ENCINITAS — As part of a weeklong series of environmental activities leading up to Environment Day, San Diego Coastkeeper hosted its quarterly Signs of the Tide public forum June 3 at the Encinitas Library. The star-studded panel presented a wealth of information to the packed house.
The presentations were followed by small group discussions regarding marine debris in the area, its impact on the ocean and what the city and community can do to help lessen the problem.
“Signs of the Tide are community events designed to educate, engage and empower participants in issues relating to the health of San Diego’s coastal waters,” said Coastkeeper Executive Director Bruce Reznik. “The majority of trash found in our ocean is made of plastics, which do not biodegrade and may take hundreds of years to sink or break up. Reducing marine debris is an important part of our mission to protect San Diego’s water and the health of the wildlife and people that depend on it.“
The panel consisted of Scripps Institution of Oceanography Scientist Miriam Goldstein, city of Santa Monica Environmental Analyst Josephine Miller, Encinitas Councilwoman Teresa Barth and Regional Water Quality Control Board Assistant Executive Officer Jimmy Smith. Each panelist gave a brief presentation that was moderated by environmental consultant and television personality Loren Nancarrow.
The former weatherman gave a firsthand account of his experience with the damage that marine debris can cause. Showing a photo of a baby seal wrapped in discarded fishing nets, Nancarrow said it was this particular encounter that shook him to his core.
“Fishing nets keep on fishing,” he said. “We live in a special place that’s worth maintaining.” Ultimately, the seal was freed from the tangled nets by a lifeguard.
In fact, Coastkeeper selected marine debris as its second topic to inform the community of the magnitude and impact of marine debris, discuss possible solutions and challenges to reducing waste and educate citizens on the various ways to resolve the issue.
All of the panelists agreed that reducing the point of entry was the most effective way to reduce marine debris. Goldstein, who worked on a project cataloging trash in the North Pacific Gyre — a large swath of ocean between the Hawaiian Islands and the Oregon coast — reported that 93 percent of all debris were smaller than a pencil eraser. “It makes the clean up process much more complicated when you have thousands of miles of tiny pieces of plastic,” she said.
Focusing on the regulatory aspect of preventing trash from reaching the ocean, Miller discussed the actions taken by the city of Santa Monica. In 2007, the City Council approved a ban on polystyrene nonrecyclable plastic disposable food service containers. “The businesses implemented this ban, not me,” Miller said.
Rather than being controversial, the ban proved to be a springboard for further action. In September of this year the council will consider a hotly debated proposal to ban single-use plastic bags. Encinitas passed a similar measure but is waiting to see the outcome of lawsuits against other municipalities with similar bans before implementing the measure.
Barth, known for her conservation efforts, said reducing waste makes economic sense. The city of Encinitas spent approximately $500,000 on trash and storm water cleanup in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. “This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the economical thing to do,” she said. “A city like Encinitas would rather spend half a million dollars on increasing the quality of life and services to the community.”
Smith cautioned that laws alone would not solve the problem of increasing marine debris. “No amount of regulation will fix the problem,” he told the crowd. “Really, it’s going to take all of us coming together.”