Gross Busters

"Is Mission Bay Gross?"
WHAT: Seminar, hosted by San Diego Coastkeeper, in which experts and a celebrity moderator will discuss Miss ion Bay's ecosystem, development and land-use history.
WHEN: May 12, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Urban Corps San Diego, 3127 Jefferson Street, near Old Town

Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka Pacific Trash Vortex) Facts
LOCATION: North Pacific Ocean
ESTIMATED SIZE: Twice the size of Texas
CONENTS: It is estimated that 10 million tons of swirling plastic and slowly degrading garbage, as well as dead fish, birds, turtles and other marine life get snared in the vortex.
Source: National Science Foundation, Greenpeace

By Amanda Daniels

You see them on weekends roving local beaches, their gloved hands sifting through the sand or clutching aluminum grabbers. Their plastic pails are filled with the byproducts of San Diegans' weekend benders and general disregard, including everything from cigarette butts and lost shades to beer cans and condom wrappers.

At least twice a month, the San Diego chapters of Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation join forces to conduct volunteer-based beach cleanups, from Imperial Beach to Oceanside. It's a simple contribution that makes a big impact. Last year, volunteers removed nearly four tons of trash from local beaches, including 40,000 butts.

"Even with smoking bans, cigarette butts are still the most littered items," says Ken David, a longtime Surfrider Foundation volunteer.

While cigarette filters may look like harmless cotton, they are more typically made of a plastic that traps chemicals from the cigarette. Once in the water, the chemicals leach out and the nubs get nibbled by marine life, David says.

Eliminating trash does more than clean beaches. It helps decrease pollution that could otherwise clog local waterways, making them unsafe for people and wildlife. Beach pollution often originates inland, washing downstream to the ocean through storm drains and watersheds. The runoff contributes to what scientists have dubbed "garbage patches," vast concentrations of plastic and other trash that amass in the middle of the ocean. Some patch plastics will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who disposed of them.

Clean-up crews use data cards to keep track of what they find, and the trash is weighed at the end of each outing. The records help quantify work done throughout the year.

Beach cleanups, however, are just the beginning. Both groups advocate for clean water through educational and community outreach programs. Volunteers provide manpower needed to monitor local pollution levels, which gives the groups ammunition to help enforce state and federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act.

San Diego Coastkeeper, which has a staff of 12, may be best known for the lawsuits it brought against the City of San Diego in the late 1990s and early 2000s in response to chronic sewage spills. Rulings favoring Coastkeeper helped reduce spillage by 90 percent during the past decade, says the group's volunteer and outreach coordinator, Dylan Edwards.

Once a week, the Coastkeepers pilot their 19-foot Boston Whaler (a type of boat used by military and police search and rescue teams) to scout for signs of oil and sewage spills or excessive run-off from storm drains. A typical patrol brings in plastic bags and chunks of Styrofoam. Then there are the larger hauls: strollers, life vests and shopping carts.

One day last month, Edwards fished out a doormat that he took home and placed on his Pacific Beach doorstep. Rather than wind up in a floating "garbage patch" or a landfill, the doormat got a second life.

"We have only so much access to nature in San Diego, and a lot of that's on the coast," Edwards says. "I think we should protect it."
sdcoastkeeper.org, surfridersd.org

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