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The Blue 42

A north to south survey of some of the many people, nonprofits and projects helping keep OC's beaches and bays blue.

Mussels along the OC coast

OC's BLUE 42
Educate yourself about issues affecting
the world's oceans, lessen your impact
on the marine environment and consider
joining any of the groups noted in this
story to help out. To quote from Dr.
Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares
a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to
get better. It's not."

Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy relaxing in a warm bathtub. Stingrays are also fond of warmer waters – the kind found at the mouth of the San Gabriel River in Seal Beach. Known as STINGRAY BAY (Ray Bay by locals), the beach’s number of ray stings in 2008 made up a third of the nation’s total at nearly 500. But it’s not just the warmer summer weather that causes the water to heat up. Upstream power plants dump warm water into the ocean, which increases the temperature and makes a perfect breeding environment for stingrays in the summer. Years with small surf also contribute to high stingray populations since the rays prefer calm water. The solution? Unfortunately, there’s not much to be done. Efforts at curbing the stingray population have ranged from physical removal and relocation to clipping the stinging barb (it’s painless for the ray, but it grows back almost immediately, like a fingernail). For now, learn how to dance – the stingray shuffle, that is.

High tides slam the Seal Beach Pier. These “king tides” are suspected to be the result of global warming, which is causing ocean water levels to rise. It’s predicted that by the end of the century, sea levels will rise by two to six feet, causing increased flooding and property damage. ORANGE COUNTY COASTKEEPER, an organization that works to safeguard the county’s waters, has enlisted OC residents to take pictures of the dramatic tides in order to get the public thinking about the effects of rising waters, and the future of the coast if global warming continues.

The last major oceanfront parcel in the county is now ready for development. BAY CITY PARTNERS, the owners of the 10.7-acre riverfront tract of land in Seal Beach’s Old Town, recently got approval from the city council to develop the land, which will include 4.5 acres of residential development and 6.4 acres of open space. Those in opposition to the development complain that the agreement called for 70% open space. Currently, only 60% is designated for open space.

National defense and environmental sustainability go hand in hand at the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach Environmental SUSTAINABILITY AND WELLNESS FAIR. The Seal Beach installation recently won both the Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the Navy's award for Environmental Sustainability (Industrial Installations) for outstanding performance in promoting environmental stewardship.

There are few things worse than arriving at the beach with a car full of beach gear and your family in tow only to find out that it’s closed due to high bacteria levels or dangerous pollution. The OCEAN WATER PROTECTION PROGRAM avoids all that with its coastal map showing all of OC’s beaches and their current water quality status.

Get inspired. That’s what NANCY CARUSO wants you to do. As founder of the organization Get Inspired Inc., Caruso, a marine biologist with a passion for restoring kelp forests along our coast, has made a career out of teaching kids the importance of kelp. Kelp forests are one of the most important and dynamic ecosystems on earth, and they have been decimated along our coast due to marine pollution and poor water quality. Through Caruso’s Ocean Restoration Project, 5,000 high school students have been taught how to grow kelp in their classrooms, which are then planted in areas of the ocean that have been barren for more than 25 years. Get Inspired takes it one step further. After restoring a kelp forest, the students are taught to raise marine life in their classrooms to inhabit the kelp forest, in effect completing the ecosystem. Recent restoration projects have been carried out in conjunction with Huntington Beach High School and include growing green abalone, a native endangered species, and white sea bass. It’s the only project of its kind in the world.

It’s one of Huntington Beach’s most recognizable structures, and not a pretty one at that. It’s the behemoth HUNTINGTON BEACH GENERATING STATION on PCH, and the State Water Board is cracking down on it and all other 19 coastal power plants in California. While the deadlines for making technological updates to the power plants are years away (San Onofre’s plant has until 2022), the new rules prohibit the plants from using ocean water as a cooling system and force them to switch to using cooling towers erected on land. While the power plant operators say that these towers are not feasible and prefer environmental mitigation as a solution, the state has resisted, noting that the billions of gallons of seawater pulled in each day to condense steam contains all forms of marine life, from fish eggs to sea lions, that are destroyed in the process.

Water regulators recently approved a permit for a HB facility to turn seawater into drinking water. Poseidon Resources is proposing to build the DESALINTATION PLANT next to the aforementioned power plant at the foot of Newland Blvd. on a 12-acre site. Concerns from Surfrider Foundation include destruction of the local marine habitat and the fact that the plant is extremely energy-demanding – more so than potential alternative sources of freshwater supply.

Three county beaches received a five-star rating from the Natural Resources Defense Council's latest yearly ranking. Those cited for their excellence were BOLSA CHICA STATE BEACH, HUNTINGTON STATE BEACH and 38TH STREET and 52ND STREET/53RD STREET in Newport Beach.

Gene Rascon, owner of the online gallery Surf City Art Co., represents many of the leading surf artists and photographers, including Robb Havassy, Nathan Gibbs, Sean Davey, Tony Ludovico, Ron Croci, Flick Ford, and Jay Alders. Rascon looks for artists who “celebrate the beauty of nature and are able to express the wonder of our global water resources and colorful sea life.” The stunning visuals created by these artists not only help to generate awareness of the environment, but also raise money for ocean-related causes. SURF CITY ART CO. donates a portion of its proceeds from the artists’ works to the Surfrider Foundation and other environmental groups. And the artists themselves have donated their artworks for fundraising events.

In more news about stunning artistic visuals, Gene Rascon is also the West Coast director for PANGEASEED, a nonprofit grassroots organization from Japan that uses art, media, design, and photography to raise awareness about the decimation of sharks through sharkfinning, overfishing, cetacean hunting, and plastic pollution. Learn more about PangeaSeed at the organization's Great West Coast Migration Art Tour and Film Festival that will be showing August 10-12 at The ARTery at The LAB and The Treehouse @ The CAMP in Costa Mesa. All proceeds benefit PangeaSeed's West Coast chapter, based in Huntington Beach. The outstanding Beneath the Waves film festival at the The Treehouse @ The CAMP features exceptional films related to ocean conservation, including Sink or Swim, which was recognized in Tokyo as a standout of 25 films selected.

It took 30 years and countless hours of work by environmentalists and local residents, but the BOLSA CHICA WETLANDS RESTORATION PROJECT of 600 acres has been a success, preserving an area that includes more than 8,000 native plants.

Speaking of preserving the Bolsa Chica wetlands, the 200 SPECIES OF BIRDS that live, breed and next in the area have been proliferating due to the wetlands restoration project. Notable species include the Great Blue Heron, the Great Egret, the Black-necked Stilt, and the Caspian Tern.

Newport Area
When we think of the OC coast most of us divide it up by city (Huntington Beach, Newport, Laguna, etc.), while others break it up by beach or surf break (Trestles, Brooks St., the Jetties). But when it comes to scientists and politicians dealing with pollution and water quality, it’s all about THE WATERSHEDS. OC has 11 of them, each an area of land, large or small, where the water on or under it all flows into a river, stream or bay, and from there to the sea. Think of the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. Rain falling on one side of the divide flows to the Pacific; on the other side it finds its way into the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico. So it is with the SoCal’s mountains, ridges and valleys.

SAN GABRIEL and SANTA ANA RIVERS  drain huge watersheds that reach well beyond the county borders to the San Bernardino Mountains before hitting the shore at Seal Beach and Newport Beach. Both Big Bear Lake and Lake Elsinore empty into the Santa Ana River eventually, which gives you an idea of how big it is at 2,650 square miles.

ALISO CREEK and SAN JUAN CREEK, though smaller watersheds, drain surprisingly large swaths of land, gathering pollutants as they flow. Pretty much anything that hits the streets, lawns and parking lots (pet waste, fertilizer, oil leaks and litter) in hundreds of towns and thousands of subdivisions finds its way into the rivers and streams that empty into OC’s Blue 42. Other watersheds include Anaheim and Newport Bays, coastal streams in Dana Point, San Clemente, Newport and Laguna Beach and San Mateo Creek, which hits the sea at San Onofre State Beach.

Another geographic designation that ocean scientists and cartographers are fond of is the SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA BIGHT, which is the curve in the coastline (and the ocean and islands within it) between Point Conception and the area near Ensenada. The Bight’s bend in from north and south is what messes up the “west is toward the ocean” thing around these parts. The subtropical and subarctic currents mix and mingle here, creating a unique biological zone that supports some 500 marine fish and 5,000 invertebrate species. And OC’s Blue 42 is right in the middle of it all.

It’s clever, really. COPPER PAINT is applied to the bottom of boats and the copper leaches into the water, keeping barnacles and algae off. The only problem is that the stuff is also toxic to fish. It’s a major problem in Newport Harbor, with the EPA estimating 50,000 pounds of copper leaching into the bay and settling in the sediment each year. Newport Beach officials are working with Coastkeeper on an incentive and education program to encourage boaters to switch to non-toxic paints that also help keep barnacles off. So far, not so good. Only a few boaters have switched over, so look for future regulation to force the marine industry's hand in the harbor.

Shark Camp! Sounds cool, right? It’s just one of the programs offered at THE BACK BAY SCIENCE CENTER, which is located on Shellmaker Island in Newport Beach (behind The Dunes and just off of the bike path). The camp is one Saturday per month in the summer and offers a look at the world of sharks for kids ages seven to 15. Another program at the Center, which is the result of a partnership between the California Department of Fish and Game, Newport Beach, UCI, and the OC Health Care Agency, is the Marine Life Inventory. Volunteer adults and students get together monthly to monitor the marine life of the Back Bay. All events at the Center are by registration only. There are no walk-up opportunities, alas.

One of the most active nonprofits up and down the OC coast is MIOCEAN. Started by pragmatic CEOs, engineers, real estate developers and other can-do types, the group focuses primarily on water quality projects where the urban runoff meets the sea, including proposals to clean up many of the the county’s dirtiest beaches – and others that used to be before MiOcean stepped in. From diverting water into the sewer systems for cleaning at STRANDS BEACH in Dana Point and NORTH CREEK at Doheny, to helping install a high-tech Ozone Treatment Plant at Monarch Beach and Salt Creek, MiOcean picks projects to support where technical expertise, business acumen, political connections and financial support can make a difference relatively quickly.

One of MiOcean chairman Pat Fuscoe’s favorite projects is the SANTA ANA RIVER TREATMENT WETLANDS, the first phase of which redirects 50,000 gallons of polluted runoff a day to a 17-acre wetland in Costa Mesa where natural forces will help clean it before it flows into the sea. “It’s not a costly thing to run,” Fuscoe says of the system that uses natural filtration and the power of the sun to break down pollutants. “And it’s sustainable.” Once all phases are complete, the system will treat as much as one million gallons of urban runoff daily, protecting beaches in and around Newport Beach, including the Jetties, a favorite break for surfers like Fuscoe.

Releasing the rivers and streams from their concrete confines is one idea. If residents feel more connected to the creeks and causeways that carry crud into OC’s sea, it’s more likely they’ll realize that what they toss out the car window or drop in the gutter eventually makes it to the ocean. URBAN RIVER RENEWAL helps people feel connected to the waterways and to treat them as an amenity, not just a concrete gully behind a chain link fence. The bottom line is people realizing that what they do affects the river and in turn affects the ocean.

But education takes time, and the results aren’t easy to measure. So stopping trash before it hits the coast (especially during storm runoff) is the job of the TRASH BOOM. Storm channels in OC already have inflatable rubber dams to stop water during low flows and to pump water to sewer systems for treatment. Trash booms are used to block, collect and remove trash and debris from the mouth of a river, and MiOcean and local governments are looking at putting them in place along key OC river mouths.

CDM/Crystal Cove
Back in the heyday of the environmental movement, California designated 34 places up and down the coast as AREAS OF SPECIAL BIOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE (ASBS). There are three in OC: a short stretch of CdM’s coast around Little Corona Beach that’s officially designated as the Robert E. Badham ASBS; Irvine Coast between Cameo Shores and Abalone Point, including Crystal Cove and El Moro; and Laguna’s Heisler Park. These are the jewels of our coastal environment, supporting an unusual array of aquatic life. But all intertidal zones are susceptible to pollution and coastal development, especially these; so back in the ’70s the State Water Board’s Ocean Plan provided a simple solution: no polluted waste allowed in the water. Zero, nada. Only one problem – it wasn’t enforced.

OK, so nothing in government and environmental law is that simple. Exceptions can be made. Non-point source pollution (run off, etc.) is to be controlled to the “extent practicable.” But nothing much was done until 2000, when OC Coastkeeper took on The Irvine Company, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Laguna Beach Unified School District, and the California Department of Transportation over discharges into Crystal Cove. There was a CEASE AND DESIST, there was a state-wide survey of all the ASBS sites finding some 1,654 violations. Bottom line: attention was paid, and changes were made. Today Pelican Hill resorts, golf courses and other projects are a model of environmental stewardship and public/private/nonprofit cooperation and creativity helping protect Crystal Cove.

We eat them steamed with white wine, onion and garlic. We try not to step on them when we’re exploring tide pools. Some use them for bait when they fish off of the piers and rocks, where still allowed. But who knew that our coastal MUSSEL Mytilus californianus is also a bit of a canary in the coalmine when it comes to ocean water quality? They filter water to feed, so bacteria, viruses and neurotoxins accumulate in their flesh. From 1977-2003, the State Mussel Watch Program sampled mussels and clams from up and down the California coast to detect and evaluate toxic substances in marine waters. One of the sampling locations was in Corona del Mar. More recently, UCI scientist SUNNY JIANG tested mussels gathered near Buck Gully and Little Corona beach in part to see how runoff into the biologically significant area was affecting water quality. Her results were positive – in a good way – finding little evidence of viruses and toxins.

ASBS funds are helping Newport Beach with the wetlands restoration in Corona del Mar’s coastal canyon known as BUCK GULLY. The canyon was significantly affected when Newport Coast and Pelican Hill were built, affecting erosion and the urban runoff that flows into the ocean at Little Corona beach. The city has worked to control erosion, as anyone who hikes on the cool little trail in the canyon can see, and restored a freshwater, riparian wetland in lower Buck Gully to restore habitat, remove invasive vegetation and naturally treat flows and groundwater.

We all know that CRYSTAL COVE ALLIANCE is part of a unique, public-private, non-profit partnership in the state park working to restore the historic cottages, with proceeds from rentals of the quaint cottages going to support the Park. Fewer know about Cottage #22 at Crystal Cove State Park, which is a working ocean research lab for use by researchers conducting approved projects within the Park. The Park and Marine Research Facility has been restored and renovated for modern scientific research, while simultaneously preserving the structure, design and look of the historic cottage. Fans of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row can picture marine biologist Ed Ricketts working away in the lab.

One group that makes amazing use of the Crystal Cove’s Cottage #22 is Orange Coast College’s COASTAL DOLPHIN SURVEY PROJECT. Started in 1978, the project has used student volunteers over the years to study the population dynamics, biology, and ecology of the coastal bottlenose dolphin population of Orange County. The OCC professor in charge, Dennis Kelly, was the first scientist to see a bottlenose dolphin born in the wild, describing birthing circles where dolphins surround a female as she gives birth. These birthing circles take place in Three Arch Bay and Crystal Cove, which is one of the best spots to spot dolphins in OC.

Laguna Beach
Some coastal problems and projects involve hard science, lots of acronyms and so many governmental agencies that it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around. But the work of the PACIFIC MARINE MAMMAL CENTER is sublime simplicity: they rescue injured and ill sea lions and seals, rehabilitate them and nurture them back to health at their Laguna Canyon facility, and then release them back into the wild. Visit the Center to see (and learn more about) the recovering patients.

31. BAG IT
Coastal cities like Laguna and Dana Point are banning plastic bags, but the large mass of INLAND DEBRIS AND LITTER that ends up in the sea and on the beach consists of less conspicuous stuff. Cigarette butts, plastic bottle tops and chip bags are among the most common castaways. And educating inlanders to cut the crap that hits the beach is a challenge. Those of us of a certain age remember the anti-littering PSA’s from the ’70s, especially the crying Native American on the trashy highway. It’s an ongoing process to raise the eco awareness of the young and of new residents who may not have a culture of conservation.

Leave it better than you found it is the mantra of outdoor adventurers who not only pick up after themselves, but after others as well. Our rule is you don’t leave the beach without Styrofoam or cans in hand. Brigades of citizens cleaning up streets and shore is what COASTAL CLEANUP DAY is all about. On the third Saturday each September (September 15, 2012), a clean team of 80,000 people hits California's beaches and other waterways to pick up after all of us. It’s the largest volunteer event in California and is a part of the International Coastal Cleanup, which takes place in 100 countries and 42 U.S. states.

Once a year not enough for you? Then join the ZEROTRASH teams on the first Saturday of every month to clean up in Laguna Beach, Dana Point and Newport Beach. They’ll provide the bags and gloves, local merchants supply food and drink, and you bring the muscle and motivation. Or commit to keeping a single beach clean all year through the California Coastal Commission’s ADOPT A BEACH program.

With large-format films like The Living Sea, Dolphins and Coral Reef Adventure, Greg MacGillivray and his team at Laguna’s MacGillivray Freeman Films in Laguna Beach have done more to reveal the wonders of the sea than anyone since Jacques Cousteau. Now, through the ONE WORLD, ONE OCEAN nonprofit project, the MacGillivrays are doing more. Starting with a $10 million donation of their own, the filmmaking family is embarking on a 20-year, $100 million media campaign (from IMAX to smart phones) to bring attention to the crisis facing the ocean, and thus the world and everyone on it. The goal is simple in its message and awesome in its scope: create greater global awareness of the ocean’s importance to society and drive massive social change aimed at restoring a healthy world ocean.

Dana Point
The first large whale many kids ever see is on a Whaling Wall painted by Laguna Beach artist Wyland. When he was 25, WYLAND promised to paint 100 murals around the world for free, educating about the ocean and marine mammals as he went. He fulfilled his promise in 2008 at the Olympics in Beijing, as 7,000 kids from 110 countries joined him to celebrate his 100th Whaling Wall.

Perhaps the most contentious coastal issue of the past year has been the establishment of “no take” zones that outlaw fishing, lobstering, hunting and gathering of any marine creatures within the new LAGUNA BEACH STATE MARINE RESERVE. Instituted by the Department of Fish and Game, the rules for commercial and recreational fishing are simple and succinct: Allowed Species: None. Prohibited Species: All. The Laguna reserve stretches from Irvine Cove to the beach below Montage Resort. Many are outraged by the restrictions. Livelihoods and businesses are at stake, some say. But in other state reserves, large fish and extensive marine life has returned surprisingly quickly.

As with all regulations on human activities, compliance is directly related to vigilant enforcement and the severity of sanctions. A lobster poacher caught soon after the reserve was established was fined $20,000 and sentenced to seven days in jail. The problem is there aren’t enough Fish and Game Wardens to patrol the reserve or the Marine Conservation Areas nearby. So OC Coastkeeper, along with local and state governments, the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition and the Ambassadors of the Environment Program at the Ritz Carlton, are organizing a VOLUNTEER WATCH PROGRAM to “monitor all human uses in and around the seven Orange County MPAs,” including resting and games, running, walking, fishing, swimming, surfing, boating, diving, and interacting with local tide pools, according to Coastkeeper’s website. "All human uses" seems a bit overbroad. How about focusing on illegal fishing to start?

Speaking of watchdogs, the LAGUNA OCEAN FOUNDATION provides training and funding for tidepool docents to monitor and educate the public at Treasure Island, Heisler Park and Crescent Bay. You see them at low tide especially, telling kids and others not to touch and to tread lightly on the delicate creatures of our intertidal zone. And it works. Anecdotal reports reveal that tidepools long bereft of sea life are teeming once again.

OC’s surf fashion industry is a huge influence on global youth culture, and so can also inspire love and respect for the ocean. Plus, there’s lots of money to be made in bikinis and boardshorts. The industry’s trade organization, SIMA, helps give back at the annual Waterman’s Ball, held this year at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel on August 11. The evening will honor JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU as Environmentalist of the Year, and revolutionary wave forecaster, the much-missed SEAN COLLINS, with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

And South County
Recipients of grants at the 2012 WATERMAN'S BALL who do work in OC include the Ocean Institute, Orange County CoastKeeper, Heal the Bay, Reef Check, and Surfrider Foundation.

San Clemente’s SURFRIDER FOUNDATION is involved as always with crucial issues to its constituency, including ensuring access to Strands Beach, opposing a seawall plan below Niguel Shores that the Coastal Commission recently rejected and monitoring issues in on the OC/SD coastal border, including problems at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and (as always) the 241 Tollroad.

Jacques Cousteau said, “People protect what they love.” Teaching kids about the ocean in the hopes they’ll fall in love with it is one of the goals of Dana Point’s OCEAN INSTITUTE. From excursions on Tall Ships to hands-on experiments in the stunningly beautiful facility’s marine labs, some 115,000 kids and 8,000 teachers learn about ocean facts, sea creatures, oceanography and history each year. Yes, each year! It’s one of OC’s true treasures.

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