Coastkeeper forum focuses on trash in ocean



More than 100 people came together at the Encinitas Library Community Room on June 2 for San Diego Coastkeeper’s Signs of the Tide, to talk about and learn about trash in the ocean.

In the face of Assembly Bill 1998, which would potentially ban free single-use plastic bags statewide, participants learned from researchers, government officials and environmentalists how trash gets into the ocean, the degree of the problem, and possible solutions.

“Signs of the Tide is a quarterly community event 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 plastic, which does 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.”

After a slideshow from panel moderator Loren Nancarrow, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Scientist Miriam Goldstein shared bits of information from her research expedition in August 2009. Aboard New Horizon, Goldstein and her team explored the problem of plastic in the North Pacific Gyre. Despite many claims otherwise, she said, the plastic problem in the ocean isn’t something one can see from satellites or airplanes. The real problem of plastics in the ocean is the collection of trash that breaks into small pieces, the majority of which are smaller than a pencil eraser.

Regional Water Quality Control Board Assistant Executive Officer Jimmy Smith followed Goldstein with a story of how trash that accumulates inland will eventually end up in San Diego Bay and the ocean. Through a slideshow, he showed litter such as chip bags, plastic grocery store bags, Styrofoam cups and soccer balls in a dry creek bed in Chollas Creek. His imagery then showed the massive creek that ensues when rains come and transport the discarded pieces into San Diego Bay and beyond.

The evening also included remarks from City of Santa Monica environmental analyst Josephine Miller, a representative from the city known for its progressive environmental policies. Miller shared insights into how she successfully brought the community together to support a ban against non-recyclable or compostable takeout products, including helping businesses save money by switching from Styrofoam products to paper products. Miller said, the businesses in Santa Monica couldn’t grasp the environmental impacts of the Styrofoam, but they understood how trash would negatively impact tourism, which economically affects business.

The final speaker, City of Encinitas Councilmember Teresa Barth, shared that in 1991 the city council approved 5-0 a resolution to ban Styrofoam. But without the political willpower the resolution fell out of the priority list, she says because “it takes a community to stay engaged and hold the city council accountable.”

The evening concluded with small group discussions in which participants discussed solutions for businesses, cities, media and individuals to help solve the problem of marine debris. And a call to action for participants to contact their state senate representative encouraging them to support state bill AB 1998, which will ban plastic bags and place a reasonable charge on paper bags to encourage consumers to use reusable bags.