Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Malibu / Pacific Palisades

Veteran TV broadcaster Huell Howser passed away Sunday night. Here Communications Director Matthew King remembers his work with Heal the Bay.

If anyone could make plastic bags come alive, it’d be Huell Howser.   

As Heal the Bay’s newly hired Communications Director six years ago, I’d been grappling with how to engage the public about the environmental costs associated with society’s addiction to single-use plastic bags. I’d sent out press releases, assembled fact sheets and written earnest letters to the editors about Los Angeles County’s proposed bag ban. But something was missing. We needed some human interest.

So I sent a long email to Huell suggesting that California’s Gold spend a day on the beach taking an up-close look at what plastics were doing to our shorelines. To my surprise, he responded positively and quickly to my pitch. I’ve placed several Op Eds in the L.A Times and successfully arranged dozens of segments on local TV news programs since then, but Huell calling me back that afternoon and coordinating the filming schedule marked one of my greatest professional moments here.

Media relations professionals often lose perspective about the issues they pitch. Self-doubt naturally creeps in when success hinges on the mercurial interests of overworked journalists. Is this topic compelling to most people? Does anyone really care about this?

Huell served as bit of a gold standard. He had made a career of mining the profound in the mundane. So if he found plastic bags interesting, then by default they were interesting.

On the drive down the 405 freeway to the Manhattan Beach Pier, my colleague Kirsten James and I did our best Huell impersonations. I made a bet with Kirsten that I could get Huell to drawl the amount of plastic bags we use each year in L.A. County in dragged-out astonishment. “Noooooo, Kirsten! NINE BILL-YUN plastic bags??!!”  I won my bet.

Huell became a bit of a caricature to some jaded members of L.A.’s media community, with his beefy biceps and cornpone demeanor. But that sunny afternoon in the South Bay proved to me that his TV personality wasn’t some calculated act. Off camera, he bubbled with the same Southern charm and decency as shown on screen. It could’ve been model trains or an old mill, but on this day plastic bags inspired that sense of wonder and incredulity that marked his best work.

Huell never proselytized about environmental protection, letting the sheer beauty of California’s special places speak for itself. Before you can expect people to act, you have to inspire. And inspire he did. For that, environmental organizations up and down the state owe Huell a debt of gratitude.

In subsequent years, I’d occasionally suggest other ideas to Huell: looking for great white sharks in Santa Monica Bay or exploring Compton Creek. He didn’t take the bait, but he always made a point of calling me back personally to tell me why. Most journalists don’t respond to pitches, no matter how well-crafted and personalized, either by phone or email. You get used to the rejection, but it still grates. It’s a simple thing, but Huell’s calls showed class and consideration. He didn’t have to telephone, but he did.

My last phone call from Huell came a few months ago, declining an invitation to attend a Heal the Bay event in Santa Monica celebrating African-American surf culture in Southern California. He wanted to attend, he said, but would be traveling. As we chatted on a fading Friday afternoon, he seemed a bit tired. I said goodbye and wished him well.

Huell will be remembered as the champion of the obscure. But I think of him celebrating the essential: to be kind, to be curious, to be connected. California will miss him.

It’s been a long road – more than 12 years – but, California’s statewide network of coastal marine protected areas (MPAs) is now complete. As of Dec. 19, 2012, the final piece of the coastal MPA network (along the North Coast) is effective.

Our state’s marine life will now have safe haven along about 16% of our entire California coastline, lining our 1,100 miles of coast like a string of pearls, protecting habitats, ocean ecosystems, and marine natural heritage.

California’s state legislature enacted the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) in 1999, directing the Department of Fish and Game to design and manage a statewide network of MPAs to protect marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems, and marine natural heritage. Heal the Bay was most actively involved in the effort to designate MPAs in southern California under the MLPA, and is now working with partner groups throughout the state to monitor and conduct outreach about these new underwater parks.

Through the phased “MLPA Initiative” process various interests ranging from fishing groups to conservationists designed 119 MPAs, which have been adopted off the CA coast- first in the Central Coast in 2007 and 2010, then along the Southern California coast, which entered into regulatory effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

This network of MPAs is designed to function together as an interconnected system.  California’s MPAs are being monitored by state and federal agencies, researchers, citizen science groups, and others.

The North Coast MPAs going into effect marks a historic moment to be celebrated – this is the first statewide network of underwater parks in the U.S. As an investment for future generations, this system of MPAs will lead to a stronger and more resilient marine ecosystem in California.

Dana Roeber Murray

Heal the Bay’s Marine & Coastal Scientist 

Want to do more to steward our ocean environment? Join Heal the Bay’s citizen science program, MPA Watch. Training begins January 30.

Volunteers fuel Heal the Bay’s activities, from scouring the beach for trash at our cleanups to monitoring the progress of the new MPAs, to … stuffing envelopes!

In the spirit of the holidays, we would like to give a shout out to some of our favorite Heal the Bay elves — our lovely Wednesday Office Volunteers.

Heal the Bay Staff with recycled wallet

“Believe it or not, volunteering can be super fun and rewarding,” says Nancy Shrodes, Heal the Bay’s volunteer and outreach coordinator. On a recent Wednesday, our volunteers had quite a project on the table.

Says Nancy: “We had some old vinyl tarps sitting in our storage that were ready for a renovation. These old banners could not be reused in original form any more, so I decided to repurpose the vinyl by making Heal the Bay wallets. After consulting a few YouTube how-to videos, my helpers and I had 60 beautiful handmade vinyl wallets!”

We’d also like to thank Santa Monica High School’s ocean stewardship group Team Marine. On November 16, when the Santa Monica area received a significant amount of rain, Team Marine headed to the Pico Kenter storm drain to collect trash. They removed more than 75 pounds of debris, preventing a small portion from entering the ocean. The team reported that the majority of the trash was plastic.

This marks the fifth consecutive year that Team Marine has documented the flow of pollutants coming out of the storm drain and performed emergency clean ups.

Last Friday, a corporate cleanup team from Yahoo! joined Heal the Bay at Will Rogers State Beach to pick up trash. In addition, Ford Motor Company was there, offering test drives of their Focus Electric and C-MAX Hybrid models. Ford donated to Heal the Bay for each and every participant. Thank you, Ford!

And a big shoutout to our friends at the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) Environmental Fund.Their unwavering support of Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card has safeguarded the health of millions of surfers, swimmers and everyday beachgoers.

For those of you who would like to join in on the Wednesday fun, or if you have always wanted to get involved as a volunteer with Heal the Bay and don’t know where to start, email Nancy Shrodes and she’ll get you started.

Interested in building team spirit at your company? Sponsor a Corporate Healer Beach Cleanup.

Today we celebrate how hard work does pay off. Nineteen marine protected areas (MPAs) will become effective December 19, completing the statewide network of MPAs in California’s coastal regions. Last year we rejoiced as the MPAs along the south coast became effective, and now the state will boast a suite of MPAs all the way up to the Oregon border.

Heal the Bay staff and partners worked for years to designate these MPAs, which protect entire ecosystems, allowing animals living in these areas to repopulate.

We extend our thanks to the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation for their ongoing support of our ocean conservation work, especially for establishing these Marine Protected Areas in Southern California!

In addition, we thank Sempra Energy and the Southern California Gas Company for their generous support of our Key to the Sea program and commitment to volunteerism. We are also grateful to the John W. Carson Foundation —established by Tonight Show host Johnny Carson in 1988  for their longtime support of our beach cleanup and educational programs

This week Heal the Bay staff got to ring in some festive cheer at our annual holiday party.  It was a day to celebrate each other and the hard work and dedication that goes into protecting Southern California’s coastal waters. 

Heal the Bay Holiday Party 2012

We had a wonderful time and it would not have been the rockin’ party it was without the help and generosity of some amazing people and businesses:

  • Huge thank you to our awesome board member Barry Gribbon who graciously let us use his home to host our party.  You rock, Barry!
  • Our party was so sweet thanks to the incredibly moist and delicious bundtinis from Nothing Bundt Cakes
  • Tru Protection not only continues to donate 15% of the proceeds from the Abel Art series of Iphone cases, but they also generously donated a few to raffle off to staff!
  • And finally, Alchemie Spa helped us feel pampered when one lucky staffer got to walk away with a gift certificate for an organic manicure. Come treat yourself for a good cause on December 18 when Alchemie throws a party for us, complete with food, drinks, mini-treatments and so much more. All of the proceeds from the evening’s $10 entrance charge, raffle tickets, silent auction and a portion of spa treatments will go to protecting what we all love…the ocean!

We’d also like to thank surfwear retailer O’Neill, which has offered a special edition Heal the Bay surfer t-shirt at their Santa Monica store since September 2011. We appreciate the ongoing support!

More: Visit the Heal the Bay holiday gift guide for the ocean lovers on your list. 

Want do more to protect the ocean? Heal the Bay offers myriad ways to get involved—from our citizen science program MPA Watch to beach cleanups.

It’s that time of year….

Gifts to buy, presents to wrap, crowds, parties, lines, stress, debt, more shopping, more wrapping, cooking, planning … and oh yes, giving back.

It’s that time of the season when you tell yourself: This year’s going to be different. This year, I’m going to remember the true spirit of the season. This year, I’m going to do something charitable.  I’ll serve meals at a shelter, I’ll make time to volunteer, I’ll adopt a family for Christmas …

And suddenly, you’re out of time. The holidays are over, and you haven’t had a chance to do a thing but shop, eat, drive, wait in line, wrap, eat, and stress more. You resign by saying, “Next year. I’ll make the holidays less commercial and more about love and giving — next year.”

Don’t give up. Heal the Bay is here, and we’ve made it easy for you to do it all. Shop, eat, drink, be merry AND be charitable without spending an extra penny.  When you shop, eat or drink at one of our holiday partners, a portion of your sale will be gifted back to Heal the Bay.  

Having a party? As much as you’d love another potted plant, tell your guests what you really want are donations for the bay. We’ll even give you games, supplies and a gift wrapped box to collect their “treasure.”

Looking for a special place for your party?  It doesn’t get any more awesome than the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium!  The décor is done! Kelp Forests in awesome neon! Entertainment? How many holiday parties have you been to that included petting a seastar, feeding a shark or communing with a moon jelly?

However you enjoy the holidays, remember a gift for you: give yourself a moment, an hour a day, to take in the splendor of the sea.

                                                                                –Nina Borin

Development Manager, Corporate Relations and Special Events

Send Nina an email if you want your business included in Heal the Bay’s holiday shopping guide or if you want to throw a HtB-themed holiday party.

Sustain the “doing good” momentum generated by the Giving Tuesday initiative and make a difference in your community. Not all giving needs to be material (although we appreciate the donations). Here are three ways this week that you can give back with Heal the Bay:

In case you are feeling material, our holiday shopping guide is up with all kinds of gift options for the ocean lovers in your life. The guide is also handy for sharing when someone asks what you want for Hanukkah or Christmas this year. 

Visit Heal the Bay’s calendar to discover more ways to get involved.

Last month’s debate and hearing over the new stormwater permit for Los Angeles became contentious for Heal the Bay.  We weren’t happy with the final vote at the regional Water Board, but fortunately there’s a new initiative afoot that could have a real positive impact on local water quality – Los Angeles County’s Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure.

Despite the differing views on how to regulate cities that discharge runoff into the Bay, the various stakeholders involved all want the same thing: clean water.  It may sound a bit idealistic, but the best way to make progress on stormwater is to have government agencies, business groups and environmental organizations join hands and work together. That is why Heal the Bay strongly supports the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure, which will be mailed to property owners next spring.

The County of Los Angeles Flood Control District is proposing to establish an annual clean water fee to fund the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Program.  This Program is an opportunity for Los Angeles County residents to reduce harmful trash and pollution in our waterways and protect local sources of drinking water from contamination. The measure would provide $270 million in funding for innovative stormwater projects that would create multiple economic and environmental benefits for the entire region. These projects serve multiple functions. For example, a stormwater infiltration area could be designed in such a way that it will double as open space, park or local ball field.

Securing clean water in a heavily urbanized environment such as Los Angeles doesn’t happen overnight. It requires resources.  And regional waterbodies are well-worth protecting. Locals and tourists alike frequent Los Angeles County’s beaches, yet 7 out of the 10 of California’s most polluted beaches are right in our own backyard.  This means that a day at the beach could make you or your family sick.  Pollution that runs off our streets can be toxic to fish and other species.  As a result some fish species in our Bay are unsafe to eat.  Trash pollution is so extreme in some areas of the County that our rivers look more like trash dumps.  The current paradigm needs to shift.    

Investing in clean water now will pay dividends for years to come. Nearly 400,000 jobs in Los Angeles County are ocean-related, responsible for $10 billion annually in wages and $20 billion in goods and services.  In addition, the measure will result in thousands of new jobs for our region.  

Currently Los Angeles County depends on importing costly and increasingly scarce water from Northern California and the Colorado River. Storm water can serve as a sustainable, cost-effective local source of drinking water.  The measure would fund innovative infrastructure projects throughout the region that capture and reuse stormwater — before it enters our waterways. Stormwater becomes an asset, rather than a liability.

Our region’s water quality has come a long way, since Heal the Bay started working for a healthier Bay in 1985.  However, we have a long way to go.  The Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure will help us meet our goals for clean water. The average homeowner would pay roughly $54 a year to support projects like green streets, stormwater recharge areas and “smart” trash capture systems. Strict accountability elements in the measure ensure all funds will be exclusively used on improving water quality.

We urge your support of this critical measure. Watch your mailbox in late spring, but in the coming weeks we’ll keep you posted on new developments.

Learn more about the Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure

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.

Good news from last week’s California Coastal Commission hearing, as the commissioners unanimously denied Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s proposal for seismic testing in the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve.

About 200 people filled the hearing room — environmentalists, fishermen, tribes, local residents, and others – all speaking out with concerns about the proposed testing. Everyone in the room agreed that when it comes to nuclear energy, safety is a huge priority. But the questions and discussion centered on whether the tests would provide new information, as much that is already known about the fault activity offshore – PG&E had already completed onshore seismic surveys and offshore tests that were less threatening to marine life.

After hours of public comment, the commissioners were not convinced that there would be enough benefit to doing the research in comparison to the environmental harm posed to porpoise, whales, sea otters and other marine life in the area associated with the high-intensity sound waves (nearly continuous shooting of 250 decibel air guns for weeks).

Of particular concern was the threat PG&E’s proposed action would have on the adjacent Point Buchon State Marine Reserve and State Marine Conservation Area. Ultimately this was a test case for proposed projects within the relatively new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that may be environmentally harmful. The marine reserve prohibits activities that injure or kill marine life, and this testing could have seriously undermined these protections.

“After working for years to designate MPAs in California, as stewards, we now need to actively protect them,” said Heal the Bay’s Coastal Resources Director Sarah Sikich. “I’m glad the Commission sent a strong signal that the lives of marine animals along California’s coast and within these MPAs are valued.”

The Coastal Commission’s decision makes it unlikely the testing will happen any time soon.

 Read more about the decision.

 Sustain Heal the Bay’s work as we strive to protect the wildlife within MPAs.

This Thanksgiving week we’re reminding ourselves of what we’re grateful for, and a healthy, clean ocean tops our list.

We’re asking you to join us as we give thanks for the oceans and beaches we all enjoy! There are many ways to help sustain a healthy, clean ocean. You can:

While the Aquarium will be closed for Thanksgiving, we’ll reopen Friday afternoon (November 23) at 12:30, so please bring your visiting family members. And if they arrive earlier this week, bring everyone to the Aquarium on Tuesday afternoon, have the kids feed the sea stars and then feed the kids at Rusty’s for free. For every adult who pays for an entree worth $11 or more, one child eats free – just show your hand stamp from visiting the Aquarium.

Planning a holiday party? Heal the Bay can help provide the fun either at our Aquarium or in your own home. Interested in celebrating at the Aquarium? Call  310.393.6149 ext 105. Contact Nina Borin for more information about planning a home party.

Heal the Bay is partnering with’s Giving Tuesday campaign to help launch a national day of philanthropy. 

Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium is located on the Santa Monica Pier, just below the carousel. Find parking information and directions.