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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Santa Monica Bay

This is a developing story and we will update information as new details come to light.

UPDATE: 10:30 am Pacific Time on November 2, 2021.

We have some promising news regarding the Hyperion Treatment Plant. For the past few months, the plant has been operating in a diminished capacity due to the damage it sustained on July 11 that resulted in the discharge of 17 million gallons of raw sewage nearshore (1 mile out). Consequently, LA Sanitation (LASAN) was discharging wastewater from Hyperion Treatment Plant into the ocean (5 miles out) that did not meet regulatory requirements. We now have confirmation that the plant is fully operational according to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB).

After the July 11 disaster, LASAN was issued a notice of violation by the LARWQCB for the discharge of raw sewage in violation of their permit, which will likely result in fines. Further, LASAN was required to conduct additional water quality monitoring by the LARWQCB, initially consisting of daily samples taken at multiple locations and depths, 5 miles offshore. In mid-September the LARWQCB approved a request by LASAN to reduce monitoring to three times per week and, just this week, approved LASAN’s request to cease all additional offshore monitoring. The LARWQB made this decision based on the water quality data and the reports that LASAN has been required to submit. We have also reviewed the data provided on Hyperion’s recovery webpage and found that contaminant levels in the wastewater discharged into the ocean do indeed meet regulatory requirements. However, we do have a few lingering concerns about individual events of water quality exceedances over the last month, as well as remaining maintenance work to be done.

We are relieved that Hyperion now appears able to properly treat wastewater before it is discharged into the ocean. However, we still do not know the cause of the flooding and subsequent sewage spill. Heal the Bay is part of an ad hoc group meeting to discuss the causes of the incident and the response by government agencies, and to make recommendations for improvement. The group meets nearly every week with the aim of producing a comprehensive report by the end of the year. Heal the Bay will continue to push for answers from LASAN because we must make sure events like this do not happen in the future. We also look forward to carefully reviewing the report that LASAN must submit to the LARWQB by November 8 as well as tracking and ensuring that there is enforcement of the violations.

UPDATE: 7:00 pm Pacific Time on October 4, 2021.

LA Sanitation recently released a report with an in-depth description of the events that led to the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay on July 11 & 12. Here is a summary of what we learned.

The discharge occurred because the Hyperion Plant’s barscreens (trash filtration devices) clogged leading to a catastrophic flood event at the facility. Raw sewage flooded large swathes of the facility and damaged machinery and infrastructure necessary for the plant to function. Millions of gallons of this sewage were released through the 1-mile outfall and into Santa Monica Bay as an emergency measure to prevent further flooding and the plant going offline completely. 

So far, no one has been able to determine the origin of the large amount of debris that clogged the barscreens that day. The flooding also made it impossible for Hyperion to determine the amount of debris that caused the blockages. These are two critical pieces of information for the incident investigation, and we are keeping up the pressure for some answers soon. Fortunately, the minute-by-minute account of July 11 & 12 in Hyperion’s report gives us some clues as to what went wrong that day and how events like this can be prevented in the future:

  1. Hyperion’s barscreens have an automated system that clears blockages when they are detected. According to the report, this feature has never been used by the plant due to “unreliable level sensors.” The barscreens are instead operated manually, and workers clear any blockages that occur. Hyperion stated in the report that this process needs to be assessed and improved.
  2. There is a barscreen bypass system in place at the plant which could have prevented the flooding. Unfortunately, workers at Hyperion were not able to use the bypass system in time – the flooding became too dangerous and they had to evacuate. In the report, Hyperion promised to review standard operating procedures and conduct emergency training for the bypass system.
  3. Hyperion will develop flood risk mitigation strategies for certain facilities and equipment at the plant. This will ensure the plant can operate if a flood event happens in the future. Given the plant’s proximity to the ocean, Hyperion’s operators need to consider tsunami mitigation in their assessment. 
  4. While the origin of the barscreen-clogging debris is still a mystery, it is an opportune moment for Hyperion and water advocates to remind the public what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet (only flush bodily waste and toilet paper, nothing else). Hyperion stated that they will increase public education efforts, which Heal the Bay would be willing to assist with as we’ve done in the past.

We appreciate the transparency and data that Hyperion has provided in their report and on their website. Nevertheless, there are still some big questions that need to be answered in addition to the origin of the barscreen debris. Hyperion has not made an official announcement that they are fully operational, and we would appreciate a timeline of when they expect that to happen. The Hyperion Recovery website is still listing some critical process equipment as currently being serviced, and there are reports that the treatment plant is almost fully operational. We are also seeking more information on the quality of the wastewater currently being discharged out the 5-mile outfall.

What was causing the foul odors near Hyperion? We are getting this question a lot, so we wanted to provide some more detail. Flooding at the plant damaged the pumps that move sewage from open-air holding tanks to the secondary processing infrastructure. For three weeks, excessive amounts of sewage built up in the holding tanks while workers repaired the pumps. The odors that have plagued South Bay communities came from these holding tanks. Hyperion stated that they have been processing this backlog of sewage, and air quality will continue to improve. We’ve also learned that Hyperion has ended the air filtration & AC unit reimbursement program for households impacted by the odors.

 

UPDATE: 10:20 am Pacific Time on September 23, 2021.

Here is what has been going on behind-the-scenes at Heal the Bay as a follow up to the massive sewage spill from the Hyperion plant back in July 2021.

We took a tour of the Hyperion plant to see the extent of damages from the incident, which is still under investigation. We learned about what’s happening to recover Hyperion as efficiently and safely as possible, and we met some of the hardworking people who have the enormous responsibility to treat LA’s wastewater day in and day out. We are working closely with LA Public Works to evaluate existing systems for repairs and upgrades at the plant where needed.

Recent data from the Hyperion 2021 Recovery website shows the effluent coming out of the 5-mile pipe from Hyperion is getting back to within regulatory limits for most water quality measurements. However, bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are consistently exceeding health limits, which is alarming. The public has not been provided with a timeline for when water quality improvements are expected. Fortunately, bacteria does not appear to be impacting our beaches – as indicated by beach water quality monitoring. According to the Clean Water Act, Hyperion should be fined for every day it is out of compliance with public health and safety standards. So far it has been 74 days since the spill first occurred.


An engineer points to how high the flooding water was during the catastrophic incident at the Hyperion plant on July 11-12.

When the spill occurred on July 11-12, there was catastrophic flooding within the Hyperion plant. Raw sewage permanently disabled plant electronics that control pumps and other functions at the plant, and equipment had to be replaced. For many weeks the plant could not complete the secondary phase of the treatment process, and the only option was to pump under-treated wastewater into the ocean. The replacement and repairs are mainly done and water quality is mostly back to normal. The elevated bacteria levels at the 5-mile outfall are still an issue and we are pushing the City to determine the cause and fix it as soon as possible.

The City of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment Department (LASAN) submitted their 30-day action report to the Regional Board and US EPA, and we are reviewing it. We’ll provide an in-depth update about it soon. Recently at the request of LASAN, the Regional Water Board reduced the required sampling from daily to three times per week.

Our team continues to closely monitor water quality with the Beach Report Card and LA County’s Beach Water Quality Advisories website. The good news is, aside from the usual bummers, we’re seeing good grades at most of LA’s beaches for the past month. A couple sites with chronic water quality issues are the Santa Monica Pier and Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey — coming into contact with the water at these beach areas should generally be avoided, especially by young children, senior citizens, and people who are immunocompromised. Install our free Beach Report Card iOS or Android app so you can have the latest water quality grades in your pocket.

UPDATE: 7:30 pm Pacific Time on August 20, 2021.

 

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The latest beach grades for LA are in… most beaches have great water quality scores!

But, Santa Monica Beach at the Santa Monica Pier came in with an “F” grade. Avoid swimming here until water quality tests show it’s safe.

Get all the grades at our Beach Report Card.

 

UPDATE: 12:10 pm Pacific Time on August 17, 2021.


Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay CEO, is joining a virtual townhall hosted by The Board of Public Works to discuss water quality and health impacts from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay.

The virtual townhall is on Wednesday, August 18 at 5:30 p.m. Join online or by phone.

 

UPDATE: 8:45 pm Pacific Time on August 10, 2021.

Our communities continue to have concerns and questions regarding the impacts of sewage in the ocean. Here we answer the top 5 questions we’ve been hearing on social media.

Where does the sewage magically go, which makes it safe for swimming?

Once the sewage is discharged, it travels where the ocean currents take it – that could be further out to sea, closer to shore, or it may remain in place.

Over time, fecal matter and urine will be consumed by microorganisms. This is not desirable because sewage discharges are not natural and may alter the food chain. The microorganisms consuming sewage may also consume chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and toxins contained within the fecal matter and urine. These chemical compounds might then get transferred up the food chain as other organisms consume the sewage-eating ones. Particulates like plastic and toilet paper may get ingested by larger organisms in the water or the material might settle into the sediment.

When it is deemed “safe to swim” does that mean the amount of toxins could still be above what’s normally acceptable?

Human fecal matter contains many microorganisms that can get humans sick from a single exposure. That is why our beaches are tested regularly for the presence of fecal matter, and it’s why California has strict fecal-indicator bacteria standards. Recreational water quality standards do not take into account other forms of pollution like toxins and chemicals because, in general, it takes many exposures over a long period of time to become sick from toxins and chemicals. Heal the Bay continues to advocate for increased water quality monitoring, especially for “forever chemicals” like PCBs and DDT.

How could this impact dolphins and other animals in the Bay?

We are concerned about all organisms in the Bay, including dolphins, fish, algae, and invertebrates living in the sediment. All organisms have a niche and play a role in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem. The sewage discharges will likely change the abundance and distribution of smaller organisms first as they consume the sewage. Those changes to the bottom of the food chain may then impact species that are higher up on the chain like fish and dolphins. The other concern is that chemicals and pharmaceuticals contained in the sewage will also get transferred up the food chain as the sewage-eating microorganisms are consumed by larger organisms.

How often is water quality being tested? Who is conducting these water safety tests?

Right now, the beaches between Ballona Creek and Manhattan Beach are being tested every day. Under normal circumstances, all beaches in the Santa Monica Bay typically get monitored 2-3 times a week in the summer on average. Santa Monica Bay beaches are monitored for recreational water quality by four government agencies: LASAN, LA County Department of Public Health, Sanitation Districts of LA County, and the City of Redondo Beach.

How can we prevent this in the future?

​There is an ongoing investigation into the cause of the damage to the Hyperion Treatment Plant in El Segundo, which triggered millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage to be released into the Bay. Once we know the cause(s) we can advocate for preventative measures. However, we don’t need an investigation to tell us what is obvious: the public was not sufficiently notified about the sewage discharge into the Santa Monica Bay. Heal the Bay is working to put pressure on LASAN and LA County Department of Public Health to investigate why public notifications were not forthcoming and how they can ensure more expedient public warnings.

UPDATE: 8:45 pm Pacific Time on August 9, 2021.

 

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Make your voice heard about the recent 17 million gallon raw sewage spill and the ongoing discharges of partially treated sewage into the Bay from Hyperion.

Tell the City of LA your concerns and that you demand they take immediate action to improve the emergency public notification protocols and implement preventative measures so this never happens again.

Act now: The City Council meeting starts at 10am on Tuesday, August 10.

Send in a comment to the Los Angeles City Council hearing tomorrow – use Council File # 21-0839:
https://cityclerk.lacity.org/publiccomment/
-or-
Call 1 669 254 5252 and use Meeting ID No. 160 535 8466 and then press #. Press # again when prompted for participant ID. Once admitted into the meeting, press *9 to request to speak.

Watch and listen to the council meeting here:
Cable TV Channel 35
https://clerk.lacity.org/calendar
(213) 621-CITY (METRO)
(818) 904-9450 (VALLEY)
(310) 471-CITY (WESTSIDE)
(310) 547-CITY (SAN PEDRO AREA)

UPDATE: 10:25 am Pacific Time on August 4, 2021.

The City of Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) launched a new webpage that addresses sewage discharge at the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo. It briefly covers the cause of the catastrophic incident and the recovery effort underway. 

We want you to be aware of the data table (with multiple tabs) at the bottom of the page. It shows the pollutant levels in the effluent (via sampling results of what Hyperion is discharging from the 5-mile outfall), equipment status, odor monitoring results, offshore monitoring results for bacteria, and links to other data, which don’t appear to be working or filled in yet. “Effluent” is the treated wastewater that Hyperion releases to the ocean. In other words, influent is what comes into the plant (raw sewage and other debris), and effluent is what goes out of the plant (typically treated wastewater that has to meet certain standards).

VIEW LASAN’S HYPERION 2021 RECOVERY PAGE

We will be reviewing the data closely and providing a deeper analysis for you. But, our first impressions are that exceedances (aka violations) are occurring for multiple parameters in the effluent since July 11-12, indicating that LASAN is violating their permit by continuing to discharge inadequately treated sewage into the Bay, and is still not able to fully treat sewage. What is even more concerning is that the levels of certain pollutants appear to be increasing over the last couple of weeks (the weekly average numbers are getting larger). These high levels of total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), settleable solids, turbidity, and oil & grease may have long-term negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems. 

Our team will provide more information about the pollutants and what the potential impacts could be for the Santa Monica Bay later this week.

Despite this alarming data, recent beach water quality tests have indicated the water in the Santa Monica Bay is safe for human recreation. All beach advisories, except for Avalon Beach on Catalina Island, have been lifted because water samples have not exceeded State water quality standards. This is good news for beachgoers, but we recommend that you always check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.

 

UPDATE: 8:00 am Pacific Time on August 3, 2021.

 

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LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) released an update last night that ocean water samples collected at the following locations have met State water quality standards and beach advisories have been lifted:

  • Dockweiler State Beach
    • Ballona Creek (Near Dockweiler Tower 40)
    • Culver Blvd storm drain
    • Imperial Highway storm drain
    • Westchester storm drain
  • Pico-Kenter storm drain (Santa Monica Beach)
  • Topanga Canyon Lagoon (Topanga Canyon Beach in Malibu)

A warning is still in place for Avalon Beach at Catalina Island (50 feet east of the pier). The Department of Public Health continues cautioning all to be careful of swimming, surfing, and playing in this area.

Thanks for staying updated.

 

UPDATE: 11:46 am Pacific Time on July 30, 2021.

 

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We are shocked that LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) has continued to release inadequately treated sewage into the Bay. It’s been over two weeks since the 17 million gallon sewage spill, and we are now learning that the Hyperion plant is not able to fully treat sewage.

The discharge contains bacteria and viruses as well as organic matter that causes low oxygen levels in ocean waters – the impacts on human health and marine life can be significant and very damaging. LASAN should have notified the public and stakeholders who have been tracking the spill results closely for the last two weeks. We don’t know if LASAN has increased monitoring to assess the impacts of the partially treated discharge – that needed to start immediately – and going forward we need transparency in order to ensure appropriate actions are taking place to assess impacts, protect people and wildlife, and pursue fines and mitigation measures to the maximum extent.

Heal the Bay was founded in the 1980s by local activists who refused to accept partially treated sewage being dumped into the Bay by Hyperion. It’s now 30 plus years later – great progress has been made, but without watchdogs we’re at risk of repeating past mistakes.

The LA Regional Water Quality Control Board has taken immediate action to boost monitoring in the Santa Monica Bay.

Last night we received a notice from the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) issuing an order to the City of Los Angeles LA Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) Hyperion Treatment Plant to provide monitoring and reporting related to the discharge of sewage on July 11 and 12.

The order details how the flooding at the plant led to non-operational equipment resulting in reduced efficiency of treatment and a reduction in the quality of the discharge from the 5 mile outfall. The order documents that since the initial incident, Hyperion has violated its discharge permit by releasing effluent that is in exceedance of limits for parameters including total suspended solids (TSS), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), turbidity, and settleable solids.

These exceedances will result in fines – however, they could have negative impacts on human health and the marine environment. We are glad to see that the Regional Board is requiring daily offshore monitoring and submission of daily monitoring and status reports. The offshore monitoring appears to include four stations, each to be tested at three depths (<1m, 15 meters, and at the outfall depth). Testing at these locations must be done for 12 parameters, including bacteria levels, which are indicative of impacts to human health.

The latest advisory from the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) states that they are continuing to test shoreline bacteria levels daily. Heal the Bay scientists and experts will be reviewing the locations and frequency of testing today by DPH and LASAN to ensure that the frequency and spatial coverage is protective of public health. And we will continue to ask for rapid methods to be used for detection of bacterial pollution – the methods being used now take 18-24 hours to obtain results and then additional time for that information to get to the public. Rapid methods would allow for more real-time results to be available to the public. 

The LA County Board of Supervisors and LA City Council members have initiated a full investigation into the 17 million gallon spill and continued discharges from Hyperion.

In addition to the Water Board’s actions outlined above, the LA County Board of Supervisors has requested a full investigation within 30 days (scroll down to our last update on 7/29 for more info). And the LA City Council is demanding a detailed report and action plan too, which includes instructing LASAN to “look for engineering opportunities during repairs to begin transforming the facility to recycle 100% of wastewater as part of the city’s Operation NEXT,” according to the Daily Breeze.

Is it safe to swim in the Bay today?

If you are deciding whether or not you should go into the water at LA’s beaches this weekend, we want to be clear: there are potential health risks at some locations.

Water quality tests from sites across the Bay have indicated high bacteria levels around El Segundo, Dockweiler, and Venice beach areas. These beach areas are under an advisory and should be avoided until tests indicate the water quality is good.

If you are heading to other areas in the Bay, we recommend that you check the latest beach conditions at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card (so you can avoid beach areas impacted by bacterial-pollution issues). Conditions can change rapidly, so pay attention to beach postings and remember there is a 24-hour lag between water testing and posted warnings.

Message us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or contact us online if you need any help getting started with our Beach Report Card website or app — or if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.

UPDATE: 11:00 am Pacific Time on July 29, 2021.

One week after the massive raw sewage spill in the Santa Monica Bay from the Hyperion Plant in El Segundo, the LA County Board of Supervisors met and heard an update on what went wrong, particularly related to notification protocols, and what next steps are needed. Heal the Bay staff called in to the hearing to speak on the item, but we were not able to because they cut off public comment after 1 hour for all items on the agenda. We were glad to hear at least three people speak passionately on the issue. We did send in a letter, supporting the motion as well as offering additional recommendations. You can read our letter and other public correspondence on the item here: http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/160317.pdf

The agenda item was heard around 3:15pm and included a brief presentation on the expedited report from CityGate that Supervisor Hahn requested right after the massive release of raw sewage. The findings of the report are quite disturbing and highlight multiple failures in communication and notification, primarily by the LA County Department of Public Health (DPH).

Next, Supervisor Hahn asked a series of questions of Dr. Barbara Ferrer (Director, LA County Dept Public Health), Gary Jones (Director, LA County Dept of Beaches & Harbors), and Fernando Boiteux, (Chief, LA County Lifeguard Division). Dr. Ferrer started by apologizing to the Board and the public; she took full responsibility for the failures and stated that DPH has already made fixes and will continue to improve training, processes, and protocols. Dr. Ferrer said that what happened was unacceptable and that it will never happen again. We appreciated hearing this apology and DPH taking responsibility for their actions (or lack of actions) and the commitment to do better.

Supervisor Hahn asked Dr. Ferrer about ensuring that public health – both in the water and in the community – continue to be protected as the Hyperion plant recovers from the major failure and undergoes construction to get back fully online. El Segundo neighborhoods are bearing the brunt of unbearable odors and LASAN is offering vouchers for air conditioners and hotel rooms for those affected. Dr. Ferrer assured Supervisor Hahn that water quality would continue to be tested and that the DPH team would be conducting door-to-door outreach in the community to ensure that affected residents know how to contact them, report odors, and get access to resources.

Gary Jones from Beaches & Harbors and Fernando Boiteux from County Lifeguards also answered questions about when they received notice of the sewage discharge, what could be improved in communications, and how beach closures should ideally proceed.

The motion was passed, which will result in a more in-depth After Action Report to be produced in 30 days. This follow-up report will detail what happened, where the failures occurred, and recommendations for fixing failures and ensuring this never happens again.

Heal the Bay greatly appreciated the updates and the transparency and accountability that the report and hearing provided. We will be actively following this issue and are engaging with Supervisor Hahn’s office and agencies to offer our recommendations and participate in the process. We will continue to hold agencies accountable and ensure that there are appropriate repercussions for the multiple failures that occurred.

 

UPDATE: 6:00 pm Pacific Time on July 23, 2021.

 

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A report was released this week, and made public today, about the recent 17-million gallon sewage spill from the Hyperion plant in El Segundo. “The handling of this release and the necessary public notification were failures, the initial report concluded.

The LA County Board of Supervisors will be hearing this expedited report on Tuesday, July 27 starting at 9:30 am. The Board will be voting on a motion to get this update as well as to request a more detailed “After Action” report within 30 days. Heal the Bay will be supporting this motion by sending in a letter and calling in to give oral testimony at the hearing. We will be suggesting additional recommendations, such as implementing rapid testing methods for water quality and tracking the plume through satellite imagery and other methods.

Take action!

Watch the hearing, send in an email or a letter, and try to call in to the hearing to speak (this can be challenging to do as speaking time is limited).

TUNE IN ON JULY 27:
Agenda and info on how to watch and give comment (on the first page): https://bos.lacounty.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=AezaZ2KttC4%3d&portalid=1 (agenda item #36)

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD IN ADVANCE:
To send an email or a letter in advance of the hearing (select item 36): https://publiccomment.bos.lacounty.gov/

We appreciate Supervisor Hahn’s leadership on this and hope to work collaboratively with County and City agencies to ensure this never happens again. And, if it does, that the public is notified immediately and effectively.

UPDATE: 9:10 pm Pacific Time on July 14, 2021.

This evening the LA County Department of Public Health lifted beach closures at Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach because water samples taken over the past two days have not shown dangerous levels of fecal-indicator bacteria. Based on these results, it appears safe at most locations in the Santa Monica Bay, but we urge you to exercise caution by regularly checking the LA County Department of Public Health website for water conditions and beach closures at PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach and Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card.

There are four sites in the Santa Monica Bay that currently do exceed State standards and coming into contact with water at these locations could cause illness – it is unclear if these exceedances are due to the sewage spill, recent rainfall, or something else:

  • Topanga County Beach at the Topanga Canyon Lagoon
  • Will Rogers State Beach at the Santa Monica Canyon storm drain
  • Santa Monica State Beach at the Santa Monica Pier
  • Manhattan County Beach at the 28th Street storm drain

Heal the Bay won’t let up on pushing for improvements that prevent sewage spills, advance water quality testing methods, and ensure public notifications happen swiftly and equitably. Thanks to everyone in the community for reaching out, voicing concerns, asking questions, staying informed, and most importantly protecting each other by sharing critical updates. This community is strong. It is amazing to see us spring into action. Thank you.

More to come on next steps, so you can take action to hold polluters accountable and to prevent this from happening again.

 

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UPDATE: 7:15 pm Pacific Time on July 13, 2021.

We have some preliminary good news to share — but don’t rush back to the water quite yet.

Water samples taken on Monday, July 12 by LA City Bureau of Sanitation & the Environment (LASAN) and LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) do not show high levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). FIB, in significant quantities, indicate the presence of harmful pathogens in the water. Samples were taken at numerous locations at the shoreline and offshore, at various depths.

While this is good news, the beaches are still closed and will remain closed until two consecutive days of sampling show safe water quality. So, samples were taken again today and if they show low levels of bacteria, closures will be lifted tomorrow.

These results are very preliminary since the samples were taken Monday morning and early afternoon. Tides, currents and wind continue to move water around and we don’t know where the contamination may have ended up.

We also don’t know what the water quality was before the samples were collected – i.e. on Sunday evening and early Monday morning. It is possible that bacteria levels were higher then, and that people who got in the water were unknowingly exposed to poor water quality.

We appreciate that LASAN and DPH have been forthcoming with us on the results, but we feel strongly that this information should be spread widely to the general public, as early as possible. LA County DPH is responsible for notifying the public of dangerous levels of contamination. Given the significant amount of raw sewage released, nearby beaches should have been closed immediately. Delaying public notification by 12-24 hours is not acceptable.

We have heard from many concerned folx that they were at the beaches on Sunday evening and Monday all day without any knowledge of the spill, or any ability to take precautions. We will be working with City and County agencies to establish protocols that better protect public health. We also urge LASAN and DPH to use rapid methods to detect contamination more quickly. DNA-based lab methods like PCR are readily available and provide reliable results in minutes or hours, rather than the 24-hour process required for traditional bacterial monitoring. Using methods like these, in addition to traditional methods, as long as they are accompanied with good public notification, would help get critical information to our many ocean users much more quickly and could prevent significant harm to LA residents and visitors.

You can check the status of beach closures and conditions on LA County’s recorded information hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-525-5662. Information about beach closures and conditions is also available online at: PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/Beach

We will continue to track this issue and keep you informed.

 

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UPDATE: 3:20 pm Pacific Time on July 12, 2021.

When did the spill occur?
The sewage spill started at 7 pm on 7/11/2021 and stopped at about 5 am on 7/12/2021. We are told by City of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation that the spill was stopped early this morning at around 5 am and all sewage is now being treated normally.

How much was spilled?
We understand 17 million gallons of raw sewage were spilled through the 1-mile outfall, which is directly offshore from the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in El Segundo.

Which beaches are impacted?
Currently Dockweiler State Beach and El Segundo Beach are closed to the public. The City of Los Angeles and LA County Department of Public Health are testing beaches and water in the Santa Monica Bay. More information can be found at the LA County Department of Public Health’s website.

What should the public do to protect themselves?
We recommend the public stay out of the water in the Santa Monica Bay until further notice. Also, check the Beach Report Card for the latest ocean water quality alerts in California, and review the River Report Card for water quality information about freshwater swimming holes in Los Angeles County.

What issues does this cause to people and to ocean wildlife?
Bacteria and viruses in raw sewage are extremely dangerous to people and can carry a variety of diseases. Debris such as tampons and plastic trash, when released into the Bay, can harbor bacteria and can cause entanglement of wildlife, but it seems in this case those debris were successfully filtered out of the spill before it made it to the Bay.

Why did this happen?
We understand the inflow to the Hyperion plant in El Segundo was severely clogged and flooded the facility. The sewage left the facility untreated through the 1-mile pipe and outfall.

What is the source and how can we hold them accountable for pollution?
This is fully the responsibility of the City of LA and their Bureau of Sanitation. The City normally does a very good job of containing and fully treating hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage every day – but when spills happen the City must move quickly to warn the public, and must discover and fix the cause to prevent future spills.

How can sewage spills be prevented?
Proper maintenance as well as people not flushing trash items such as plastic trash into the system are the best preventative measures.

How often do sewage spills occur?
The last major sewage spill in Los Angeles County was in 2015. However, smaller sewage spills are not an uncommon occurrence. In 2020 to 2021, seventy-five sewage spills sent a total of 346,888 gallons into rivers, lakes, and streams within Los Angeles County. One 222,542 gallon spill in February 2021 closed all the beaches in Long Beach; this area is monitored by Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card. A total of 39,621 gallons of sewage were spilled into the Los Angeles River, and 140 gallons were spilled into Las Virgenes Creek; both waterways are monitored by Heal the Bay’s River Report Card.

For more information about sewage spills, visit LA County Department of Public Health’s website.

 

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Watch our IG Live below where we answer your questions with our CEO Shelley Luce and Communications Director Talia Walsh.

 

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The Los Angeles Regional Board has neglected their mission – to protect and enhance our water resources – by making polluting easier for dischargers rather than requiring action. The job of holding polluters accountable will once again fall on us.

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The discharge of polluted stormwater in Los Angeles is regulated by the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. The Regional Board had an opportunity this month to improve the MS4 Permit during its decadal update, but in a disappointing decision the Board instead greenlit the continued degradation of waterbodies in our communities by adopting a MS4 Permit with the same loopholes as the ineffective 2012 Permit. This decision continues a pattern of insufficient accountability for stormwater dischargers and will only further delay progress, resulting in stagnant or even declining surface water quality. 

Permittees asked for a weaker permit with fewer requirements and a longer timeframe

The four-day hearing (see our Twitter updates) began with testimony from public officials who once again lamented their limited access to competitive funding sources for stormwater projects. Elected officials represent cities, which are permittees under the MS4 Permit. They are not community voices – they are the voice of the dischargers asking for a weaker permit with fewer requirements and a longer timeframe. 

We understand that completing projects is difficult, particularly for cities with smaller budgets. However, the MS4 Permit has been around for 30 years, and we have yet to see a significant reduction in stormwater pollution. We cannot afford to wait another 30 years before we start to see improvements. Luckily, there are funding opportunities available right now through localstate, and even federal programs. Additional resources include opportunities for collaboration between the cities, supplemental work from non-profits and community groups looking to build projects in their neighborhoods, support from Regional Board staff, and information from LA County’s WHAM Taskforce and Watershed Coordinators who are all assigned to identify and leverage funding sources.  

Most importantly, the benefits of compliance far outweigh the costs. Achieving clean water is not just a respectable goal, but a federally mandated law to protect communities and ecosystems from polluted water. Unfortunately, water quality has stagnated, even gotten worse in some areas, as our City and County governments have fallen behind schedule. Yet, there are no penalties for their inaction. 

Members of the public asked for clean water, better regulation, and more transparency

The Board also heard from dozens of community members asking for clean water, better regulation of stormwater pollution, and more transparency in the regulatory process. We heard from Eva Pagaling, whose tribes (Samala Chumash and Yakama) have historically gathered materials, medicines, and food in the Santa Clara River watershed and coastline. Eva reminded us that these tribes shoulder the burden of MS4 pollution, and urged the Regional Board to hold accountable those responsible for polluted discharges. We heard from Itzel Flores Castillo Wang, a community member and organizer from Boyle Heights in East LA, supporting a transparent permit that holds permittees accountable to implement multi-benefit and nature-based projects where they are needed most. We heard from so many folks demanding action now, in the form of a SMMART Permit that holds polluters accountable and that allows the public to follow progress and engage in the process. 

Heal the Bay gave a presentation alongside partners at LA Waterkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council outlining the strengths and flaws of the proposed 2021 Regional MS4 Permit. We supported the watershed approach because water flows throughout watershed boundaries; therefore, the approach to reducing pollution must be watershed-wide without stopping at city limits. The optional watershed management program within the permit framework allows for that watershed approach. However, we did not support the “deemed in compliance” language (also known as the “safe harbor”), which shields polluters from enforcement. A SMMART permit can invest in our communities through multi-benefit projects, but only if it is actionable, with enforceable deadlines so that those benefits can become a reality in our communities and not just a hope for the future. 

“The small list of projects presented by permittees are happening because there are TMDLs with deadlines and consequences built in. There is no justification for maintaining the safe harbors in this permit. Board staff has already allowed plenty of flexibility…” – Dr. Shelley Luce. 

The Water Board is supposed to preserve and enhance water quality for present and future generations; instead, they chose to excuse permittees, once again, for their lack of action. 

The Regional Board voted to allow continued degradation of our waterways

As final deliberations began on July 23, it became apparent that Board members were more concerned about the complaints of the permittees than about the demands of community members. Some Board members went even further to bow to dischargers by proposing motions to extend deadlines (which thankfully failed, but with a narrow 4-3 vote against) and completely remove numeric water quality requirements (which failed with a 5-2 vote against). Finally, the Board voted to approve a 2021 Regional MS4 Permit that includes the same safe harbors that made the 2012 MS4 Permit so ineffective, even after dozens of community members asked them directly for clean water and more accountability. 

Some improvements were made to increase transparency, including a final direction to Regional Board staff to create a single online portal for all annual reports; however, without even the possibility of enforcement by the Board, there is no accountability for polluters. 

It is up to all of us to Take LA by Storm and push for progress together

One board member claimed that “the safe harbors are an expression of trust and confidence in permittees.” But knowing the permittee’s record of inaction, we do not share that trust. By keeping the safe harbors, the Board has effectively decided not to enforce this critical permit. So now, the job of holding permittees accountable will once again fall on us, the concerned residents and nonprofit groups of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We can take inspiration from Margaret Mead and know that, together, our actions can make a difference. 

Sign up to Take LA by Storm to receive updates as the permittees submit their semi-annual reports. We will continue to search for ways to hold polluters accountable while we track progress. If implementation continues to lag, we will demand action together. 

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At Heal the Bay Aquarium, we believe that there are 52 Shark Weeks in a year, so we’re keeping all the #SharkWeek learning going. It’s important to share and teach facts, not fear, as we all work towards protecting our ocean environment and the animals that call it home. Shark conservation is a 24/7 job, so let’s continue this deep dive into learning more about these critically important, and often misunderstood, creatures.

California is known for its incredible richness and variety of ecosystems—both on land and under the sea. Venture across the Golden State and you’ll cross coastal wetlands, lush wooded forests, and the vast deserts in Death Valley. Dive below the waters off our coastline and see the fairytale-like beauty of our kelp forests, the infinite expansiveness of the sandy seafloor, and the rocky shore dynamics of our tide pools. From abalone, to sea lions, hermit crabs to Mola mola, there is a wealth of marine diversity right in our Bay.

So, who are our elasmobranch neighbors? In our local waters, there are at least 23 different kinds of sharks, and over a dozen types of rays and skates (the triangular-shaped Rajidae—not the retro kind spotted weaving down the boardwalk). Wade into our shallower waters and you may see the slim, spotted shadow of a leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) sashay by, on the hunt for crustaceans and clams on the sandy bottom. Head out a little further with the surfers and you may even get the rare, incredible opportunity to spot our resident (albeit juvenile) landlord: the great white shark (Carcharodon Carcharias). From long-tailed thresher sharks, to the chiropteran-like bat rays, you never know what you’ll “sea” when you explore our coast. At our Aquarium, we exhibit marine species that you can find right next door in Santa Monica Bay. Learning about these local animals allows our visitors to see what our clean water mission is all about: not only protecting public health, but also protecting the thousands of different kinds of marine life that call it home—from seabirds and fish, to marine mammals and phytoplankton—all are part of the southern California ecosystem.

Let’s meet the locals in our Sharks & Rays Exhibit!

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Swell sharks (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) are a visitor favorite because when you’re observing them in the exhibit, you’re now in the “Splash Zone”, due to the fact that they literally spit water while they swim around. They’re so aptly named because when agitated, swell sharks will hold on to their caudal fin with their teeth and swell up with water, making it more difficult for predators to bite them or pull them from their rocky den. Ever seen a Mermaid’s Purse? Swell sharks are also oviparous, which means they lay keratinous egg cases. Developing swell shark pups take about 9-12 months until they’re ready to hatch into adorable, 6 inch (15 cm) long baby sharks. Check out Baby Shark Watch to see a swell shark grow from egg to pup!

Horn sharks (Heterodontus francisci), are named for the large horns in front of each dorsal fin. These horns are used for protection against predators, making horn sharks extremely difficult to eat. Imagine trying to swallow a sandwich with the toothpicks still holding it together—you’d have a pretty hard time getting that down. These oviparous sharks also have a uniquely shaped mouth that allows them to “suck” in food and forage through sand for a tasty crab or some other buried seafloor invertebrate. The scientific name Heterodontus comes from the Greek words “heteros” and “odont”, meaning “different teeth”. Horn sharks have sharp pointy teeth in the front, and crushing molar-like teeth in the back. This is why they’re one of the few shark species that can actually eat a spiky sea urchin (sometimes staining their teeth with the urchin pigment).

Round stingrays (Urobatis halleri), lovingly known as “sea pancakes” by our visiting students, are commonly found in sandy bottom habitats, and typically hang around intertidal areas down to depths of about 15 m (50 ft). Stingrays are viviparous (live birth), and will have between 1-6 pups that are about the size of the palm of your hand (2.5-3 inches or 6-7.5 cm).

To the right, to the right…to the left, to the left…now shuffle! Ever heard of the Stingray Shuffle? It’s actually the best way to protect both yourself and unsuspecting stingrays that may be camouflaging in the sandy bottom below you when you head into the waves. If you slide or shuffle your feet in the sand as you enter and move about the ocean, rays will feel the movement from your feet, and will move somewhere else to avoid contact. If you walk in normally (especially around this time of year during stingray mating season), you may accidentally step on a ray, which will then defend itself by using the venomous barb on their tail. The venom of the round stingray is not dangerous to humans; however, it is extremely painful. If stung by a ray, the best course of action is to seek help from the nearest Lifeguard, and soak the affected area in very hot water. This actually denatures the proteins in the venom, and will hopefully help provide some relief from the sting. This is also the best treatment for sea jelly stings, since contrary to popular myth (and TV sitcoms), peeing on the jelly sting can actually make the pain worse!


During our closure throughout 2020, we were busy at work refreshing our exhibits and creating fun, new experiences for our visitors for when we could safely reopen. We o-fish-ally re-opened our indoor gallery on June 12, 2021, and visitors can now enjoy our upgraded, interactive Sharks & Rays Touch Tank Exhibit! Get up close and feel the sandpapery touch of a swell shark’s skin from their dermal denticles (“tooth-skin”), or the velvety softness of a round stingray. Gentle interactions with these animals helps to dispel long-held myths about sharks being scary, mindless, man-eaters.

Lurking. Stalking. Chasing. Attack. These are all familiar (and unfairly given) terms when we see any news about encounters between humans and sharks. Sharks have been around on this planet for at least 400 million years. They’re a keystone species, which means as apex (top) predators, sharks are critically important to a healthy ecosystem and marine food web. Just like the tumbling of a Jenga tower when we pull out a single, structural-load holding piece, the removal of sharks can decimate the delicate balance of the ocean environment. We’ve seen the same impacts on land ecosystems with the human-led removal of wolves from Yellowstone National Park. Without these apex predators keeping elk populations in check, the land suffered from erosion and deforestation—affecting more than 200 other species of animals living in that ecosystem. Sharks usually take a long time to reproduce, and most don’t have that may young at a time. Female great white sharks usually aren’t even sexually mature for at least 1-2 decades, and their young take more than a year to gestate. Sharks are already vulnerable to the impacts of pollution and climate change, and data shows that worldwide shark populations have declined by almost 99% due to the additional stress of overfishing.

So, what can we do to help protect sharks? One super easy way is to spread facts, not fear. Even though encountering sharks in the wild can still be a scary thought, sharks have no desire to eat us (honestly—do we really think we taste that good?). Sharks are actually probably much more afraid of you than you are of them, and when they encounter people, their usual reaction is to swim away, hide, or out of simple curiosity just check out this silly-looking animal scooting around the water. Being conscientious about sustainable seafood choices, and going zero-waste and plastic-free as much as possible can go a long way towards shark protections. Destructive fishing methods not only cause habitat loss, but harms millions of sharks each year as bycatch. Just looking at the Pacific Ocean alone, an estimated 3.3 million sharks are accidentally caught each year as bycatch on longlines that were targeted for other fish. Supporting bans on shark fin products and shark finning can also add protections to critically declining shark populations, because we can eliminate the market for fins by passing laws prohibiting their sale. Globally, at least 70-100 million sharks are killed each year just for the inhumane shark fin trade. Heal the Bay, along with partners and supporters, successfully led the charge to ban the sale and possession of shark fins in California in 2013. Right now, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 737) is still waiting for a vote in the Senate. The House passed this bill in November 2019, and the bill would “prohibit the sale, purchase, and possession of shark fins in the United States”. Your voice and action can help protect what we all love. Helping to teach others about the importance of sharks is a great way to help change the way people think about sharks. For the record, we think they’re “swell”.

Learn more about shark conservation with these great organizations and researchers:


Citations:

  • https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-fix-jellyfish-sting-180963582/#:~:text=And%20before%20you%20ask%3A%20no,consistent%20chemical%20makeup%2C%20she%20says
  • https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/737/text


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.



Yes, that’s right. We’re reopening Heal the Bay Aquarium! Come visit our outdoor patio experience on Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25 from 12pm to 4pm for our Aquarium’s Earth Day Celebration.

VISIT

The health and safety of our community and staff are our number one priority. When you plan a visit, follow our COVID-19 guidelines and reserve your tickets in advance. Heal the Bay Aquarium is located at 1600 Ocean Front Walk in Santa Monica, California – under the Santa Monica Pier.

When you visit our new outdoor patio exhibits, you’ll get to explore local marine animal exhibits, study a gray whale rib bone, learn about ocean pollution and what we can do to prevent it, snag a sustainable souvenir from the Gift Shop, and more!

Discover your inner marine scientist at the Sharks & Rays and the Tide Pool animal exhibits. Sharks & Rays demonstrates the full lifecycle of sharks, and features baby swell shark pups. Observe the development of this important native species as they grow from egg to pup, and learn about all the local sharks that live in Santa Monica Bay. The Tide Pool display allows you to get up close and see local tidepool creatures like sea cucumbers, bat stars, hermit crabs, and marine snails.

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Swim by our Watershed exhibit to learn about the Los Angeles ecosystem and view California native plants that are found in these habitats. Check the water quality grade at your favorite beach with our Beach Report Card, find out how you can take the Climate Action Challenge, and take action to #SkipTheStuff at our Plastic Pollution exhibit. A visit to the Aquarium will give you a greater understanding of the ocean, and inspire stewardship of the marine environment and its inhabitants.

We’ll have fun, eco-friendly crafts and activities you can take home, and beach cleanup kits available to purchase, so you can continue to Heal the Bay, the ocean, and the planet even after your visit.

Plus, you can bring the memories home with a souvenir from our Aquarium Gift Shop. Check out zero-waste goodies, plushies, green travel items, limited edition Heal the Bay gear, and more. Every purchase directly supports our marine education and clean water programs.


 Keep Making Waves with Heal the Bay Aquarium: 



In 2021, we’re tackling the biggest threats to coastal waters and watersheds in Greater LA. The following three goals represent our key areas of focus this year:

Take Urgent Climate Action

What we’re doing: Taking urgent climate action by empowering people, demanding systemic change, and advocating for multi-benefit solutions that build toward an equitable, sustainable, and climate-resilient future for all.  

How we’re doing it: The climate crisis must be slowed, or communities will be further impacted and much will be lost. Nationally, we need to quickly recover environmental policy rollbacks to regain ocean, river, and wetland protections, and protect water resources by upholding the Clean Water Act. Locally, we support nature-based solutions to protect communities from sea level rise, erosion, and storm surges; champion the cleanup of stormwater through multi-benefit green spaces; and demand an equitable transition to renewable energy. Heal the Bay Aquarium works directly with our community, engaging students and the public through climate action and education initiatives. 


Protect Public Health with Strong Science and Outreach

What we’re doing: Protecting people and ecosystem health through science-based education, outreach, and advocacy on contaminated water, fish, and sediment at our beaches, rivers, and offshore.

How we’re doing it: Clean water and safe, accessible green space are fundamental for public health. Heal the Bay pushes government leaders to protect people at freshwater recreation areas in LA with new public health legislation. Our Beach Report Card with NowCast and River Report Card are expanding in reach and scientific rigor. We hold corporate polluters and public agencies accountable for DDT dumping off our coast and raise awareness about dangerous water contamination across LA. Heal the Bay Aquarium empowers students and families with human health narratives in watershed education curriculum and operations.  


Ban Single-Use Plastics for Good

What we’re doing: Eliminating harmful plastic pollution from our ocean and watersheds in order to defend the vibrancy of our communities.  

How we’re doing it: The toxic legacy of plastic production and waste impacts our everyday life. Heal the Bay supports a ban on disposable products that harm neighborhoods and wildlife habitats. We advocate for legislation to reduce and ban disposable plastics in the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, and California. Our immediate goal is to pass Skip the Stuff Ordinances locally in LA in 2021. Longer term, we are laying the groundwork for statewide legislation and a 2022 ballot initiative: Plastics Free California. Heal the Bay Aquarium is inspiring advocacy by launching new exhibits on plastic pollution and educating about the connection to fossil fuels.  


Take Part

Get Involved

Adopt a Beach

See What’s New with Our Aquarium

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Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program Manager, Frankie Orrala, highlights the history and significance of Venice Pier.

The Santa Monica Bay, spanning from Point Dume in Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, offers spectacular beaches and fabulous scenic views, as well as fishing piers. Several piers stretch out into the bay, in Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach. Because fishing licenses are not required on piers, they are some of the most popular spots for recreational and subsistence (those who are fishing for food for their family/relatives) anglers.

Venice Pier is one of the oldest, most active piers when it comes to Southern California fishing. Venice Pier, built in 1965, was closed for more than a decade starting in 1986 due to damage and disrepair, but was triumphantly re-opened to the public in 1997 thanks to the vocal advocacy of local residents. The restored pier is fully accessible, with lights, benches, and fish cleaning stations. The surface of the pier is made of concrete and has designated areas for wheelchair accessibility. The pier is managed by the City of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation and is open to the public from 6 a.m. until midnight.

Fishing at the Venice Pier is relaxing and many anglers enjoy this place for its tranquility, for the occasional presence of sea lions, dolphins, a variety of seabirds, and because there are no shops or restaurants that disturb the serious anglers’ focus. Over the years, I have observed a number of different species caught off of this pier, including mackerel, sardines, topsmelt, jacksmelt, corbina, white croakers, surfperch, opaleye, rays, and certain types of sharks.

The Venice Fishing Pier attracts a wide diversity of anglers, and you will often hear a variety of languages ​​such as Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Russian, among others spoken by the fishermen. Heal the Bay has worked on this pier for 17 years through the Angler Outreach Program (AOP), educating anglers about fish contamination in all 5 of these languages, particularly to help educate them about the dangers of consuming fish which contain high levels of contaminants.

If you’ve been to the Venice Pier, you may have noticed that it, as well as other piers in Santa Monica Bay, has signs posted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to inform anglers about the risks of consuming contaminated fish. Venice is within the red zone established by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which indicates a higher level of health risk from consuming certain fish in these areas. However, many anglers are still unaware that there are certain fish that should not be consumed due to their high levels of DDT, PCBs, and Mercury. One of the goals of the Angler Outreach Program is to educate anglers about the riskiest fish, which are white croaker, topsmelt, barred sand bass, black croaker, and barracuda. Due to high concentrations of contaminants, these fish should not be consumed.

Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Team aims to educate pier anglers about the dangers of consuming high-risk fish species, and make recommendations about the consumption of other fish within the red zone. Any other fish that is not on the list of the most contaminated should be consumed according to the regulations established by the health authorities. The safest way to prepare the fish is to only eat the fillet, discarding head, skin, and innards.

While Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program is observing safety measures due to COVID-19, we are still educating folks about the issue through our blog posts, social media, and educational presentations in English and Spanish— and we are eagerly looking forward to a time when we can get back out and talk directly to anglers.

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Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program Manager, Frankie Orrala, shares the program’s positive impacts and successes from over the last 17 years.

Heal the Bay’s Angler Outreach Program (AOP) is celebrating 17 years! This program is designed to educate pier and shore anglers in Los Angeles and Orange County about the risks of consuming fish contaminated with toxins such as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Created in 2003, AOP is a component of the Fish Contamination Education Collaboration (FCEC) and managed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a far-reaching public education and outreach program. Notably, the program also works in association with federal and state agencies as well as local community organizations.

The FCEC was established to address a major contamination site (aka Superfund site) off the coast of Los Angeles, along the Palos Verdes shelf. DDT and PCBs were historically discharged into the ocean near the Palos Verdes Peninsula, pollution which still exists in the sediment today. These toxins can travel through the food chain into fish and potentially have negative impacts on human health if the fish are eaten; certain species of fish and certain areas are more likely to be contaminated.

The goal of the AOP is to educate anglers about this contamination and share which fish should be avoided. During visits to different piers in Southern California, Heal the Bay’s educational team has interacted with diverse fishing communities and outreach is conducted in multiple languages. Heal the Bay is proud to have a team of bilingual staff who have educated Southern California pier anglers in multiple languages, including: Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Khmer and Russian.

Since its inception 17 years ago, Heal the Bay’s AOP team has educated more than 170,000 pier anglers. Along the way, we have heard many stories and learned a lot about the people who frequently fish on our local piers. We appreciate these anglers and the knowledge and experiences they share with us.

Awards Received at the National Level

In 2009, the EPA presented two prestigious awards to the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative. FCEC was recognized for its work to protect the most vulnerable populations in Southern California from the health risks of consuming fish contaminated with DDT and PCBs; the other award was given to Heal the Bay and all FCEC partners in Los Angeles for Achievement in Environmental Justice.

On behalf of the AOP and Heal the Bay, I traveled to Washington D.C.  to receive the distinguished award in recognition of Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement. This award is presented annually to an individual or community group working with a Superfund team for outstanding achievements in the field of environmental protection.

Heal the Bay was thrilled to be selected to present to the FCEC among other national projects. The recognition was significant as it confirmed Heal the Bay’s work is truly protecting the health of all people, especially communities with economic and social disadvantages.

 

2009 Award Winner: Frankie Orrala of Heal the Bay receiving the Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement and Environmental Justice Achievement Awards

In addition to accepting this award in Washington D.C, in 2009, I traveled to Ecuador in South America, along with scientists from the National Fisheries Institute (Instituto Nacional de Pesca) as well as professors, researchers and students from the University of Guayaquil. We came together to talk about FCEC’s efforts to monitor pollution and educate the public about its effect on human and environmental health.

The international interest our program receives is an honor; the AOP team is busy building on these relationships and with more communities as they are facing similar problems as Southern California.

Continuing to advance environmental justice is a critical objective of our work. Moving forward, Heal the Bay’s AOP program remains committed to educating and protecting chronically underserved populations in the region, many of whom are exposed to higher rates of pollution compared to the general population.

In closing, there are many reasons for the AOP team’s continued success, from our great team members to the communities we work with, to the experts who are providing us with advice. All of it wouldn’t be possible without Heal the Bay’s dedicated supporters and for that we say THANK YOU!


To learn more about our program, visit www.pvsfish.org and if you want to join our bilingual team call us at 310-451-1500 or visit our site at www.healthebay.org

View en Español



 

We’re tackling the biggest threats to the Bay by harnessing The Power of Water in 2020. The following three goals represent our key areas of focus this year:

 

Sound the Alarm for Climate Action

What we’re doing: Mitigating the life-altering impacts of climate change by empowering people to make smart choices now to create a sustainable and equitable future.

How we’re doing it: Water is where many will feel climate impacts first: water reliability in a changing climate is paramount. We are scrutinizing the City of LA’s plans for reusing wastewater as well as local projects to capture stormwater, to ensure they are equitable, effective and sustainable. At Heal the Bay Aquarium and events we are engaging the public to take daily actions — like extending Meatless Monday to One Meal a Day for the Ocean — to help mitigate the extremes of warming temperatures, ocean acidification and sea level rise.


Protect Public Health with Strong Science and Outreach

What we’re doing: Protecting people’s health through science-based education and outreach on contaminated water and fish at LA beaches and rivers.

How we’re doing it: We are expanding the reach and scientific rigor of our Beach Report Card, River Report Card and Angler Outreach programs to increase community and agency engagement on issues that directly affect public health. Our focus is on pollution, access, recreational use and fish consumption. We are also advocating for strong water quality protections and better public awareness tools to inform the most impacted communities.


Ban Single-Use Plastic for Good

What we’re doing: Eliminating harmful plastic waste from our beaches and waterways, and restoring the vibrancy of our ocean and watersheds.

How we’re doing it: A dramatic shift away from single-use plastics is needed because less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled and the rest winds up in landfills and the natural environment. Alongside a coalition of NGOs we are helping to establish “Reusable LA”, a new campaign to build a thriving culture of reuse and refill in LA County, encouraging people and businesses to go plastic-free and support new policies that ban disposable plastics in LA County and statewide.


Get Involved

Volunteer With Us

Take Part in a Beach Cleanup

Visit Our Aquarium

Donate


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heal the bay

Oh, what a year! We reflect on some of our favorite milestones from this past year. A huge thank you goes out to our bold and dedicated Heal the Bay community. We would not have achieved these victories without your ongoing support.

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heal the bay aquarium

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Take a swim down memory lane with us and replay 6 unforgettable moments from 2019.

6. Released our first-ever Stormwater Report—a groundbreaking assessment of stormwater pollution management in Los Angeles County.

In our new Stormwater Report we found that local governments have made shockingly minimal progress in addressing stormwater pollution over the last 30 years. If the current rate of stormwater pollution cleanup continues, LA County communities will wait another 60 years for clean water.

The LA County stormwater permit, the only real mechanism we have for regulating stormwater pollution, is up for renewal in early 2020. Heal the Bay is pushing hard for a strong stormwater permit. We fear it will be weakened and deadlines will be extended, further delaying cleanup of local waters. Municipalities can tap into various funding sources to implement projects, so there is no reason for them to not make meaningful progress moving forward.

Our Stormwater Report was big news for LA and was covered by the L.A. Times, The Guardian, NBC, CBS, KCRW, KPCC, KNX, LAist, The Argonaut News, Daily Breeze, Patch and more.


Heal the Bay Aquarium
Photo by Kelton Mattingly

5. Welcomed our 1 millionth visitor to Heal the Bay Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier.

Since our Aquarium opened its doors in 2003, our mission has been to give visitors an underwater experience of the Pacific Ocean without getting their feet wet. We invite all our guests to explore critically important marine habitats and environmental issues.

From swell sharks to red octopus, and seahorses to stingrays, more than 100 local wildlife species thrive at our Aquarium. And now we can proudly say that more than a million visitors have met our local underwater residents!

Around 100,000 visitors come to Heal the Bay Aquarium each year. Local residents and global tourists share their passion for their own local waterways with us and inquire about how to protect what they love. In order to better serve the public, we’ve centered our programs and events around environmental advocacy, community science, pollution prevention and family education.

We also host 10,000-15,000 students each year for school field trips and we offer fun, educational, zero-waste birthday parties.


4. Hosted our 30th anniversary of Coastal Cleanup Day as the LA County coordinator.

What an honor it has been for Heal the Bay to steward this annual event since the 1990s, especially with such vibrant community support. Our very first Coastal Cleanup Day hosted 2,000 volunteers – my how far we’ve come! From diving underwater in the Santa Monica Bay to hiking along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and everywhere in between, 13,914 volunteers removed more than 30,165 pounds of trash — from 79 locations in Los Angeles County, in a span of three-hours — on Coastal Cleanup Day 2019.

The weirdest finds from 2019 included: A laptop and electric scooters (underwater in Santa Monica); A 20 foot industrial ladder (underwater in Redondo Beach); Horseshoe (Compton Creek); Cat skull (South LA); Positive pregnancy test (White Point Beach); Shake weight (Venice); Half a rat (Arroyo Seco Confluence); and a California King Mattress-sized Styrofoam block (Arroyo Seco Confluence).


Straws-On-Request

3. Supported Straws-On-Request going into effect in the City of LA.

Los Angeles City Hall passed the Straws-On-Request ordinance this past Earth Day, making single-use plastic straws available by request only at all food and beverage facilities in the City of LA. This, along with other plastic reduction strategies, will hopefully decrease the amount of trash we see in our environment while still giving patrons access to straws when needed.

Often times plastic trash flows from our streets into our storm drains and out to the ocean. Plastic straws and disposable beverage, food, and snack-related items are some of the top types of trash we find at Heal the Bay cleanups. In fact, our cleanup volunteers have picked up more than 138,000 plastic straws from LA beaches over the last two decades.

The Ocean Protection Council acknowledges that trash in the ocean is a persistent and growing problem that is negatively affecting human and ecosystem health, not to mention coastal beauty. We’ll continue to work locally and at the state-level in California to reduce the use of harmful single-use plastics.


2. Rejoiced over these announcements: Hyperion will recycle 100% of the City’s wastewater and LA will phase out gas-fired coastal power plants.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant (aka sewage treatment plant), one of the largest in the world, will recycle 100% of the City’s wastewater by 2035. The water will be treated extensively and then put into our local groundwater supply for additional treatment by natural soils. Afterwards, the clean water will be pumped up to replenish our local tap water supply. Hyperion’s capacity is 450 million gallons per day and treated water currently flows out to the ocean. But with full recycling at Hyperion we can re-use that water!

Garcetti’s next big announcement was that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will close three coastal gas-burning power plants in El Segundo, Long Beach and the Los Angeles Harbor area by 2029. The plants will be replaced by renewable energy sources and storage.

Heal the Bay was integral to both advancements. We advocated for over a decade for wastewater recycling and for eliminating the marine impacts of the coastal power plants. Our founder Dorothy Green would be so proud of us, and of our City, for taking these giant steps forward.


the inkwell

1. Celebrated the new listing of the Santa Monica Bay Street Beach in the National Register of Historic Places.

The shoreline at Bay Street in Santa Monica was an active hub of African American beach life during the Jim Crow era. This beach was popular from the 1900s to early 1960s among African Americans, who were barred from enjoying most other southland beaches. Santa Monica’s Bay Street Beach Historic District recent listing in the National Register of Historic Places recognizes this important coastal history.

Since 2013, with the help of African American historian Alison Rose Jefferson, we’ve joined forces with the Black Surfers Collective to honor Nick Gabaldón Day at Santa Monica Bay Street Beach.

Nick Gabaldón (1927-1951) was a pioneering surfer of African American and Mexican American descent. He was the first documented surfer of color in the Santa Monica Bay. Nick Gabaldón Day provides an opportunity for broadening outreach, action and education to connect Angelenos with their cultural, historical and natural heritage.


Now go check out our top Instagram posts from 2019. And view our 2019 wrap up for environmental legislation in California.