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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: California Coast

UPDATE 3/1/2022

Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission. This meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 17, 2022. However, the meeting has been postponed, and no new date has been announced yet. Keep an eye out – we’ll let you know when it gets rescheduled.

UPDATE 2/10/2022

Two critical decisions were made in 2021 to protect LA’s coastal waters from the negative impacts of large-scale ocean water pumping. All too often, we see exemptions, extensions, and approvals for projects that threaten our coastal waters, but the tides may be turning!

Previous extension approvals allowed the Redondo Beach Once Through Cooling Facility to avoid fees associated with years of water quality violations; a trend that ended with this Regional Board Vote. And, LA County’s West Basin Board of Directors voted to terminate a massive ocean desalination project proposed for El Segundo in a shocking step forward for protecting coastal waters.

Are these victories signs of systemic change? And what can Californians do to keep this trend of transformation going while combating large-scale industrial interests that are dangerous to our environment and public health?

Let’s jump into what we mean by ‘ocean water pumping’ and how these two coastal project decisions uphold the Clean Water Act, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.

Protecting the Santa Monica Bay from Harmful Industrial Water Pumping

Industrial water use includes the large-scale pumping (or “intake”) of ocean water and it has severe negative impacts on the health of our coastal waters. The intake of ocean water threatens sea life with impingement (being sucked up against an intake pipe) and entrainment (being sucked up into an intake pipe), both of which can cause serious injury or death. The Clean Water Act of 1972, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate this pumping to minimize those negative impacts.

At the end of 2021, two critical decisions were made right here in Los Angeles, that support these Clean Water Act regulations by limiting industrial ocean water intake and holding those who continue to use it accountable.

Rejection of Extension Request from the Redondo Beach AES Power Plant and Once-Through Cooling Facility


Seabirds and Pinnipeds are just a few species that can be affected by the Once-Through Cooling process used in locations like Redondo Beach (King Harbor / Dana Murry )

Once-Through Cooling (OTC) is a process used by power generating facilities to cool down generators using water. Most of these facilities, especially in California, are located along the coast, positioned to use ocean water. But this kind of large-scale ocean water intake is what threatens sea life with impingement and entrainment. After the water is used, it is usually released back into the ocean, but oftentimes at a higher temperature and with pollutants from the equipment, causing possible water quality violations and concerns for coastal wildlife.

OTC was first recognized as a threat to California’s fisheries, estuaries, bays, and coastal waters in 2005, leading to the approval of a Statewide OTC Policy in 2010. Heal the Bay was one of many stakeholders that worked together to craft the requirements of the OTC Policy. One major compromise was the long time schedule, giving all OTC facilities 10+ years to either shut down or transition away from OTC operations. Now that we are finally approaching those deadlines, we are seeing many of these OTC facilities asking for extensions beyond the original 10+ year grace period.

Over the last two years, the Redondo Beach OTC Facility has requested two separate extensions for operation. Despite opposition from environmental groups and Redondo Beach Mayor Brand, the State Board approved both, allowing the Redondo Beach OTC Facility to continue operations through December 31, 2023. The Redondo Beach Facility then requested an extension (referred to as a Time Schedule Order) from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to essentially waive any fees for water quality violations of the OTC wastewater they release during this time.

On December 9, 2021, the Regional Water Board voted 3-1 to deny this request after hearing clear opposition from NGOs like Heal the Bay, as well as from representatives from the City of Redondo Beach. This was the first time in years that the Regional Board has denied any Time Schedule Order request. The Redondo Beach Facility is still allowed to operate, but they are no longer exempt from fines associated with their contaminated OTC wastewater discharges. If the vote had gone the other way, it would have provided a clear and easy path for additional operational extensions. This critical decision by the Regional Water Board will help to protect water quality by putting pressure on the Redondo Beach Facility to shut down their OTC operations by the new December 31, 2023 deadline.

Termination of the West Basin Ocean Water Desalination Project

Desalination, or the process of sucking in seawater and removing the salt to convert it to freshwater, might initially seem like a logical way to get more freshwater for Southern California. But ocean water desalination has many negative impacts on the environment, and the truth is that we do not need it. Although Southern California does face consistent drought conditions, we can source enough water locally to support all of our water needs without ocean water desalination by focusing on smart water practices like water conservation, recycling efforts, and stormwater capture. One of the myriad problems with desalination is the ocean water intake process, which poses the same impingement and entrainment threat as OTC operations.

The West Basin Municipal Water District had proposed an ocean water desalination plant in El Segundo, intending to reuse decommissioned OTC piping to intake ocean water. This project has been hotly contested for decades, with strong opposition from the environmental community (including Heal the Bay) as well as from the public, because it is the most expensive and energy-intensive way to obtain fresh water and simply does not make sense for Southern California.

At a meeting of the West Basin Board of Directors on December 23, 2021, the Board voted 3-2 to terminate the ocean water desalination project, after hearing from 25 members of the public speaking in opposition to the project. Many factors contributed to this decision including a report from West Basin proving that ocean water desalination is not needed to meet water supply demands for LA. But a final vote from Board Member Houston, quoting the fact that there is no longer public support for the project, broke the tie.

Upholding the Clean Water Act to protect our water, ecosystems, and communities

West Basin’s decision to terminate its ocean water desalination project stopped new industrial intake from affecting our coastal waters and stopped an unnecessary, expensive, and energy-intensive system from being built. The Regional Water Board’s decision to deny the Redondo Beach Facility Time Schedule Order provides extra incentive for the Facility to stop intake operations and to shut down the inefficient, fossil fuel burning Redondo Beach Facility altogether. Both decisions protect coastal waters, ecosystems, and communities in Santa Monica Bay and uphold the Clean Water Act by minimizing the negative impacts of industrial intakes.

Save the Date to Advocate Against Ocean Water Desalination

Public interest and intervention played a big part in both outcomes, just as this huge turnout did for the decision on a desalination plant proposal for Huntington Beach at Coastal Commission meeting in 2013.

Both decisions were swayed by public demand for safe and clean water, but we cannot stop here. To shift the tides so that public and environmental protection becomes the standard, we need more decisions like these. You can help to advocate against ocean water desalination and demand safe and clean water for all.

Another ocean water desalination plant has been proposed for construction in Huntington Beach. This project has also been opposed by the environmental community and by the public for years. Poseidon will be applying for a coastal development permit to build their ocean water desalination plant with the CA Coastal Commission on Thursday, March 17, 2022. Check out this Fact Sheet from the CA Coastal Commission for more information or engage with our partners at Orange County Coastkeeper to advocate against ocean water desalination.

UPDATED NOTE: As of February 28, 2022 the March 17, 2022 meeting has been postponed and no new date has been announced. 



Like a national or state park on land, Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, conserve and protect wildlife and habitats in the ocean. Here in California, we have a unique and science-based network of 124 MPAs all up and down the coastline. This network exemplifies a new kind of MPA science, designed to not only conserve the habitat inside the boundaries of the protected areas, but to enhance the areas in between as well.

 The MPA Decadal Review

California’s MPA network has been around since 2012 and, per the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) passed in 1999, this network must be reviewed every 10 years. This year marks the very first Decadal Management Review of California’s MPAs. What does that mean for our network?

We sat down with Tova Handelman, the Senior Marine Protected Areas Program Manager at California’s Ocean Protection Council (and former Heal the Bay staffer) to give us the inside scoop on what’s in store for California’s treasured MPAs.

To get started, California’s MPAs are really special – what makes our network of 124 MPAs different from other MPAs in the United States and around the world?

Most MPAs around the world are designed as individual protected areas: a specific spot on the map that is set aside and conserved. Our MPAs are different; they span the entire California coastline and are ecologically designed as a network. They are meant to interact with each other, connected by the California Current, wildlife migration, and dispersal patterns.

Since California’s MPAs are a statewide network, we can actually manage them as a state. All 124 MPAs are managed to the same degree, unlike MPAs that are managed differently region by region. This allows for more equitable distribution of resources, no matter how remote an MPA may be.

Point Dume MPA
Point Dume is one of 124 stunning Marine Protected Areas in the state that offer safe refuge for ocean inhabitants as well as breath taking views from the land that make up the California Coastline.

The state of California manages our entire MPA system, how exactly does that work?

We use “adaptive management” for our network of MPAs in California, which gives us an opportunity to change how we manage these areas as the ecosystems change over years or decades. What might be working in MPA management now, might not work in the future. It was quite brilliant to include adaptive management in the MLPA and we are already seeing now, with the climate changing so rapidly, how necessary it was.


A variety of information is taken into account when monitoring an MPA. Heal the Bay partnered with scientists like PhD candidate Dr. Zack Gold to study eDNA in protected waters over the past couple years.

A key part of adaptive management is checking in on our MPAs to see how they are working and then adapt management accordingly. Here in California we do that through the Decadal Management Reviews, and the very first one is happening this year. Tell us about this review.

The Decadal Management Review, which was written into the MLPA, is an opportunity for us to use science and monitoring to see what has been going on in MPAs over the past 10 years. Based on the evidence presented, we can determine if there are any ways we can strengthen MPA management to make it more effective.

What does this scientific evidence look like?

The state of California has been funding long term MPA monitoring for a long time, and it all started with baseline data. Researchers went to all different types of ecosystems like sandy beaches, rocky reefs, kelp forests, and estuaries and gathered information to get an idea of what was going on inside and outside MPA boundaries 10 years ago, before the MPAs were put into place. Since then, those same sites have continued to be monitored over time to look at changes and see if anything interesting has happened since the baseline data was collected. In addition to the long-term data sets, we also will be interested in community science, like MPA Watch, to give a broader picture of the human dimension of MPAs [how humans interact with, use, impact, and value these areas]. The review will also include Traditional Ecological Knowledge from Indigenous communities who have been stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial.


MPA volunteers like Sophia von der Ohe (seen in the picture above) are crucial to the success of the Decadal Review. Over 36161 surveys have been submitted by MPA watch volunteers to date.

How exactly will the review work, and who is involved?

The major players are the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC). The review will start with the gathering and synthesizing of scientific evidence by CDFW – this is happening right now and will continue through the year [and Heal the Bay is helping to contribute evidence and data for this critical step]. As the managing agency of the MPA network, CDFW will present this evidence to the FGC through a report, a presentation at a Commission meeting, and a symposium. This is set to happen in early 2023. As the regulatory body, the FGC will then review the evidence and make the decision if any changes are needed in MPA Management. If they choose to make any changes, they would have to go through a full regulatory process.

What can we expect from this first review? Will the science show major changes? Will there be any big management adjustments like MPAs added/removed or shifting boundaries?

The science might show some changes [like this Channle Islands MPA study showed increased abundance and biodiversity] but we don’t know yet because we are still analyzing that data. These are cold water climates and here, things take a long time to change. So, even though we are reviewing the science every 10 years, and we will see some interesting things, this review isn’t going to definitively show an extremely different landscape from 10 years prior.

We don’t expect any major management adjustments during this first 10-year review, such as border changes, adding new MPAs, or removing current MPAs. If you have heard that this management review is going to determine whether or not we are going to keep our MPA network or not, that is not this case: this review isn’t like a pass-fail test.

What you CAN expect from this review is a very interesting narrative and look back on the past 10 years of MPA management. We will see the amount of effort that was needed to manage our MPAs and interesting ecological data and stories. We will see data on the human dimension, such as community science, socioeconomics, how communities have interacted with their MPAs, and a review of the resources that were put into the network. This review will help to show the international global significance of this network and how other managers are looking to us as an example.

How can folks get involved in the review process?

The state is working to involve all ocean users and MPA stakeholders in the review process. If you are interested in getting involved in the review, you can:

1. Submit comments to CDFW for the review on their webpage

2. Stay informed by signing up for CDFW’s mailing list or learning more on their FAQ page

3. Attend FGC meetings and give a public comment

4. Get involved in the science! Join Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch program or The California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program to help collect important data used for the review

5. Go visit your MPA! We have four gorgeous MPAs here in LA County where you can swim, hang on the beach, surf, whale watch, snorkel, or tidepool!

So, folks, there you have it! All the information you need on California’s 2022 MPA Decadal Management Review. To close, some words of advice from an MPA: Be adaptive, base your decisions in science, protect yourself, get by with a little kelp from your friends, and do your own decadal review!



Thick, black oil covering the water along the shoreline of Huntington Beach after a spill off the coast of Orange County, California

We are heartbroken and outraged. Crude oil spilled from a pipe into the ocean near Huntington Beach, Orange County in October 2021. Here’s how to take action. This oil spill has taken place in unceded Acjachemen and Tongva ancestral waters.

LATEST UPDATE as of 2/8/22

The government agencies responding to the oil spill announced last week that their cleanup operations have ended for the two ruptured pipelines off the coast of Huntington Beach. All coastal habitats are deemed to be clean of oil, and the phone number and email address for reporting tarballs have been disabled. The public has been advised to contact the National Response Center (1-800-424-8802) if more oil is observed on the beach or in the water.

While the cleanup has concluded, the response to the oil spill is far from over. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will now complete a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). The NRDA will financially quantify the damage done by the oil spill in terms of habitat and human usage. The assessment has required that Amplify Energy pay that amount in restitution. The CDFW will need to conduct multiple scientific studies to collect and analyze a large volume of environmental data, so expect the NRDA to take several years to finalize.

We will not know the full environmental impact of the oil spill until the NRDA concludes, but we do have some preliminary details. The first ruptured pipeline released 25,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, and cleanup crews managed to remove 9,076 gallons. That means over half the oil that was spilled remains in the ocean or on the beach. In addition, the oil that was recovered may have harmed wildlife before being cleaned up. In total, 124 animals (birds, mammals, herptiles) were found to be oiled, and only 36 survived. The second ruptured pipeline released less oil into the ocean, but there is currently no estimate for how many gallons. Cleanup crews for the second pipeline recovered 176-236 gallons of oil from the ocean, and no oiled wildlife was observed.

Both pipelines have been emptied, and they are no longer in operation. However, the pipeline operators appear to be intent on repairing the pipelines and using them in the future. The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is reviewing permanent repair plans for the pipelines. Please direct any questions about this process to phmsa.publicaffairs@dot.gov.

LATEST UPDATE as of 1/11/22

The agencies tasked with responding to the oil spill (U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Orange County, and San Diego County), have ended their cleanup operations at all Orange County and San Diego County beaches. Tragically, a rupture was discovered in a separate but nearby pipeline on January 2, 2022. Crews were deployed to clean up the oil sheen, and protective booms were placed at the entrances to Orange County wetlands to absorb any floating oil. It is reported that no oil from the second pipeline rupture has reached the beaches. At this time, no fisheries closures have been recommended by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

The breach points in both pipelines have been identified and are being repaired. The remaining oil in the pipelines will be evacuated once repairs are completed. Cleanup crews will remain on call for an undetermined amount of time to respond to new incidents of oil sheens or tar balls. Oil and tar ball sightings should be reported to the National Response Center (1-800-424-8802) and California Office of Emergency Services (1-800-852-7550). For additional information about the oil spill, email ocoilspillinv@gmail.com

LATEST UPDATE as of 12/17/21

Texas Company Indicted for Orange County Oil Spill Devastation

LATEST UPDATE as of 12/1/21

It has now been nearly 9 weeks since the Orange County oil spill.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has officially announced that as of 11:59 PM on November 30, 2021, the fisheries closure implemented on October 3, has been lifted. 

After the Orange County Oil spill released over 25,000 gallons of oil in early October, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) recommended the closure of both commercial and recreational fishing to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The recommendation suggested a moratorium that would encompass the area from Huntington Beach to Dana Point. As of October 3rd, the closure prohibited the take of all fish and shellfish from an area that included over 20 miles of California coastline, with the boundary reaching 6 miles out to sea. The OEHHA had identified “that the threat to public health from consuming fish in the affected area was likely” and a few days after the original closure began, the CDFW expanded the prohibited territory to include bays and harbors from Seal Beach to San Onofre State Beach.

From October 14 to November 3, the OEHHA sampled seafood along this 650 square mile area to measure and evaluate polyaromatic hydrocarbon levels. PAHs are harmful chemicals found in oil and can accumulate along marine food chains, specifically in fish and shellfish caught for human consumption, “causing increased risk to cancer and other adverse health conditions.”

Three days ago, after extensive testing, the OEHHA announced that as of November 29, “there is no further risk to public health from seafood consumption in the affected area.” Following the OEHHA recommendation, Director Bonham of the CDFW signed a declaration lifting the ban on fisheries allowing fishing to resume no later than midday on November 30, 2021.

Beach and shoreline cleanup activities in Orange and Sand Diego counties are winding down as most beaches impacted by the spill have been deemed clear of oil by the spill response agencies (see here for how they determine this).  There are still two segments of coastline in Orange County and three in San Diego County where there are ongoing cleanup activities. The US Coast Guard and Office of Spill Prevention and Response will respond to any new reports of oil on the coastline even at beaches where cleanup operations have ceased.

LATEST UPDATE as of 10/29/21

It has now been nearly 3 weeks since the Orange County oil spill.

Monitoring and cleanup continues by the Unified Command. More than 5,000 gallons of oil have been recovered by skimmers and over half a million pounds of oily sand and debris have been removed thus far. Based on a recently released water quality report, there appears to be very little detectable toxins in the water and all beaches and harbors are now open. Heal the Bay strongly believes that more monitoring is needed for the affected area and we encourage all beachgoers to continue checking the Beach Report Card before heading to the water.

The Talbert Marsh still has floating barriers in place, but all other barriers have now been removed. Boat decontamination stations are available in harbors and all affected boats can be cleaned at the expense of the responsible party. The oiled wildlife that were recovered alive are doing well, and fewer in number than originally feared. Of the 33 oiled birds recovered alive, 20 have already been released. The total number of animals affected is just under 100 and includes birds, marine mammals, and fish.

Tar balls still may occur on beaches, and can be reported to CDFW at tarballreports@wildlife.ca.gov. Questions still remain about when and how the damage to the pipeline occurred, the exact amount of oil spilled, when and how the response began and how effective that response has been in properly informing and protecting the public. It does appear that less oil was spilled than the first estimates, and the minimum estimate is now just over 25,000 gallons in total.

Keep following Heal the Bay and the official Southern California Spill Response page for more updates.

Update as of 10/14/21

Orange County beaches are open, but please be cautious.

Orange County officials re-opened all beaches on Monday, October 11 after a week-long closure due to the oil spill. The decision to open the beaches appears to be based on a water quality report recently conducted by a third-party contractor. They collected water samples and measured the amount of harmful petroleum compounds present in the water. All sampling locations showed non-detectible amounts of petroleum compounds, and one site at Bolsa Chica State Beach had a non-toxic level of certain compounds. 

While the results are encouraging, Heal the Bay believes this report alone does not provide enough information to confidently re-open beaches, and we would like more information before we recommend people head out to the beach. Therefore, we continue to have an advisory listed on our Beach Report Card for Orange County beaches. Here are some facts about the report that we would like you to consider before going in the water:

  • The report only includes water quality data. Given that petroleum-related fumes pose a health risk to humans (page 2 of report), we would like to see air samples taken as well. 
  • The data in the report is only from one day of sampling. The City of Huntington Beach has stated that monitoring will take place twice a week, and results will be posted on their oil spill website
  • Only Huntington Beach beaches were sampled. We would like to see data from every beach along the Orange County coast impacted by the spill.

If you do decide to go to the beach, please do the following:

  • Avoid contact with visible oil on the sand or in the water.
  • Leave the area if you smell oil or gas.
  • Report oil sightings to tarballreports@wildlife.ca.gov.
  • Shower with soap as soon as you get home.
  • Report oiled wildlife sightings to OWCN at 1-877-823-6926.
  • Check the Beach Report Card.

WHAT WE KNOW (last updated 10/7)

It began with reports from community members smelling gas on Friday afternoon, and evidence of a visible oil slick on the ocean surface by Saturday. The official announcement of the spill came later Saturday evening: 126,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from a seafloor pipe into the surrounding ocean. The pipeline (owned by Amplify Energy) transports crude oil from the offshore oil platform Elly, located off the coast of Orange County in federal waters, to the shoreline in Long Beach. According to the LA Times, US Coast Guard criminal investigators are now looking more closely into the events leading up to the spill and potential negligence in the delayed response. 

Oil spills are terrifyingly toxic to public health and marine life. Beaches are closed, and dead and injured birds and fish are already washing on shore. Marine mammals, plankton, fish eggs, and larvae are impacted too, as this toxic crude oil mixes with the ocean water, spreading both across the water surface and down into deeper water. As of 1:45 PM on October 5, only 4,700 gallons of the 126,000 spilled gallons had been recovered. Sadly this oil has also reached the sensitive and rare coastal wetlands at Talbert Marsh, a critical natural environment not only for wildlife habitat, but also for improving water quality by naturally filtering contaminants from water that flows through; however, this wetland cannot filter out oil pollution on such a scale. 


(Photo by City of Huntington Beach)

Major oil spills keep happening because oil companies prioritize profits over the health of people and the environment. This is evidenced by the fact that the oil industry has continuously sought to skirt regulations and loosen up restrictions on oil extraction. The danger posed by the oil industry’s pattern of reckless behavior is augmented when you consider that much of the oil infrastructure in California is decades old and deteriorating. This is the second major pipeline leak in 6 years. The last one in 2015 was the Refugio oil spill that resulted in 142,000 gallons of oil damaging our coastline in Santa Barbara. 

Oil spills are part of a much larger pollution problem. The impacts of fossil fuels are felt at every stage, from extraction to disposal.

Major oil spills are disastrous, yet somewhat intermittent. But air pollution from fossil fuel extraction sites and oil refineries located on land have a harmful impact every single day for fenceline neighborhoods. Low-income communities and communities of color are exposed to disproportionate health and safety risks due to a history of abundant drilling within close proximity to where community members live, work, and go about daily life. 

So, what does all this risky drilling get us? In the end we are left with products like gasoline, which contributes to the climate crisis when burned, or plastics that are used once (or not at all) and then thrown “away,” ultimately ending up right back here, polluting our neighborhoods and ocean.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

It is still unclear what caused the oil spill as well as exactly when it started and when it stopped. Divers are conducting an ongoing investigation, which will give us more information about what caused the rupture that led to thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the Pacific Ocean.


(Photo by LA Times)

Crude oil is a mixture of toxic chemicals including benzene and other carcinogens, and oil can come in a few different forms, which can have different impacts on the ecosystem. Unfortunately, we do not yet know the type of oil that was spilled, and proprietary trade laws allow oil companies to keep their oil and chemical mixtures a secret. We also do not know how cleanup progress will be monitored and if water quality testing will be included in that process or not. Based on previous spills, we expect the beaches to be closed for several weeks, and we expect environmental harm to last for years. 

WHAT NOT TO DO

At this time, the best thing you can do is to stay away from the oil spill area for your own safety. 

Stay clear of oil-fouled and closed beaches, stay out of the water, and keep boats far from the existing oil slick. As of October 4, Newport Harbor and Dana Point Harbor are closed, and a beach closure has been put into effect in Huntington Beach. Allow plenty of space for rescue workers and cleanup crews from the US Coast Guard and California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response  (CDFW-OSPR) to access and work at the spill site. If you see any injured or oiled wildlife, DO NOT try to intervene on your own. Instead, report the animal to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926. 

CDFW has issued an emergency fisheries closure between Anaheim Bay and San Onofre Beach. The closure extends 6 to 10 miles offshore. Any take of fish from this area is prohibited until further notice and CDFW is carefully patrolling the area. If you are an angler, check this detailed description and map to ensure you are staying outside the fishing closure for your own health and safety. Shellfish and fish may become contaminated from the oil and other chemicals in the water. Eating fish and shellfish from the contaminated area may make you sick, and it’s also hazardous to be out there fishing because of possible exposure to harmful fumes from the spill.


(Photo by CNN)

WHAT TO DO 

Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy team is working on a public call to action with specific policy demands that we will share soon on our blog and on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook channels. In the meantime, there is still a lot that you can do while keeping a safe distance from the oil spill. 

If you are local, you can volunteer with spill cleanup efforts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is soliciting volunteers from the public to assist in volunteer tasks with the Unified Command.

You can contact the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926 to report oiled wildlife. Currently, only trained responders may assist in the cleanup efforts. However, if you would like to sign up to be trained for future emergencies, you can fill out this OSPR Incident Volunteer Form,  or call the volunteer hotline at 1-800-228-4544 for more information.

You may encounter tarballs on San Diego and Orange County beaches. Oil contains hazardous chemicals, and for safety reasons we recommend not handling tarballs or any oil yourself. If you encounter tarballs, contact cleanup teams at tarballreports@wildlife.ca.gov for assistance.

Stay informed! Review the news and reports, follow the Southern California Spill Response for information and updates, and keep tabs on the Los Angeles Times, which is doing in-depth and up to date reporting during this emergency.

We encourage you to support and follow these organizations doing great work to rescue and protect wildlife from the oil spill and champion clean water and healthy wetlands locally in Orange County:

Oiled Wildlife Care Network
Pacific Marine Mammal Center
International Bird Rescue 
Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center
OC Coastkeeper
Bolsa Chica Conservancy 
Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy 
Newport Bay Conservancy 

We suggest you follow and support these organizations who are tirelessly taking on the big fight to phase out oil drilling in our ocean, neighborhoods, and everywhere else:

Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples
Communities for a Better Environment
Azul
STAND-LA coalition 
Last Chance Alliance coalition
Center for Biological Diversity
Sierra Club 
Surfrider
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice
Heal the Bay (that’s us!)

This is NOT an exhaustive list; there are many organizations and individuals doing this hard work. If your group is working on the spill or fighting big oil and would like to be added to the above list, contact us

THE TAKEAWAY

If we continue to rely on fossil fuels, oil spills and air pollution are inevitable and their impacts will continue to be devastating. The only solution is to shut down this dirty industry and protect ourselves and our environment through a just transition away from an extractive fossil fuel economy. 

Here’s how to take action.

 

Ver En Español

 

This post was originally published on October 5, 2021 and will be updated as new information is provided.




Cabrillo Beach is seen empty after the city of Long Beach closed the beaches due to a report of a spill of between two and four million gallons of untreated sewage into a canal in Carson, in Long Beach, California, US. December 31, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. (REUTERS / DAVID SWANSON – stock.adobe.com)

A massive and dangerous sewage spill happened late last week in Carson. Millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed through residential areas, into storm drains, in the Dominguez Channel, and out to the ocean.

Some Long Beach beaches, OC beaches and LA beaches are closed and will remain so until daily water quality testing for fecal-indicator bacterial pollution shows contaminants have reached an allowable level.

Heal the Bay is calling on officials and agencies to increase water quality monitoring during emergencies and to prevent sewage spills from happening by rapidly updating aging infrastructure.

Follow Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card for the latest water quality information.

 

LEARN MORE

 



(Photo Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP, NPR)

A federal grand jury has filed charges against the Houston-based oil company responsible for the Orange County Oil Spill that dumped 25,000 gallons into the Southern California ocean coastline. Is this a step forward for environmental justice, or just barely enough?

Amplify Energy and two of its subsidiaries were charged on December 15, 2021 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for negligence that led to the oil spill off the Orange County coast in October 2021. The energy company’s actions that led to the charges include:

  • Failing to properly respond to eight alarms from the pipeline’s leak detection system, and subsequently allowing oil to flow through a damaged pipeline for over seven hours.
  • Operating an oil pipeline with an understaffed and fatigued crew that was not properly trained on the leak detection system.

These charges come with a maximum penalty of five years of probation for Amplify Energy and potential fines, which may reach millions of dollars. We do not yet know what probation would look like for Amplify Energy, but in general, the judge presiding over the case can require them to change their operation or conduct if the corporation is placed on probation.

This action, while positive in that it highlights the extreme negligence that occurred, is unfortunately not enough of a deterrent for oil drilling companies to improve their practices or to go so far as to consider ending drilling. The fines are a drop in the bucket for an industry that generates over $100 billion annually, and indictments target the corporations and not the individuals in charge of the corporations, again softening the accountability blow.

The only way to prevent another oil spill from happening is to end oil drilling. It is clear that the system we have for overseeing and penalizing oil extraction companies is not sufficient for protecting our priceless and increasingly endangered ecosystems as well as fenceline communities and public health. Oil extraction companies continue to operate recklessly knowing that they can quickly recover financially.

To enact meaningful change we must phase out oil extraction all together whether it’s happening in the ocean or in our neighborhoods. We are excited to see the legislation that Senator Min will be introducing in January, which promises to end all drilling in California state waters. Ending offshore oil drilling does not mean that we can expand drilling on land – we must transition to renewable energy as soon as possible to address the climate crisis and the environmental injustices that the oil industry has inflicted on fenceline communities.

Take Action!

  • Urge the California State Government to place a buffer between oil and gas operations and our homes.
  • Get involved with local organizations working to end oil extraction in our neighborhoods.
  • Find out who your representatives are and ask what they are doing to protect the public and environment from oil extraction.


On December 3, 2021 our local water agency leaders gathered together to discuss the major water challenges impacting Greater Los Angeles and how to solve them at Heal the Bay’s first-ever ONE Water Day event.

ONE Water Day at Will Rogers State Beach

The sun was shining, the DJ was playing the hits, and our Heal the Bay team was setting up for a cleanup (while dancing in the sand) as we welcomed over 200 attendees to a first-of-its-kind networking opportunity at Will Rogers State Beach. ONE Water Day  brought together many prominent heads of local government agencies and engineering companies to meet and discuss the future of water in Los Angeles. There were more than 26 different organizations represented at this networking event, sparking countless partnerships, and raising over $120,000 for Heal the Bay.

The Cleanup

ONE Water Day attendees participated in a scavenger hunt to clean the beach and experience what trash and debris ends up at our beaches from all over our local watersheds.

After guests had time to mix and mingle, the day started off with a land acknowledgement to recognize the Tongva and Chumash tribal ancestral lands where the event was being held. Then attendees were invited to participate in a Heal the Bay scavenger hunt for trash. This hands-on and team-oriented beach cleanup was an opportunity for individuals from different organizations to collaborate and observe first-hand the realities of pollution.

In just 30 minutes, 19 teams collected 200 buckets of trash along two miles of the Pacific Palisades coastline. Amongst an eclectic array of waste, more than 600 cigarette butts were collected, with Team 12 taking home first place prizes for the most items captured.

After the cleanup, a panini lunch was served by the fantastic team of Critic’s Choice Catering, giving attendees a chance to recharge and enjoy the many event exhibitors and perfect beach weather on a winter day.

The Panel

ONE Water Day Panel, guest speakers from left to right; Martin Adams, Robert Ferrante, Adel Hagekhalil, Dr. Shelley Luce (host), Mark Pestrella, Barbara Romero, Dave Pedersen.

Next on the agenda was a panel conversation hosted by Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO and President. The panel guest speakers included six influential leaders speaking on the topic of Los Angeles water. All were eager to discuss systemic water quality issues, the impacts of climate change, and the cooperative solutions they envision for Los Angeles.

Speakers included: Adel Hagekhalil, General Manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Barbara Romero, Director and General Manager, LA Sanitation and EnvironmentRobert Ferrante, Chief Engineer and General Manager, Los Angeles County Sanitation DistrictsDave Pedersen, General Manager, Las Virgenes Municipal Water DistrictMartin Adams, General Manager and Chief Engineer, LA Department of Water and Power; Mark Pestrella, Director of LA County Public Works.

Energy was high and the feeling was hopeful as the ONE Water Day panel shared their visions for the future. Guest speakers from left to right; Adel Hagekhalil, Dr. Shelley Luce (host), Mark Pestrella, Barbara Romero.

Takeaways from the ONE Water Panel from Dr. Shelly Luce

ONE Water Day was a unique event. The panel was a rare honor and opportunity to question each of the guest speakers on their plans for building a sustainable water supply for Los Angeles in this time of extreme drought and climate change.

 We learned so much from our panel speakers at the event. The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and the Department of Water and Power are collaborating to recycle treated wastewater for drinking water. The LA County Sanitation Districts and the Las Virgenes Metropolitan Water District are doing the same in their respective areas, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. And, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works is collaborating with cities throughout the region to capture and treat urban runoff, aka stormwater, so it can be infiltrated into groundwater or reused for irrigation.

 This massive shift to conserving and recycling our water has taken place incrementally over decades. It requires a level of collaboration among agencies that has never occurred before.

 Adel Hagekhalil, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District, stated it perfectly:

We take water for granted, and we forget that water is essential to firefighting, to drinking, to our health and our safety; hospitals don’t run without water. Fire cannot be fought without water. Businesses cannot run without water Schools cannot be schools without water. Homelessness cannot be addressed without water. So, water is life,” Hagekhalil said. “Sometimes we’re willing to pay $200 for our cell phone, but are we willing to pay that money for the future of our water?”

 To demonstrate this commitment, Hagekhalil asked everyone at the event to stand and pledge to work every day toward the ONE Water goals. All did so, willingly and enthusiastically. It was a great moment for all of us who care deeply about our sustainable water future to affirm our commitment.

Thank You

A huge thank you to the amazing ONE Water Day Sponsors, our proud partners of Heal the Bay, and organizations that are leading the way in their commitment to environmental sustainability:

AECOM, WSP, Metropolitan Water District, LA Sanitation and Environment

 

Thank you to all the guests in attendance. Your initiative and dedication are vital toward building a bright and equitable future for water in Los Angeles.

See Event Pictures

 

 

Los Angeles has major water challenges to solve, and Heal the Bay sees events like this as an opportunity to upload the value of collaboration and accountability, to continue conversations that lead to solutions, and to create opportunities for partnerships like never before. This Heal the Bay event is the first of its kind for our organization, but is certainly not the last.

 

Want to support our ongoing efforts for for One Water?      Donate Here




Barrel containing industrial toxic waste found off the coast of California. (David Valentine / ROV Jason)

It’s hard to believe that it has been just over a year since the LA Times broke the shocking story of large-scale and widespread dumping of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) waste in the deep waters of the San Pedro Basin, off the coast of Southern California, prior to about 1960. The dumping of DDT took place in unceded Tongva, Acjachemen, and Kizh ancestral waters.

The revelation of this extensive, deep-water dumping by UCSB scientist Dr. Valentine and story by LA Times environmental reporter Rosanna Xia horrified even those of us who have worked for decades on the well-known DDT Superfund site in shallower waters off the coast of Los Angeles, in the Palos Verdes shelf. However, this deep-water dumpsite was a lesser-known piece of the toxic legacy of DDT production by the Montrose Chemical Company in Torrance.  

DDT, a legacy pesticide, is known to have devastating and long-lasting impacts on wildlife, ecosystems, and human health. 

DDT was produced by Montrose from 1943-1983 at their Torrance factory, with much of their DDT-contaminated waste dumped into the sewer system and eventually released in the waters of the Palos Verdes shelf, off the coast of Los Angeles. This created the largest underwater Superfund site in the United States. Stormwater runoff from the factory contaminated the Dominguez Channel and Port of LA too, both of which remain poisoned to this day. And, over the last year we learned that DDT-waste was also taken in barges far offshore and dumped in the deep ocean.  

DDT is an especially devastating chemical because it never goes away. It gets into ocean animals and concentrates as it moves up the food chain. It harms untold numbers of fish, marine mammals, and birds, as well as people who rely on fishing to feed themselves and their families.  

There are still many questions that need to be answered about the nature and extent of DDT contamination in the deep ocean. We must discover the hard truth about how it continues to poison our ecosystems, including people and marine life. 

Since the LA Times article came out, there have been some steps in the right direction but much more needs to be done. Options for removal or mitigation must be explored. The health of people who eat local seafood, especially subsistence fishers, must be protected. Companies that caused the pollution must be held accountable, and government agencies that oversee research and cleanup must be proactive in their work. Above all, the public must be engaged and informed on progress clearly and frequently. 

Led by Senators Feinstein and Padilla, the federal government has a proposed earmark of $5.6 million for NOAA, UC Santa Barbara, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the San Pedro Basin deep-water DDT dump site. This is a great start but is not finalized yet and is only about half the amount needed to conduct a comprehensive assessment.

Further, research, mitigation, and cleanup efforts must be approached collaboratively at all levels of government to begin to understand and address this natural disaster as the implications for environmental and public health are far-reaching.

Sign this petition urging Governor Newsom and the California Senate and Assembly to commit, at a minimum, $5.6 M in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year State budget to match the proposed federal funding allocated to DDT. The State of California permitted this dumping and needs to dedicate resources to tackling this disaster in collaboration with federal agencies.  

Sign Petition

The following organizations have signed on to this petition:

Heal the Bay
Clean Water Action
Surfrider Los Angeles Chapter
LA Waterkeeper
Surfrider Foundation

 



Laura Rink, Associate Director of Aquarium Operations shares an update on where our released Giant Sea Bass is swimming in the Santa Monica Bay and the impacts of the recent oil spill on fish eggs.

When an animal is released into the wild, there are assumed risks. Transport logistics to the release, acclimation into a foreign environment, predation, inability to find food sources, and natural diseases are all concerns our Heal the Bay Aquarium team had when releasing the beloved Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas), whom we fondly refer to as GSB, into the Redondo Beach King Harbor in May 2021.

Over the subsequent months we were delighted to observe the fish’s journey in local waters.

We were able to monitor the animal’s movements because, implanted in the abdomen of this Giant Sea Bass is an acoustic tracker that allows us to make observations for ten years. This data provides insight into the success of a captive animal release and additional migration data for a historically endangered species. From the release in May 2021, we have observed the GSB’s migration from the Redondo Beach Artificial Reef, into the Point Vicente Marine Protected Area (MPA), down along the coastline of Cabrillo, and most recently, into the waters along Huntington Beach (See image 1 and 2).

Image 1: A visual map of the Giant Sea Bass migration down the southern coast of California. Points of detection are buoy markers that record movement when an individual passes. Number of detections show how many times the individual was documented passing a specific buoy: the larger the circle on the map below, the more times the fish was recorded at that site.

Image 2: Number of detections made at specific sites and their correlating dates. Dots show where the fish was detected (on the left ) and in what month (along the bottom). 

While our team has excitedly followed the fish over the last few months, an unexpected concern arose when the major oil spill off of Orange County’s coastline near Huntington Beach happened in early October 2021—just 5 months after the fish’s release. The fossil fuel industry failing was not only a source of concern for the singular Giant Sea Bass fish, but also for the countless local species who call our ocean home. And, this catastrophic event has brought forward a question that is now commonly posed to our Heal the Bay Aquarium team, “How does an oil spill affect the local species of ocean life?”

Most news reports and oil spill updates from officials mention the impacted marine mammals and birds, animals that capture the public eye and spend a great deal of time at the surface of the sea where most of the oil is seen. But, what about the lesser known fish swimming deep below in our salty waters?

Anecdotal evidence shows that oil spills have devastating effects on ocean animal populations, starting at the first stages of development. Giant Sea Bass are a key example of this issue. While adult individuals like our released GSB may only incur minimal impacts, their offspring may not be so lucky. Giant Sea Bass and various other species of fish are what we call “broadcast spawners”. This term means they release hundreds to thousands of eggs into the surrounding ocean waters where they develop and hatch into larval fishes. Due to the biological makeup of these eggs, they will float to the surface of the water, which is precisely where the toxic oil ends up after a spill. Consequently, research has shown that when eggs come into contact with oil, it can have severe developmental impacts on the growing larvae. One can imagine, then, the potentially disastrous generational effects of an oil spill occurring during the peak spawning season of an endangered fish species.

Oil spills in the ocean can be prevented only when we stop offshore drilling. Here are actions you can take to stop the environmentally damaging impacts of the fossil fuel industry. It’s not enough that we stop offshore drilling, we need to phase out oil and gas drilling on land too. Send a pre-written public comment that demands the following three items: 1) support a 3,200-foot setback of new oil wells from schools, hospitals and homes, 2) demand that the setback applies to existing wells, and 3) demand an emergency response to ban all new permits within the setback until the final rule is in effect.

Come visit Heal the Bay Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier. We’ll tell you all about the GSB and the other amazing animals who live in the Santa Monica Bay, and more ways you can protect them.



Mike Couffer has been working alongside Heal the Bay Aquarium to research giant sea bass, the largest bony fish local to LA waters. In this blog, Mike recounts his research on these fish and their uniquely identifying spots, as well as our Aquarium’s journey raising and releasing a giant sea bass.

Early in the morning on May 21, 2021, aquarists from Heal the Bay Aquarium arrived in Redondo Beach with a truck and a seawater tank holding precious cargo: a 40-pound giant sea bass. This giant sea bass, which had been raised for research and education over the last 5 years, had outgrown its tank and was now ready to be released into the ocean. The fish was fitted with an acoustic transmitter that would send signals for about 10 years as it passed receivers scattered along the coast. It’s a straight shot to the open sea along the harbor’s jetty, and the fish could leave the harbor or stay awhile and feast on the lobsters near jetty rocks. Either way, the giant sea bass would be free and in another 5 years or so should be old enough to spawn and help boost California’s recovering population of this historically overfished species.

Giant sea bass are the largest bony fish inhabiting California and Mexico’s near-shore waters, reaching 9 feet long and over 800 pounds during at least a 76 year lifespan. They range from Northern California to Oaxaca, Mexico, including parts of the Gulf of California. After overfishing decimated their numbers during the early 1900s, they were listed as a critically-endangered species internationally and restricted from intentional catch in California.

But while protecting adult fish from fishing pressure is important, protecting their young is also needed. Until 2013, little was known about giant sea bass babies but masters degree candidate Stephanie Benseman found that in California, most of the babies grow up in soft bottomed nursery sites along beaches inshore from the few heads of submarine canyons that start close to shore. The best location known for baby giants are the shallows off Redondo Beach in Los Angeles from Redondo Pier outside of King Harbor to a jetty 800 yards down the coast.

During my first baby giant sea bass dives with Stephanie, I was hooked into studying them by an incongruity; how could we not know even the most basic information about the babies of our largest nearshore fish? I would spend the next seven (and counting) years studying them. As they age, the fish change color from jet black to brown, to orange, a mottled calico, and then a dark brown with black spots. But it’s the orange with black polka dots phase of the babies that draws your attention; this spot pattern develops in the early brown stage and becomes striking when their background color turns orange.

I noticed that each fish’s spot pattern was different from every other. Could we use underwater photos of their spot patterns like fingerprints to identify individual fish in the ocean? If so, maybe we could learn about the behavior and movements of individual fish in the ocean. I couldn’t answer this question in the ocean because if I photographed a fish one day and the fish’s spots changed slightly, I couldn’t be absolutely sure that the fish I photographed next time was the same fish or a different one.

That’s where teaming up with Heal the Bay Aquarium came in. I needed experienced aquarists to raise a baby sea bass while I photographed its spot patterns as it grew. I would use my collecting permit and expertise to catch a baby giant and bring it to them. They would care for and display the little bassling for visitors to enjoy and learn about. Once a month for a year, I’d visit and take photos of the spot patterns on both sides of the fish and they would weigh and measure it. If the spot patterns of baby giant stayed similar enough to be recognized in photos as the fish aged, photos of their sides could be used like fingerprints to identify individual giant sea bass, maybe for the rest of their lives. After a year, I would write my scientific paper on any changes in the spot patterns of the baby giant sea bass that I gave to Heal the Bay.

In November 2015, I dived the Newport Pier giant sea bass nursery site in Orange County with a little hand net and caught a 1 3/8 inch brown-phase baby giant with a special permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. I photographed the spot patterns of both sides in a tank and brought the baby giant to Heal the Bay Aquarium. No baby giant of this age had ever been successfully raised before, so there was little knowledge about how to care for them, but Aquarium staff were up for the challenge and succeeded!

At the end of each month, I photographed the baby bass in its tank and watched the Aquarium team measured and weighed the fish. A year passed and by November 2016 the baby bass had grown from 1 3/8 inches long and 5/10 tenths of an ounce to 7 inches long and five ounces. In my 2017 scientific paper, I showed that you could compare baby pictures of five baby giant sea bass by eye and recognize individuals for the first year. This meant that it was possible to study the babies in their shallow nursery sites using underwater photography and perhaps learn something about their behavior and movements.

By the end of 2016, the sea bass had become an important member of Heal the Bay Aquarium’s fish community where over 70,000 visitors a year learned about the fish or just enjoyed watching it. Managers and aquarists joined the aquarium, cared for the fish, and left to chart other courses in the world. The fish continued to educate and entertain and there was no motivation to release the fish yet; it’s believed that they don’t breed until they are at least 10 years old, so keeping a fish for five years and releasing it wouldn’t impact the population. I kept photographing the fish and aquarists weighed and measured it every six months. After the fish was transferred to the aquarium’s largest tank, I hoped that we could photograph and measure the fish until five years from its arrival date at the aquarium before it got too big for its tank.

November 2020 arrived and I photographed the fish one last time. Aquarists weighed and measured the fish five years after I had brought it to the aquarium. With these photos and measurements and the fish growing larger in the aquarium’s biggest tank, it was nearing time to release it into the sea. The Department of Fish and Wildlife gave permission for the release and I contacted Dr. Chris Lowe of the California State University at Long Beach who had years of experience tracking adult giant sea bass and white sharks with underwater transmitters. Dr. Lowe said that he could fit the now 40-pound fish with the same transmitter worn by white sharks that could “ping” for 10 years. So long as the underwater receivers are maintained, if the fish passes within a receiver’s range it should be recorded as it moves up and down the coast and perhaps to and from the Channel Islands.

On May 21, 2021 at the King Harbor Yacht Club, a small group of scientists and fish caretakers watched the giant sea bass release. Aquarists carefully lowered the fish into the water, while I photographed the occasion. It was a bittersweet moment as the fish swam out across the sandy bottom, but we were all excited by the successful release after five years of raising the baby giant sea bass. With the fish’s unique transmitter active and the underwater receivers ready and waiting, we hope to get occasional electronic travel updates as the giant sea bass swims up and down the coast.

 


 About the Author

Michael Couffer is sole proprietor of Grey Owl Biological Consulting. Mike contracts to conduct focused presence or absence surveys for rare, Threatened, or Endangered wildlife. For the past seven years, Mike has focused on surveys, research, and underwater photography of Giant Sea Bass out of pure fascination with the species and the hope that he can help this historically-overfished species to recover. His latest scientific journal paper was published in the 2020 Department of Fish and Wildlife’s journal California Fish and Wildlife. It focuses on Giant Sea Bass nursery sites and how cities with nursery sites along their shores can build and maintain shoreline infrastructure without impacting baby Giant Sea Bass.



Photo credit: Ashlee Malyar, Marine Mammal Volunteer

Heal the Bay MPA Watch intern, Alex Preso, saw a distressed seal pup while conducting beach surveys, and helped it get the care it needed by alerting the California Wildlife Center. Alex shares what happened, plus the “Do’s” and Don’t’s” of helping a marine mammal in distress.


At first I thought it was a piece of driftwood on the beach… it was actually a distressed seal pup.

On Wednesday, March 18, I was taking surveys for Heal the Bay’s MPA Watch Program on El Pescador Beach in Malibu. As I was making my way along the beach, I noticed what looked like a washed-up log in the distance. As I moved closer, I realized that it was actually a small seal. The seal was lying on its back, barely moving, and was thin with wrinkled skin. It looked noticeably uncomfortable and I immediately suspected that something was wrong.

Sometimes a seal pup like this one simply struggles to survive on its own after separating from its mother, but there are also a variety of human impacts that can cause a marine mammal to be in distress. 

1) First, plastic debris in the ocean or on beaches poses a significant threat to marine mammals. When ingested, these animals cannot digest the plastic, so it stays in their bodies. This plastic can leach harmful chemicals into their bodies or even block their digestive tract, leading to starvation and malnourishment. Heal the Bay is working to combat this through our plastic pollution and beach cleanup programs. These programs aim not only to help remove plastic from our oceans, but also to keep this harmful marine debris from entering our oceans in the first place.

2) Second, overfishing of important food sources for marine mammals limits available nourishment and puts these animals at risk. Heal the Bay’s sustainable fisheries work aims to maintain healthy fisheries so that these animals have abundant food sources.

3) Third, loss of habitat can endanger marine mammals. Heal the Bay’s MPA program helps to monitor protected areas that are critically important to protecting these habitats, so that these animals have safe places to live, reproduce, and find food.

4) Fourth and finally, poor water quality can cause marine mammals to become sick. Polluted water can cause a variety of health issues for marine mammals, including bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Heal the Bay’s water quality work aims to prevent harmful bacteria, toxins, and other pollutants from ending up in the ocean and endangering marine life.

Heal the Bay is doing what we can to prevent these threats to marine mammals, but while these issues persist, it is important that we all keep an eye out for stranded marine mammals on our local beaches.

But even if you see a seal on the beach, how can you tell if it is in danger or simply catching some rays?

Many people don’t know how to tell if an animal like this is actually in trouble, let alone what actions to take if it is distressed. When I encountered this young seal, I saw many other people walking along the beach, barely taking notice of the animal.

Here is are some clear signs that a marine mammal is in distress and in need of help:

  • visible entanglement in trash or fishing gear
  • visible malnourishment or open wounds
  • a young pup without an adult nearby
  • erratic behavior 

Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert to help a seal in need. If you suspect that a marine mammal may be in distress, always call the appropriate rescue hotline. It is better to have the rescue crew come to the beach to find a healthy animal than to leave an animal in distress without help. The numbers to call vary by location and are listed below.

Here are a few things to avoid if you find a distressed marine mammal:

  • DO NOT touch or approach the animal
  • DO NOT attempt to return the animal to the water 
  • DO NOT pour water on the animal
  • DO NOT attempt to move the animal

If you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you while you’re sunbathing on the beach, chances are the animal wouldn’t like it either. Marine mammals intentionally seek out dry land when they are in distress so that they can rest and soak up the sun.

What you should do if you find a distressed marine mammal:

  • DO stay approximately 50 feet away
  • DO call the appropriate rescue hotline
  • DO take a picture of the animal
  • DO try to pinpoint the animal’s location
  • DO wait near the animal until the rescue crew arrives

The number for the rescue hotline varies by location, but any of them can connect you to the correct region if you do not have the right number. 

  • For animals found in San Pedro up to Pacific Palisades (including all beaches between them) – call Marine Animal Rescue # 1-800-399–4253 [WHALE]
  • For animals found in Malibu – call the California Wildlife Center # 310-458–9453 [WILD]
  • For animals found in Long Beach – call Long Beach Animal Control # 562-570–7387

When you call the hotline, they will ask you to send a photo of the animal as well as its location. Try to be as precise as possible so that they can save time and arrive at the animal directly.

In this instance, I called the Malibu number. Then I waited with the seal for about 30 minutes until the rescue crew arrived at the beach. While waiting, I was careful to keep my distance from the seal and ensured that other passersby did so as well. When the crew arrived, they expertly loaded the seal into a crate and took him back to their facility for rehabilitation.

Loading seal into crate Seal in crate 2
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Later, I learned that this animal was a 12 week old elephant seal pup that was badly malnourished. He had shrunk back down to his birth weight of about 75 pounds when he should have been closer to 300 pounds. They named him “Yellow” because they used a yellow marker to make an identifying mark on him while in their care.

The California Wildlife Center (CWC) is permitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide rehabilitative care to seals and sea lions. They will rehabilitate Yellow and help him gain the necessary body weight and skills to better fend for himself before returning him to the wild. All of the animals they rescue stay in their facility temporarily, as their mission is to rehabilitate and return marine mammals to the wild where they belong. 

For Yellow, the outlook is bright and he is expected to be released back into the wild in May. This instance just goes to show that a chance encounter on the beach can be the difference between life and death for a marine mammal. It was for Yellow.


Photo credit: Ashlee Malyar, Marine Mammal Volunteer


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