Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Get Local

Are you drawn to good design? Love the beach? Well, we’ve got a great opportunity for you to proudly show you care. Heal the Bay has commissioned two of L.A.’s most celebrated graphic artists to power a new fashion-forward campaign announced just in time for Earth Day, this April 22.

Hoping to inspire a new generation of local ocean lovers, Tim Biskup and Florencio Zavala created limited-edition T-shirts that celebrate the diversity of greater L.A. and the wonders of its shorelines. Heal the Bay, which has a long history of collaborating with local artists like Catherine Opie and Ed Massey, asked Zavala and Biskup to conceive and donate original artwork that inspires people to take action to protect our local beaches.

Limited Edition T-Shirts Designed by local artists Tim Biskup and Florencio Zavala

Biskup, a Santa Monica native who employs vibrant color and playful forms in the pop-design genre, created a whimsical showcase of the many animals that lurk beneath the Bay and call it home. Zavala, a creative director who worked side by side with artist Shepard Fairey for nearly a decade, crafted an image that speaks to his long-standing interest in street culture and evokes Southern California’s rich Pan-American history.

“I practically lived in the water when I was a kid growing up in Malibu,” said Biskup. “Anyone who wants to make it a cleaner, nicer, safer place is alright in my book!” Added Zavala: “When Heal the Bay approached me recently about creating a limited-edition tee graphic, I couldn’t help but smile. As a South Florida native and now Angeleno, the sea and sand are defining elements of my identity. The ocean and everything beneath its surface is precious.”

The limited run of t-shirts is now available at ZJ Boarding House, the surf apparel and equipment retailer on Santa Monica’s Main Street, and at Channel Islands Scuba, while supplies last.

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!

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.

At Heal the Bay we are not usually in the business of makeovers. But for the past few years, we’ve been working with Wisdom Academy of Young Scientists (WAYS) to revamp a gray empty lot in South LA into a glorious, green outdoor community space.

This Saturday, April 27, you can be part of transforming a neighborhood hit hard by urban blight, by joining us for a cleanup around the future home of WAYS Reading and Fitness Park.

This cleanup is the continuation of the fun work we undertook in September when we organized a cleanup of the site as part of Coastal Cleanup Day and invited a group of neighborhood students to come out and paint the planter boxes and benches.  Some of the kids happily painted “Keep the City Clean” signs by their own choice.  

Then in October, we hosted a Fall Festival with over 30 families attending to carve pumpkins, get their faces painted, create holiday masks, learn about the WAYS park project, and discuss their visions of the park.

To ring out the year, we hosted 20 neighborhood families for a winter holiday-themed festival, with activities like creating ornaments and picture frames from everyday materials to hang as decorations. We also continued to reach out to residents about the park project.

Now, on April 27, as part of GOOD’s Neighborday, we’ll be hosting an Earth Month “Re-Paint & Re-Plant” community cleanup where local students will help replant some of our planter boxes, paint over graffiti and put up some art of their own. In addition, to help address illegal dumping in their community we are having a neighborhood bulky-item drop off. 

— Stephen Mejia

Urban Programs Coordinator

 Can’t make it? You can still support our work in South Los Angeles, by becoming a member of Heal the Bay.

One of the first changes Heal the Bay made 10 years ago when becoming owners of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium was to retire an underutilized gift shop in the Aquarium, converting the space into the Kids’ Corner. This section of the Aquarium has been through several renovations since its unveiling in 2003, but it still remains a comfy area in the marine education center where families can read marine themed books, commune with some of the smaller creatures of the Bay displayed in kid-friendly tanks, stage a puppet show or enjoy games and puzzles.

No matter the various upgrades of the surrounding décor, the Kids’ Corner is best known as the home of the wily octopus that figured out how to push the flow valve out of its tank one February night in 2009. When staff walked in the next morning, we were up to our ankles in water – approximately 200 gallons of seawater soaked the Kids’ Corner and the staff offices.

The flood harmed none of the Aquarium’s animals, but this tiny cephalopod – weighing about a pound – caused major damage to flooring and cabinetry and produced a flood of another sort, attracting tons of media attention and record-breaking visitors’ attendance. We ran a kids’ essay and art contest, encouraging students to come up with a narrative of what went on in the Aquarium the night of flood. Art work and stories decorated our walls for weeks.

Today, the Kids’ Corner features an ever-changing lineup of local species, displayed in six porthole shaped tanks.

Peer into the “holdfast haven” exhibit, for example, for a close look at the root-like structure, known as a holdfast, which is the anchor of the giant kelp. Chances are a keen eye will see a collection of crustaceans called Hemphill’s kelp crabs. Their first pair of walking legs is exceptionally long, and covered with numerous curved hairs. They decorate this pair of legs with kelp, grass, algae and other organisms. When feeling threatened, this crab will raise one of its adorned legs and hold it horizontally as a shield between itself and a predator. The Hemphill’s kelp crabs were just added to the holdfast, also home to brittle stars, snails and other tiny organisms. Visitors are charmed by their antics, but at least weekly someone will ask: “whatever happened to that octopus that flooded the Aquarium?”

Randi Parent, Aquarium Outreach Manager

An employee of the Aquarium since Heal the Bay took over the marine education facility in 2003, Randi is writing a series of blogs highlighting the SMPA’s 10-year history and previewing our plans.

If you haven’t already, come visit the Kids Corner of our Aquarium, located on the Santa Monica Pier, just below the carousel. Join us the first weekend of March to celebrate the Aquarium’s 10-year anniversary!

This year, as part of A Day Without a Bag, Heal the Bay wants YOU to Rock Your Reusables!  Take a picture of you, your friends, or a stranger (with their permission, of course) using their reusable bags to enter the contest!  Catch your friends in the act and post it to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #RockinReusables and tag @HealtheBay to enter.

Winners will receive a limited edition Heal the Bay A Day Without a Bag T-shirt, $100 Vons gift card, as well as other great prizes. Contest ends at 5 p.m. on Dec. 20, 2012, and winners will be announced on Dec. 21, 2012.

Everybody’s doing it, even Brandon Boyd from Incubus!

Learn how you can participate in A Day Without a Bag on Dec. 20.

Brandon Boyd Singer from the band Incubus at Heal the Bay's Santa Monica Pier Aquarium Rockin' Reusables

The EPA released its final National Recreational Beach Water Quality Criteria this week. After many years of fighting for strong protections, we are greeting the new standards with mixed emotions. The criteria, which hadn’t been updated since 1986, basically determine the allowable levels of illness-inducing bacteria in our nation’s waterbodies. They are a critical tool for ensuring that people don’t get sick when they take a swim at their local beach or lake.

On the positive side, the new guidelines are more protective of public health in several respects than those floated in a surprisingly weak draft document last December. These improvements are thanks to the efforts of Heal the Bay and other environmental organizations.   

However, there are some major steps backwards from the 1986 criteria.  For instance, the new criteria allow for states to choose between two sets of standards based on two different estimated illness rates. Giving the states the option of selecting between two illness rates makes no sense.

Letting states determine their own “acceptable illness rates” allows for major inconsistencies in public health protection among states. What state, if left the choice, would sign-up for stricter standards? The less relaxed standard of the two is clearly less protective of public health, though EPA inaccurately claims that either set of criteria would protect public health.  Further, we do not believe the illness rates that were selected (32 or 36 allowable illnesses for every 1,000  recreators) are protective enough of public health. 

The EPA also missed a major opportunity to encourage states to provide more timely water quality results, through testing known as rapid methods.

Standard testing of water samples now take between 18-24 hours to process, meaning that the public is getting day-old water quality information, at best. EPA developed a rapid method that would get us closer to real-time measurement, therefore increasing public health protection. However, this method cannot be used as a stand-alone process under the new criteria, therefore leaving little incentive for states to move forward with more timely measurement.

The EPA is also providing too much wiggle room to municipalities in the new guidelines by allowing them to employ unproven alternative criteria at certain sites. So-called Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) allows agencies to assess potential human health risks based strictly on the presence of different fecal sources including humans, birds, cows, and dogs. in the beach water. However, much research has yet to be conducted on illness rates and risk associated with specific sources. The alternative criteria are premature to use at most sites. QMRA should only be pursued at remote beach locations (non-urbanized) with no known human sources or influences.

However, not all was lost. Heal the Bay worked very hard to change the draft criteria’s proposed 90-day geometric mean standard to 30-days, which is more indicative of the latest beach water quality, thereby more protective of public health.  This change was made in the final criteria.

In addition, we made some headway with the allowable exceedance threshold.  If a water sample exceeds the bacteria standard it means there is a potential public health risk. A lower allowable exceedance rate will trigger action from the polluter more readily and this will increase public health protection.

So it’s encouraging to see the EPA lower the previously proposed national water quality exceedance threshold from 25% to 10% (above the standard), which is more in-line with California’s current allowable exceedance rates. An allowable exceedance rate of 25% could mask chronically polluted beaches, therefore inhibiting future water quality improvement efforts.

Over the past year, Heal the Bay, along with a coalition of concerned environmental groups, fought tirelessly to strengthen the draft criteria. We submitted detailed comments including an extensive data analysis to EPA, attended countless meetings with EPA staffers, and created a campaign centered on submitting hundreds of petitions directly to EPA’s Administrator, Lisa Jackson, urging for criteria with strong public health protection. 

We also solicited the support of members of congress, such as Congressman Henry Waxman, who expressed concerns to USEPA about their approach. (Kirsten James, our Water Quality Director, traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby lawmakers on strengthening new recreational water quality criteria.)

We made several important steps forward to strengthen the EPA’s final revised standards. But we are concerned that having two sets of criteria could lead to confusion for the public and for those implementing the new criteria.  It may mean the status quo in some states, though hopefully states will choose the criteria more protective of public health.

To compound this, EPA’s Beach Grant fund, which allocates moneys towards state beach monitoring programs, may be completely eliminated in the near future. Absence of this support could lead to major backsliding of state beach programs. We are encouraging states to explore more sustainable funding sources in addition to implementing the more protective criteria, to better protect beach-goers from getting sick after a day at the beach.

Urge your congressional representative to support federal funding for beach water testing programs.

You can help Heal the Bay simply by getting your next oil change through the Ford Community Changes program. Ford donates the cost of your next oil change toward our work protecting local waters from dangerous toxins.

Here’s how it works: Bring in your car (any make or model — it doesn’t have to be a Ford) to one of four dealerships — Galpin (San Fernando Valley), Santa Monica, Sunrise (Greater Los Angeles and Inland Empire), Bob Wondries (San Gabriel Valley) and name your price. Whatever amount you choose to pay will go directly to Heal the Bay’s efforts to keep our waters safe, healthy and clean. Register now.

What you get is more than just an oil change. Your vehicle will be thoroughly inspected for leaks that may cause harm to our oceans and waterways, and your car. Motor oil is extremely toxic: A quart can contaminate up to 250,000 gallons of drinking water as it contains lead, magnesium, copper, zinc, chromium, arsenic, chlorides, cadmium and chlorinated compounds. Find out more. Heal the Bay encourages motorists to recycle their used motor oil and to NEVER pour it down the drain, in the gutter, or on the ground. Together, we’re changing more than oil  we’re changing Los Angeles.


ford oil change


Take a great photo during Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, and share it with @HealtheBay on Instagram, and your photograph could be on exhibit at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and featured in the Coastal Cleanup Day wrap-up publication! Images can be of a beach or kayak cleanup, underwater photos from a dive cleanup, pictures of trash, clean beaches, volunteers, or anything from Coastal Cleanup Day 2012!

How to enter: Upload photos from Coastal Cleanup Day to your Instagram feed, make sure they are public, and tag them with #CCD2012 AND @HealtheBay, as well as including location information through Geo-Tagging and/or hashtagging with your cleanup site’s name (i.e. #DockweilerBeach). At the end of the contest, Heal the Bay will collect all of the photos and decide the winners. You can enter as many photos as you want!

You can submit photos from now until September 29, and the winner will be announced October 1 through Instagram. Grab your Smartphones and start uploading to Instagram! Good luck!


  • First Prize: Your photograph will be exhibited at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and published in our Coastal Cleanup Day 2012 wrap-up book. You and a guest will also receive a private, behind-the-scenes tour of Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium!
  • Second Prize (2): Your photograph will be exhibited at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and published in our Coastal Cleanup Day 2012 wrap-up book.
  • Third Prize (5): Your photograph will be exhibited at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

For those not familiar with the photo sharing app, Instagram is an app for Smartphones that lets you easily tweak photos from your mobile device to give them an artistic look. If you don’t have it already installed on your phone, download the app for free.

No purchase necessary. No automated entries. Enter as many photos as you like. Photos must be taken at a Coastal Cleanup Day 2012 volunteer site in order to be eligible. By entering the contest, each entrant agrees that his or her submission is an original work of authorship and he or she owns all right, title and interest in the entry as of the date of submission. By entering the contest, entrants agree to assign all right, title, and interest, including copyright rights, in the entry to Heal the Bay and grant permission for Heal the Bay to publish or publicize all or part of their entry, including but not limited to entrant’s name, likeness and photo, in whole or in part, for advertising, promotional and trade or other purposes in conjunction with this and similar promotions in any and all media now known or hereafter developed, worldwide in perpetuity, without notice or permission and without compensation, except where prohibited by law.

I don’t get a ton of opportunity to get out from behind my desk to romp in the creeks and watersheds that we protect. But this Friday afternoon was going to be the exception, as I was joining our Education Department for a kayaking tour of the Los Angeles River

The night before I cringed at all the work I had to finish to be able leave the office for four hours, but I knew it would be worth it.  And it was! What an excellent way to see the L.A. River up close.  And this time I was not armed with gloves and a trash bag but rather a kayak and a paddle.

We weren’t even in the kayaks yet and our Education staff was spouting off information on this bird or that plant — I’m a hobby gardener so I could add a few names here and there as we meandered down the wide calm river for an hour-and-a-half tour.  Birds and dragonflies were everywhere.  We saw Black-Necked Stilts, Snowy Egrets, a Great Blue Heron and Great Egret fishing in a rocky outcropping – it caught two fish while we snapped pictures. 

The river was not at all what one thinks of when they conjure up images of the L.A. River. Most think of the Hollywood version of a high speed car chase down a solid concrete storm drain.  The banks were filled with Sycamores and Willow trees that touched the water’s edge.  The air smelled like sage – the same scent you get while hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The temperature was hot, but the water was cool to the touch.  We quickly unwound from work mode and started joking and laughing and enjoying the exercise. What a great way to end a busy week – or better yet, start the weekend. 

The tours sold out very quickly, so be sure to put this on your list for next summer. There’s an exciting possibility that the tours will expand to the Glendale Narrows, the soft-bottomed stretch of the river that runs from the Los Angeles Equestrian Center to the 5 Freeway overpass.

Thanks to LA Conservation Corps for taking us out on this day. And big thanks and congratulations to the Friends of the L.A. River, who recently succeeded in getting Governor Jerry Brown to sign the Los Angeles River Expanded Public Access Bill, which will allow more residents can experience this little known treasure. The new law takes effect January 2013 and will broaden the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works’ 100-year-old mission of flood control and stormwater management to include, for the first time, education and recreation.

Alix Hobbs

Associate Director, Heal the Bay

View photos from Heal the Bay’s L.A. River expedition.

Join our fight for clean water in Los Angeles.