Sex on the Beach Gets Cleaner Each Year

    Beach conservationists, of all environment-oriented groups, have perhaps the easiest time raising awareness for their cause. Theirs is a fight for a natural resource that everyone loves and enjoys, is a central source of entertainment and which has become a state icon. A threat to the health of the beach is easy to parlay into a threat to everyone, and as such it is a favorite cause of politicians and environmental groups alike. Sewage dumps, untreated water runoff and beachgoers themselves are all cited as a constant threat to the sanitation of the sea and shore. The state of our beaches, we are told, is perilous and usually getting worse. However, recent beach reports from nonprofit organization Heal the Bay argue that, at least in San Diego, conditions are a lot cleaner than some would have thought.

    Arash Keshmirian/Guardian
    Despite drinking regulations, beer cans are among the most common trash items left on beaches like Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

    One of the most prominent politicians in San Diego’s beach conservation movement is city councilmember Donna Frye, who has been rallying for cleaner water since the mid-’90s. Since the beginning of her campaign for cleaner beaches, the waters of San Diego have experienced a sanitation revolution. In an article published in the July 2006 edition of National Geographic, “Loving Our Coasts to Death,” Frye explained her inspiration to become the vanguard of San Diego’s beaches. “I did some research and found out nearly all the popular surf spots were in front of storm drains or river mouths,” she said.

    Due to the untreated water coming from these drains, the levels of bacteria in popular surf spots were once much higher than state regulations allow. According to National Geographic, “[Frye found] total coliform bacteria counts — which should be below 1,000 organisms per 100 milliliters of water for safe swimming — as high as 1.6 million organisms; counts of sewage-loving fecal coliform — which should be below 200 organisms for safe swimming — as high as 240,000.” It is important to note that the statistics provided by National Geographic fail to name the locations tested or which locations were breaking regulation.

    Coliforms, which are bacteria found in the digestive tract of warm-blooded animals, usually do not pose a threat to humans by themselves. Rather, they are an indicator of the presence of other bacteria that cause typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis A and cholera. The most common strain of coliform, E. Coli, has been causing problems in fast food restaurants across the United States for years.

    Conservation organizations exist to remind us that areas like beaches need preservation and protection. What’s easy to forget is how well these organizations may be doing their job. Heal the Bay, a nonprofit organization aimed at monitoring and rehabilitating unsanitary beaches, affirmed the sanitation of popular San Diego beaches in its 2006 report.

    Heal the Bay began in 1985 when a group of people joined together to fight for the sanitation of the Santa Monica Bay. Since then, it has grown into a nonprofit watchdog that grades Southern California beaches on water-quality. The organization works in conjunction with local government agencies, including the County of San Diego Department of Environmental Health and the City of San Diego, to monitor the levels of contaminants in local waterways. According to the Heal the Bay’s Annual Beach Report Card for 2006, San Diego is passing with flying colors.

    Those who traverse the cliffs of Black’s Beach or fight for a fire pit at La Jolla Shores aren’t likely to spend a lot of time worrying about bacteria levels in the harmless-looking waters. With its isolated location, the only source of fecal coliform for Black’s Beach would have to be the houses on the cliffs dumping chamber pots directly into the water, or free-range nudists squatting in the surf. La Jolla Shores and its hordes of affluent denizens would seem the more likely target for beach conservationism.

    When it issued the annual report in May, the lowest ranking locations were the Tijuana River Slough and parts of Mission Bay, which all received Fs. The local beaches, Black’s Beach and La Jolla Shores, received an A and an A+, respectively. Even the notoriously filthy Pacific Beach Pier received a C, up from last year’s F. As of Sept. 8, when Heal the Bay conducted its most recent Weekly Report Card, La Jolla Shores, Black’s Beach and Pacific Beach all had As. Overall, San Diego beaches surpassed those of Orange County and Los Angeles for water quality.

    While San Diego and its competing cities have experienced slumps in their tourism in past years, the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau projects growth in cruise and hotel sectors for 2006. There is no doubt that the life and sanitation of San Diego’s beaches correlates directly with the life of its tourism industry and it is in the region’s best interest to pay attention to them. Like it or not, they are the one resource that most directly affects San Diego’s future.

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