UCSD faculty and staff keep the beach clean

    Visualize 4,000 pounds of cigarette butts, empty bags of chips and beer cans — the morning after from hell. Now imagine this stuff in the sand of your favorite beach or floating through your favorite surf spot, and you can understand why students, faculty and staff from UCSD pitched in on Sept. 21 at the International Coastal Cleanup.

    “”Plastics, Styrofoam and cigarette butts are usually the No. 1 pollutant on beaches,”” according to the San Diego Baykeeper on its Web site. The San Diego Baykeeper is a nonprofit organization that works toward the protection of California’s beaches.

    “”Scientists estimate that entanglement or ingestion of plastic kills one million sea birds and over 100,000 marine mammals (whales, seals and dolphins) annually,”” the Web site explains.

    To help solve this problem, a team of UCSD students, faculty and staff combed La Jolla Shores for litter as part of “”Hands-On San Diego,”” a one-day volunteer challenge. A second team of divers from UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography looked for trash in the underwater canyon near La Jolla Shores.

    “”Much of the pollution comes from storm drains that carry urban runoff from land to receiving waters,”” said the San Diego Baykeeper’s Web site. Most of the trash found on Saturday was originally discarded on highways, city streets or beaches, and was then carried to the ocean by runoff during storms or lifted directly off the beach by the rising tide.

    While the great majority of litter picked up at the coastal cleanup comes from land, abandoned fishing lines and nets are also a significant problem in the ocean, where they can continue to catch fish and entangle other animals for years after they have been discarded. Since plastic in the ocean does not break down for many years, some ships at sea sort plastic out from the food scraps they dump overboard.

    Once trash reaches the coast, it can be a serious hazard to marine animals that swallow or become entangled in plastic debris. A plastic bag floating in the water can look a lot like a jellyfish, the favorite food of sea turtles and marine mammals. Seabirds also eat cigarette butts accidentally, mistaking them for food.

    This year’s International Coastal Cleanup involved cities throughout California, the United States and over 100 countries around the world. In 1993, the coastal cleanup earned a place in the “”Guinness Book of World Records”” as the largest garbage collection ever. The first official cleanup was organized in Oregon in 1984, followed by similar events in California and Texas, and national cleanups have continued with sponsorship from the Ocean Conservancy. UCSD has been involved several times through Committee for Human and Public Services, the student organization for community service at Scripps Oceanography.

    Students from C.H.I.P.S. joined other San Diego divers to search for garbage in the dimly lit depths of La Jolla Canyon. Sand, water and trash from the north are carried by currents down the coast into the canyon, creating a dynamic underwater beach that is also a good place to look for garbage.

    Yueng-Djern Lenn and Liz Douglass, both graduate students in oceanography, won a free diving trip for retrieving the largest piece of trash: an old T-shirt.

    Divers also retrieved various disposable food wrappers, one of the most common items found in previous underwater cleanups around the country.

    On land, Jeff Severinghaus, Guillaume Mauger and numerous other members of the UCSD community picked up trash on La Jolla Shores Beach, including north and south of Scripps Pier. The kind of garbage found most frequently by beach cleanups internationally is cigarettes, followed closely by wrappers and disposable packaging for food of all kinds. Bottles and cans, plastic straws, drink tops, forks and spoons, and every other item imaginable have been left on California’s streets and beaches. Last year’s award for most unusual item in California went to a volunteer who found an abandoned Barbie doll, complete with a string bikini and a foam raft.

    The ocean is impacted by many human activities, from overfishing to global climate change. However, the problem that people most often notice is the appearance of a dirty beach. This may explain why pollution was consistently named as the No. 1 problem affecting the ocean in a 2002 survey conducted by Edge Research/SeaWeb in California and the nation as a whole.

    Another problem with ocean health is beach pollution. In the same way it carries litter to the ocean, rain washes excess oil from cars, fertilizers and pesticides from lawns, and dog droppings from sidewalks — all into the ocean.

    Many surfers are aware of this problem and intentionally avoid swimming immediately after rain. The Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force trains volunteers to check water at their neighborhood beaches for contamination. This information is then posted on the Web to alert surfers about the presence of polluted water. This kind of pollution is called a nonpoint source pollution because it comes from many small human activities rather than a single oil spill or sewage outfall.

    Beach closures have been a regular occurrence in Long Beach and Huntington Beach in recent years, often because of nonpoint source pollution after storms.

    While it may seem that cleaning up after your pet or properly disposing of motor oil doesn’t matter that much, it makes a big mess when you multiply these actions by 1.25 million, the number of people in San Diego. In Southern California, pollution enters the ocean in highly concentrated bursts because it rains so infrequently. When it does rain, runoff carrying garbage into the ocean is accelerated because most of the city is paved with concrete.

    Beach cleanups are an easy way to help out, pick up trash, and hang out with your friends in the sun. If you missed the International Coastal Cleanup, look for the next cleanup at your local beach. More importantly, keep track of your own trash whether you’re in the city or at the beach.

    Future cleanups at your favorite beach can be found through C.H.I.P.S. (siochips.ucsd.edu,) I Love a Clean San Diego (http://www.ilacsd.org,) the San Diego Baykeeper (www.sdbaykeeper.org,) or the Surfrider Foudation (http://www.surfridersd.org).

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