By: Sherry Lippiatt
California’s 1,100 miles of coastline feature an incredible diversity of habitats and marine life. From the coastal mountains that stretch from the Oregon border south to Santa Barbara to the iconic sunny beaches of southern California, there’s something here for everyone. Our mix of major metropolitan areas and vast stretches of remote shoreline also leads to a lot of variability in debris types and abundances. At one extreme, the infamous Los Angeles River trash boom can capture an astounding amount of consumer debris after a storm. On the other hand, an uninhabited beach in Pt. Reyes National Seashore sees a much lower abundance of debris over a large stretch of shoreline. This dichotomy speaks to the fact that we’re going to need to use a variety of tactics to address the issue – but first and foremost is preventing debris at the source.
Humans are the ultimate source of all debris, so it’s no surprise that we find the highest debris loads near cities, or river mouths running through densely-populated areas. The types of debris encountered on shorelines in urban areas are a reflection of the items we consume, particularly those made of (or packaged in) persistent materials. Everything runs downhill, so that plastic bag, water bottle, or cigarette butt that is nonchalantly tossed to the curb could end up somewhere in California’s network of more than 100 .
So what are we doing to protect our treasured coast from the impacts of our improperly-handled wastes? California’s active and engaged environmental community has built a lot of momentum and visibility on the issue of marine debris, and the government is responding. But how does a state with the ninth-largest gross domestic product in the world appease a forward-thinking, environmentally conscious constituency? This balance may be addressed directly in the forthcoming Statewide Policy for Trash Control (aka the “”), which will be the first of its kind in the nation. With a powerful combination of state and local initiatives, California continues to lead the nation in marine debris prevention and mitigation – another reason why I’m proud to be the MDP’s California Regional Coordinator!