperion discharging millions of gallons of wastewater into the sea. Instead, Heal the Bay will lead the charge to invest in nature-based solutions, such as the L.A. City Council’s proposal to require “green street” capture-and-infiltrate features in all street, median, and parkway projects.

Why It Matters:  A resilient L.A. depends on the widespread adoption of strategies that maximize on-site management of all forms of water. No single entity can win the water wars single-handedly. Local water agencies, business, homeowners, and renters all need to manage water more wisely. Making the most of our local water resources will help keep more environmentally harmful and costly options, like ocean desalination, at bay.

How You Can Help:  Rip out your grass lawn. Break up a driveway. Support civic investment in stormwater capture.

Watch Video

Get the full scoop from Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s Vice President (2-minute video).

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 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.


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

It all adds up. 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:

  • 10,000 anglers engaged directly about the dangers of con­suming certain fish caught off local waters.

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


November’s Nothin’ But Sand broke Heal the Bay’s record for the most participants at one of our monthly volunteer cleanups. What a way to end 2013!

Some 1,111 participants picked up 210 pounds of ocean-bound trash at Will Rogers State Beach on Nov. 16.

Whether volunteers were lured to the beach that sunny morning to fulfill their community service or their own Karma hours, they can enjoy the holidays with an extra glow knowing they did their part to keep our local beaches safe, healthy and clean.

It’s not easy work! But it’s worthwhile, as the debris removed has now been categorized and catalogued, and used to help better inform our ongoing policy work to curb coastal pollution.

And the cleanups really make a difference, as Heal the Bay volunteers have collected and recorded more than 2 million pounds of debris over the past 20 years. That’s nearly the weight of two fully loaded 747 jumbo jets.

We started as an all-volunteer organization, and we still rely heavily on ocean-lovers who generously donate their time, as individuals or as part of their church, scout troop or even workplace.

While November’s Nothin’ But Sand represented our final cleanup of 2013, we’ll be back on the beach come January. Start 2014 off right and join us!

You might also consider becoming a member of Heal the Bay. It’s the easiest way to have the maximum impact on protecting our local beaches. The ocean belongs to all of us, so it’s up to all of us to care for it.

nothin but sand cleanup More than 1,000 cleanup volunteers canvassed Will Rogers State Beach — a Nothin But Sand record!

Heal the Bay CEO Ruskin Hartley recently sat down with Saul Gonzalez from KCRW to share his vision for our organization and the unfinished business of cleaning up Santa Monica Bay.

Ruskin details how Heal the Bay is well-positioned to play a significant role in developing innovative solutions to our 21st century challenges: Water pollution and water conservation. If you haven’t had the chance to meet Ruskin yet, the interview is a great way to get to know him a bit better.

Listen to the full interview.