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Photo credit: Ashlee Malyar, Marine Mammal Volunteer

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo credit: Ashlee Malyar, Marine Mammal Volunteer


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Heal the Bay is proud to join Latino Outdoors and partners in the celebration of Latino Conservation Week, July 18th– 26th 2020.

Latino Conservation Week (LCW) is an annual initiative presented by the Hispanic Access Foundation to highlight the Latinx experience in outdoor stewardship and environmentalism. Since its launch in 2014, LCW has had tremendous growth across the country in the outdoor engagement and conservation advocacy by Latinx communities.

This week, community groups, environmental nonprofits, and agencies will host virtual and in-person events (where safe to do so) to support Latinx Latino community getting into the outdoors and participating in activities to protect our natural resources. These events are for all ages and typically include hiking, camping, cleanups, and workshops that inspire participants to take part in protecting our land, water, and air and participate in larger conversations around current environmental issues.

How to Participate

This year, participation will take place safely and a lot of it will be online. Every day of the week invites a different call to action and we encourage you to join the conversation by following @LCW_National @HispanicAccess and @LatinoOutdoors on Twitter and @latinoconservationweek @hispanicaccess and @latinooutdoors on IG.

At Heal the Bay, we recognize that social and environmental issues are intrinsically linked. Historical injustices have led to inequitable access to the outdoors for communities of color. Heal the Bay is committed to fighting for environmental justice through our Science, Policy, and Outreach programs.

Currently, Heal the Bay is working to connect Latinx youth to their watersheds and ocean is through Gotitas Del Saber, our new bilingual/Spanish marine conservation educational series. The program includes regularly scheduled Spanish-language virtual webinar for students of all ages about science and the ocean. Join us live or explore past events.

Join us for Gotitas Del Saber

Why It’s Important

Beyond exploring the outdoors, Latino Conservation Week, at its core, is about outdoor connection, education, and cultural expression —and for many US-born Latin American-identifying youth and young adults, it’s a pathway and connection into outdoor advocacy and/or pursuing a degree in STEM through community support and mentorship.

For many Latin Americans, participating in conservation is an act of long-standing connection to nature. It’s a part of cultural preservation that involves nature-based solutions and practices that are deeply rooted in the Latin American cultural expression and identity. Protecting the health of our watershed, fighting for clean air, and protecting robust wildlife habitat is connected to century-old practices and traditions that continue through the enjoyment and protection of our open spaces.

Recent studies show that Hispanics/Latinxs express higher levels of environmental concern and have a higher willingness to engage in climate activism than white Americans, yet Latinos remain largely underrepresented in the environmental sector despite the support of environmental policies and efforts. Nevertheless, Latinx participation in the environmental field and movement is critical to the growth of outdoor equity, solving the climate crisis through science and community solutions, mobilizing communities for environmental justice, and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.

 

 



Heal the Bay Water Quality Scientist, Annelisa Moe, shares how we can save a precious water resource, hold polluters accountable, and stay updated on all things stormwater.

Each year, Los Angeles County wastes 100 billion gallons of stormwater as it flows through our streets, into our rivers, and out to the ocean.  But it gets worse. The pollution that is swept up by this stormwater contaminates our waterways, floods our neighborhoods, and even exacerbates the negative effects of climate change: worsening ocean acidification and triggering new growth of harmful algal blooms.

As we look to the future, we can turn this hazard into a resource by capturing, cleaning, and reusing local stormwater. Properly rebuilding our stormwater infrastructure will protect the environment from stormwater pollution while also providing an affordable water supply, equitably stimulating our economy, and creating healthier communities that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

In order to ensure that we responsibly recycle stormwater across Los Angeles County, we need a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot: an incentive for those who discharge polluted water to take action against their pollution. The stick: accountability for dischargers who continue to contaminate our environment with polluted stormwater.

THE CARROT: Measure W

Los Angeles County voters already gave dischargers their carrot when they passed the Safe, Clean Water Program (Measure W) back in 2018. The measure provides a dedicated and reliable source of funding to build the kinds of projects that capture, clean, and reuse stormwater.

THE STICK: The MS4 Permit

The discharge of polluted stormwater is regulated by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board through the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit. Cities and counties are permittees under an MS4 Permit and are each responsible for their polluted stormwater runoff.

The LA County MS4 Permit has been around since 1990, and yet stormwater is still a major source of pollution in LA’s waterways. The last update to the permit occurred in 2012 and, to our dismay, the Los Angeles Regional Board voted to approve a 2012 MS4 Permit that was nearly impossible to enforce. Because of this lack of accountability, permittees are woefully behind schedule to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements.

The MS4 Permit is up for renewal again this year, which provides an opportunity to advocate for a strong permit that has simple and straightforward requirements, measurable goals with transparent reporting, and enforceable deadlines. This type of simple, measurable, and enforceable permit is more accessible to all stakeholders, including members of the public. It ensures everyone knows what needs to be done and informs people how quickly progress is being made towards achieving water quality goals. A strong MS4 Permit holds permittees accountable to their requirement to reduce stormwater pollution.MS4

LET’S TAKE LA BY STORM

2020 is our year to fight for justice and for the protection of public health. A strong MS4 Permit can help to ensure that our tax dollars are immediately put to good use to equitably invest in our communities and in our water future.

We need more community representation as this new MS4 Permit is finalized so that the terms of the permit are not decided solely by its permittees, but rather by all stakeholders, including YOU, who deserve a healthy environment with access to safe and clean water. The draft permit is expected to be released in mid-August 2020, followed by public workshops and a 60-day public comment period. This is our chance to advocate for a strong permit that holds permittees accountable so we can finally reduce stormwater pollution.

Join Heal the Bay to Take LA By Storm and demand a strong MS4 Permit!

Sign Up For Updates

You will receive:

  • MS4 Permit information
  • Public workshop notifications
  • Public comment opportunities
  • Instructions and guidance for submitting public comment
  • And more!

 



Heal the Bay’s annual River Report Card Rates 28 Freshwater Recreation Sites in Los Angeles River, San Gabriel River, and Malibu Creek Watersheds

2020 so far has been the year of making the best of it. When it comes to freshwater resources in L.A. County, we don’t have many, but we do love our rivers and swimming holes. And many of us will be looking to explore more local freshwater recreation options this summer, whether it’s because we had to cancel our long-distance vacation plans or reconsider a trip to the beach due to Safer at Home measures.

But no trip to the river is worth getting sick. And unfortunately, many freshwater recreation sites in L.A. County do have levels of bacterial pollution that represent a significant health risk. Developed areas tend to be more polluted than those in the mountains and upper watersheds.

Our annual River Report Card is the most comprehensive report on freshwater bacterial water quality and health risks in L.A County. The report grades each freshwater recreation site with a Red, Yellow, or Green rating.

  • Green : Zero parameters exceeded; low risk of illness when there is water contact.
  • Yellow : One to half of the parameters exceeded; moderate risk of illness when there is water contact.
  • Red : More than half of the parameters exceeded; high risk of illness when there is water contact.

In addition to the annual report, which summarizes the data collected in 2019, we also have an interactive map at healthebay.org/riverreportcard, which is updated weekly, so you can check the latest water quality observation before choosing a place to go this summer.

A Note About Swimming in the Time of COVID-19

While we have a pandemic going on, it’s especially important to be safe any time you leave the house, including outdoor recreation. That means wearing a mask and keeping a safe physical distance from others.

Our water quality tests do not detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in the water, but they do detect fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). The COVID-19 virus has been detected in sewage, indicating that fecal matter from infected individuals can contain the virus. We do not know how long the virus survives in sewage or in water, and we do not know if someone can contract the COVID-19 disease from coming into contact with water. Experts have stated that the transmission risk in water is likely very low because the virus mainly spreads through person-to-person contact. Since COVID-19 and FIB both enter our waterways through sewage, measuring FIB concentrations can help keep people safe from both.

Be sure to check for closures and specific restrictions at freshwater sites, trails, and open space before you head out. And, as always when you visit the river, make sure to pack out what you pack in. Be a water steward and keep plastics and trash out of the environment.

Be safe, have fun, and enjoy your local waters.

Download the annual River Report Card

See the annual River Report Card Media Release 

Check out the Weekly Updated River Report Card Interactive Map

Donate to Support This Work



El Programa Educacional Pesquero de Heal the Bay (AOP, por sus siglas en inglés) es un programa educativo dirigido a los pescadores de muelles y zona costera de los Condados de Los Angeles y Condado de Orange sobre los riesgos de consumir pescado contaminado con toxinas como el dicloro-difenil-tricloroetane (DDT) y los bifenilos policlorinados(PCBs). AOP es un componente del Grupo Educacional sobre la Contaminación de Peces (FCEC), por sus siglas en inglés) creado en el 2003 y administrado por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) como parte de un programa de educación pública, en asociación con otras agencias federales, estatales, y organizaciones comunitarias locales. 

El FCEC se estableció porque hay un sitio importante de contaminación (o sitio Superfund) frente a la costa de Los Angeles en la plataforma de Palos Verdes. El DDT y PCB se descargaron hisóricamente en el océano cerca de la península de Palos Verdes y todavía permanecen en el sedimento. Estas toxinas pueden viajar a través de la cadena alimenticia hacia los peces y potencialmente tener impactos negativos en la salud humana. Ciertas especies de peces y ciertas áreas tienen más probabilidades de estar contaminadas.

El objetivo del AOP es educar a los pescadores sobre la contaminación y qué peces deben evitarse. A lo largo de nuestras visitas a diferentes muelles en el sur de California, nuestro equipo educativo ha interactuado con diversas comunidades pesqueras. La divulgación se realiza en varios idiomas; Por esta razón, el equipo de Heal the Bay cuenta con un personal bilingüe que ha cubierto, con el tiempo, todos los diferentes grupos de pescadores de muelle del sur de California en varios idiomas, incluidos: español, chino, tagalo, vietnamita, camboyano y ruso.

Desde los inicios del programa, el equipo de Heal the Bay ha educado a más de 170,000 pescadores de muelles. Como tal, hemos escuchado muchas historias y aprendido mucho sobre las personas que frecuentemente pescan en nuestros muelles locales. Apreciamos a estos pescadores que comparten con nosotros sus conocimientos y experiencias.

Premios recibidos a nivel nacional

En 2009, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE. UU. otorgó dos prestigiosos premios al Grupo Educacional sobre Contaminación de Peces. Para ese entonces, viajé hasta Washington D.C. para recibir tan distinguido reconocimiento a la Excelencia Ciudadana en Participación Comunitaria. Este premio se entrega anualmente a un individuo o grupo comunitario que trabaja con un equipo de sitios Superfund por los logros sobresalientes que se hayan realizado en el campo de la protección ambiental. El FCEC fue reconocido por su trabajo por proteger a las poblaciones más vulnerables del sur de California de los riesgos de salud que implica consumir pescados contaminado con DDT y PCB. El otro premio fue otorgado a Heal the Bay y a todos los socios de FCEC en Los Ángeles por Logro en Justicia Ambiental.

Este reconocimiento es significativo para Heal the Bay porque muestra que estamos logrando nuestro objetivo de proteger la salud para todos, especialmente a las comunidades con desventajas económicas y sociales. Heal the Bay tuvo el honor de ser seleccionado y representar a FCEC de una serie de proyectos nacionales. La justicia ambiental es un componente principal de nuestro trabajo, ya que nos centramos en segmentos de la población que con demasiada frecuencia se descuidan.

 

Ganador del Premio 2009: Frankie Orrala de Heal the Bay recibió los Premios a la Excelencia Ciudadana en Participación Comunitaria y Logro en Justicia Ambiental.

Además de aceptar este premio en la capital, también viajé a Ecuador en América del Sur, junto con científicos del Instituto Nacional de Pesca y profesores, investigadores y estudiantes de la Universidad de Guayaquil. Nos reunimos y hablamos de los esfuerzos de FCEC para monitorear la contaminación y educar al público sobre su efecto en la salud humana y ambiental. El interés internacional de nuestro programa es un honor, y esperamos construir más relaciones en el futuro con comunidades que enfrentan problemas similares que tenemos en el sur de California.

Hay muchas razones para nuestro éxito continuo del programa AOP de Heal the Bay, desde los miembros de nuestro gran equipo, comunidades con las que trabajamos, hasta de los expertos que nos brindan asesoramiento. ¡Todo esto no sería posible sin nuestros seguidores y por eso te lo agradecemos!


Para obtener más información sobre nuestro programa, visite www.pvsfish.org y si deseas unirte a nuestro equipo bilingüe llámenos al 310-451-1500 o visita nuestro sitio www.healthebay.org

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An aerial view of Kids Ocean Day 2011

Thousands of kids are coming together on May 23 for the 26th annual Kids Ocean Day! Sparking a love for nature in young kids sets them up for a lifetime of appreciation and respect for our oceans, watersheds and natural environment. Plus, they love digging their toes in the sand! At this event, kids will learn about marine animals, the importance of keeping our beaches clean, and what they can do to help.

To wrap up the day’s activities, the kids gather together in formation to create a powerful environmental message on the beach. Far above their heads, helicopters fly by to capture a photo. The result is a spectacular and meaningful image that our team at Heal the Bay looks forward to every year.

Kids Ocean Day 2019 Event Details

Date: Thursday, May 23
Time: 7:00am – 2:30pm
Location: Dockweiler State Beach, Vista Del Mar, Imperial Hwy Entrance, Playa Del Rey, CA 90293 (The end of Imperial Highway between Playa del Rey & Manhattan Beach)

Visit Kids Ocean Day Website


Kids Ocean Day Founder, Michael Klubock, on the importance of youth outreach, hands-on education, and how Kids Ocean Day makes an impact:

“Kids Ocean Day teaches school kids about how litter flows from our neighborhoods to the ocean, where it harms marine life and pollutes our natural resources. It’s where the lessons come to life. By bringing Los Angeles school children to the beach, we put them in touch with nature, while instilling good habits and stewardship that can last a lifetime. The wonder and beauty of the coast, combined with a mission to protect the natural world, is a profound experience. I see it on their faces every year and every year it moves me.

Kids Ocean Day is a way to show kids that their actions—both good and bad—have an impact. That’s a lesson worth learning at any age. Eighty percent of the pollution in the sea comes from the land as the result of runoff. We can all do something about that. Simple things like disposing of litter, picking up after your dog or joining a beach cleanup can make a huge difference.”

An aerial view of Kids Ocean Day 2014



Heal the Bay scientist Ryan Searcy explains why you may see people on the shore donating their body to science.

Heal the Bay knows a thing or two about water quality. We’ve provided water-quality tools to millions of California beachgoers, helping them make decisions about which beaches are safe to visit. The most important monitoring methods we have are those that determine the levels of so-called fecal-indicator bacteria, or FIB, at a given beach.

The NowCast system (in its 4th year) and the Beach Report Card (in its 29th year) provide a daily and long-term look, respectively, at FIB at California’s most popular beaches. FIB are linked to the presence of fecal-borne pathogens like Cryptosporidium and norovirus, and high levels of FIB are correlated with illnesses like skin rashes, ear infections, and gastroenteritis. So knowing how much FIB is present at your beach can help you stay healthy.

However, FIB are not always indicative of every human pathogen under the sun. For example, the presence of Staphylococcus aureus is not associated with FIB levels, and you can still catch a nasty staph infection on days where FIB levels are low. Staph gets into the ocean through stormwater runoff discharges from wastewater treatment facilities, and even human shedding at beaches.

A 2012 study of some Southern Californian beaches showed staph was present in 59% of seawater samples. Contracting staph can lead to severe skin and soft tissue infections, sepsis and hospitalization, and even death. And to make things worse, the authors of the study also found strains of staph that are resistant to antibiotic treatment (called methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA) in some of their samples.

If you are sufficiently freaked out by all this, I do have some good news.

Heal the Bay is partnering with a team of UCLA scientists, Surfrider Foundation, and USC Sea Grant to collect data on MRSA and how it affects those who frequent the ocean.

Megyn Rugh, a UCLA Ph.D. student who is leading this project, hopes to determine the ocean’s role in transmitting superbugs to humans.  It has been documented that antibiotic-resistant pathogens are frequently harbored by those who work in the meat processing industry or in hospitals. But Megyn suspects that they are also often present in frequent ocean-users, namely surfers.

Her past work has shown that there is MRSA present in the water at some of the region’s most popular surf spots. By collecting nasal swabs of surfers who paddle out at breaks in the Santa Monica Bay, Megyn hopes to prove that those with high environmental exposure to MRSA are more likely to harbor it in their bodies.

How is Megyn collecting this data, you might wonder? Well, here is a PSA on behalf of the Surfer Resistance Study:

From now through the end of the winter, Megyn and her team will be collecting samples at El Porto in Manhattan Beach every Tuesday and the Breakwater at Venice Beach every Wednesday.

If you’re heading out for dawn patrol, stop by her makeshift beach lab and get your nose swabbed. And if you’re not a surfer, for science’s sake you can still help! Megyn is taking swabs of non-oceangoers’ noses as a control, so stop by when you’re out running or walking your dog. (She’s pictured in the photo at top.)

Heal the Bay has worked hard for many years to prevent MRSA and other superbugs from getting into our coastal waters in the first place.

We know that normal staph in seawater can evolve into MRSA through transfer of antibiotic-resistant genes that come from elevated levels of pharmaceuticals in ocean water. (And you thought Halloween was over.) In 2016, the County of LA failed to enact measures that would hold suppliers of these drugs responsible for taking back unused prescriptions so that they don’t end up in the water.

If UCLA’s study can show that surfers are more likely to get sick from MRSA they contract in the water, advocacy groups like Heal the Bay will have ammunition to get polices in place that improve water quality.

Until then, our advice (as always) is to stay out of the ocean for at least 3 days after a heavy rainfall, and to avoid swimming and surfing near stormdrain outlets.

If you are interested in learning more, or supporting this project with a donation, contact Megyn Rugh at megynrugh@ucla.edu



Heal the Bay is celebrating a major victory in the hard-fought fight to clean up chronically polluted beaches in Malibu — the opening of the Malibu Civic Center Treatment Facility. 

Malibu is one of the most breathtaking and desirable places to live in Southern California, but it has held a dirty little secret – septic systems in and around its cultural center have fouled nearby coastal waters for decades.

Malibu Creek, Malibu Lagoon, and the surrounding ocean, including Surfrider Beach, are critically polluted and numerous studies point to septic systems as a major contributor. Swimmers who recreate in these waters run the risk of all kinds of illnesses.

But today Heal the Bay staff and members celebrated an important milestone in what has been a long and protracted fight to reduce water pollution in Malibu – completion of the Civic Wastewater Treatment Facility.

It was all smiles at a ribbon-cutting Friday, but the battle to get the treatment center built was fraught with tension and even some rancor over the past two decades.

For more than 15 years, Heal the Bay has called for the Malibu Civic Center’s septic systems to be replaced by a centralized wastewater treatment facility. It has been a long and bumpy road, with officials complaining about costs and some residents worried about the specter of development if sewers are put in. But our advocacy  has now yielded tangible results.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a Septic Prohibition in 2009 that required the phasing out by 2019 of all septic systems in the Malibu Civic Center Area (think Malibu Pier, Pepperdine, Malibu Bluffs Park). And in 2015 the Malibu City Council unanimously certified the Civic Center Wastewater Treatment Facility Final Environmental Impact Report and later secured funding for the facility.

Malibu City Councilmembers, along with Heal the Bay staff and members of the California State and Regional Water Control Boards, were all in attendance last Friday to cut the ribbon on the new facility.

It was especially gratifying to see Mark Gold, past Heal the Bay president and current board member, in attendance. Amid often fierce opposition from city officials and some Malibu property owners, Gold led the charge to demand an end to septic tanks in the Civic Center area for many years. He helped broker an MOU between the city and the regional water board that phased out septic tanks and mandated the building of a more modern treatment facility. (You can read more about his war wounds in one of his blog posts here.)

The wastewater treatment site is located at the intersection of Civic Center Way and Vista Pacifica. The facility will treat wastewater from properties in and around the Civic Center, and use the recycled water produced by the facility for irrigation of local parks and landscaping.

With a snip of the giant scisssors, history was made and Malibu ocean-users can now breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to all our donors and advocates who helped Malibu officials do the right thing!



Apryl Boyle, our chief aquarist, celebrates a misunderstood species in our local waters. 

If you’ve spent significant time in Santa Monica Bay during the summer, you’ve probably seen or bumped into a ray in the ocean shallows.

At times I’ll be surfing, look down, and see several swim by that are looking for their next meal. Their graceful stride reminds me of a bird in flight and is mesmerizing to watch. Among the animals you’ll see in the Bay: stingrays (Urolophus halleri), bat rays (Myliobatis californica), thornback rays (Platyrhinoidis triseriata), and the shovelnose guitarfish (Rhinobatos productus).

At the Huntington Beach Pier, I saw a man who had caught a very large shovelnose guitarfish and had it laying out in front of him. As the animal gasped for air, I attempted to kindly convince the man to release it back to the wild. The breeding-age animal surely deserved better treatment.  I tried to explain that larger fish keep our oceans healthy and in balance. He wasn’t having it. Some primordial fear had this man convinced he was doing the world a service by killing this creature. The incident continues to haunt me.

Rays are higher-level predators that hunt and consume mollusks, worms, crabs, and other small fishes. They are in the same group as sharks, as they have a skeleton made of cartilage rather than bone. They’re the most diverse of the cartilaginous fishes, with approximately 600 species around the world.

They range in size from a human adult’s hand to those with a nearly 20-foot wingspan, such as the manta ray pictured below. They can be found all over the world’s ocean, from Antarctica to tropical water (although they’re more abundant in warmer water). Because they have such a wide diversity and distribution, rays are critically important to nearly all marine ecosystems and have distinct niches where they live.

Fossil records indicate that stingrays existed as far back as 150 million years ago but over 100 species are threatened today. Humans pose a real threat to their existence through overfishing, habitat loss, and accelerating climate change.

Like sharks, they are feared and largely misunderstood. They’re not normally aggressive and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some that had amazing personalities and would greet me whenever I was near. Yes I had food for them, but they were always quite friendly.  I’ve even been “hugged” by rays.

But what about being stung?

Stingrays do not indiscriminately sting humans without provocation. Sometimes people accidentally step on a ray as they walk out into the ocean. The animal’s instinctual reaction is for the tail to come up as protection. The tail has a stinging mechanism, or barb. It is jagged and has a fish hook-type shape. If you try to take the barb out of your skin carelessly it will rip more of the flesh than when it entered. If you are stung, you need to immediately soak the area in water as hot as you can stand and seek immediate medical assistance.

How can you avoid being stung? Try shuffling. No, not the Super Bowl Shuffle of the 1980s, the timeless Stingray Shuffle.  Shimmy your feet as you enter the ocean. This creates a vibration that alerts rays you’re near and they need to move. Trust me, they don’t want to be stepped on. I surely wouldn’t want a creature exponentially larger than I am stepping on my back. I would definitely react defensively and that’s what they do.

Want to see a ray up close? Come visit the round stingrays at our Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.



Staff scientist Ryan Searcy takes a closer look into the state’s decision not to drop fecal coliform regulations at California beaches. It’s an important example of our advocacy at work, and how collaboration with regulatory agencies can lead to better environmental policies.

Advocating for sound, science-based environmental policies is often both frustrating and rewarding. In California, we advocates are lucky that regulators generally share a similar goal of achieving a safe, healthy, and clean environment. However, we often find ourselves at disagreement on how to achieve that goal. In the end, when regulatory officials change policies or adopt a new regulation, our hope is that the best science guides the process. All relevant stakeholders should have their say, so that the policy or regulation serves the public and the environment to the highest benefit.

At the end of August we saw one example of this as the State Water Resources Control Board approved updates to the beach water quality standards provided in the California Ocean Plan. While it is true that Heal the Bay does not agree with all of the changes the State made to these standards, we want to particularly highlight a major success: that in the 11th hour, the State, along with Heal the Bay and other stakeholders, worked together to rewrite the standards to be more health protective by retaining fecal coliform.

In any given sample of ocean water, you are likely to find a veritable zoo of algae, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other organisms. Fecal coliform, along with total coliform and Enterococcus, are the three primary fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) monitored and regulated at California ocean beaches to help us determine if it’s safe to swim. FIB in the water do not necessarily get you sick themselves, but presence of these organisms may also indicate the presence of the organisms that do get you sick, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Norovirus. Swimming in water with high levels of FIB is correlated with an increased risk of skin rash, eye and ear infections, and gastroenteritis. Because of this, the State protects beachgoers by setting and enforcing water quality standards for FIB.

Last year, the State began the process of updating the water quality standards in the Ocean Plan, something that hadn’t been done since the 1980s. Initially, both total coliform and fecal coliform were dropped from the ocean regulatory standards, while standards for Enterococcus only were retained. To support this decision, the State initially cited the EPA’s 2012 meta-analysis of 27 epidemiological studies that concluded, among other findings, that Enterococcus alone was the best predictor of illness from a day at the beach. However, EPA’s analysis is not the most recent nor relevant science on water quality at California beaches. Only two of those 27 studies were performed in marine waters in the United States, and only one was performed in California; both were completed before the year 2000.

Recent epidemiological studies performed at California beaches since 2012 actually show that both Enterococcus and fecal coliform are indicators of elevated health risk. Even more interesting is that some of these studies also show that fecal coliform is a good indicator in certain types of exposure and environmental conditions where Enterococcus is not. The Colford et al. study performed at Doheny State Beach in 2012 indicated that both fecal coliform and Enterococcus were indicative of risk of gastrointestinal illness, and that when a swimmer’s entire body was submersed, fecal coliform was indicative of risk of illness when Enterococcus was not. The Surfer Health Study, performed in San Diego by our friends at the Surfrider Foundation and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) in 2017, showed that fecal coliform was strongly correlated to certain illnesses in periods of wet weather when Enterococcus was not.

Additional to its known correlation to health risk, fecal coliform levels have often exceeded California standards, even at times when Enterococcus does not. Heal the Bay maintains a large database of FIB samples taken by California beach agencies, and these data fuel our Beach Report Card and NowCast programs. Our analysis of over 328,000 historical FIB samples taken at over 700 sites in the summer seasons from 1998 through 2017 showed that nearly 23,000 (7%) of those samples exceeded state standards for at least one FIB. Of those exceedances, nearly 3 out of every 4 days in which a health standard was exceeded at a California beach, Enterococcus was partially or fully to blame. So Enterococcus is undeniably an important indicator at ocean beaches.

However, the remaining measured exceedances were not due to Enterococcus. Fecal coliform exceeded California standards alone (that is, when total coliform and Enterococcus did not) in more than 16% of all recorded exceedances, an amount that Heal the Bay argues is significant when considered with its known correlation to health risk. Looking deeper into the data, we saw that fecal coliform was the FIB in highest exceedance at a number of well-known beaches. Troubled beaches like Cowell Beach, Pismo Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, and La Jolla Cove (among others) may not have been prioritized for getting cleaned up if fecal coliform were dropped from regulation.

Fortunately, a fecal coliform crisis was averted.

The State was set to adopt the revisions to the Ocean Plan, including the amendment that dropped fecal coliform standards from the regulations, at a public hearing in February of this year. Days before the adoption hearing, the lack of consideration of the relevant California science and the historical FIB data mentioned above were brought to the State’s attention, and the hearing was postponed in order to consider fecal coliform standards further.

After a meeting in the spring with a stakeholder group composed of Heal the Bay scientists; expert water quality scientists from Stanford, UCLA (including our former chief Mark Gold), and SCCWRP ; the California Coast Keeper Alliance; and representatives from some of the Regional Water Boards, the State went back and evaluated the relevant California-based science and the historical FIB sample data from California beaches, using them as evidence to rewrite the standards to retain fecal coliform. When the amendments to the water quality standards in the California Ocean Plan were finally adopted last month, the existing fecal coliform standards were retained, and the state agreed to continue to consider the relevant science and data in future updates of the Ocean Plan.

The clawback marked a huge win for California beaches and the people who visit them.

It was also a good example of a regulatory process that involves consideration of sound science and collaboration between a regulatory agency and its stakeholders. The task is not done, though. Heal the Bay looks forward to continuing the conversation with the State Water Board and other stakeholders as we continue to work towards water quality regulations that ensure our beaches are all available for Californians to safely enjoy.

You can read the State Water Board staff report that documents their full analysis here, starting on page 62.