By: Sherry Lippiatt
We’re all familiar with the saying “everything but the kitchen sink.” Well, at an old vessel anchorage site in the middle of San Diego Bay, where the Port of San Diego is wrapping up a major marine debris removal project, they’re going to have to get a little bit more creative. Since 2008, the Port has pulled out of the water everything from entire vessels and other boat parts to a bathtub, washing machine, and yes, even the proverbial kitchen sink.
From the 1980s until October 2008, A-8 was a free anchorage site in San Diego Harbor that accommodated up to 150 vessels (see the map). Over time, the combined forces of inclement weather, improper maintenance, and general human neglect led to a number of sunken vessels and the loss of other debris. Even so, the Port continues to be surprised by the sheer amount and types of debris that they’ve found here.
Through our Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant program, the NOAA Marine Debris Program provided funding for the first two phases of the San Diego Bay project in 2008 and 2010, where nearly 340 metric tons of debris were removed from the A-8 site and surrounding shorelines. A 2011 side scan sonar survey of the area showed that a significant number of large debris items remained scattered in a 350 acre area surrounding the old A-8 Anchorage. In 2012, the MDP awarded additional funding for the third and final phase of the project.
This summer, the Port enlisted a local Vessel Assist crew to use their boat, equipped with a winch, a mechanical chain hauling device, and professional divers to pull the remaining large debris items up to the surface. The project recently concluded, having exceeded the expected removal of a total of nearly 1,000 items and at least 11 vessels. In addition to the A-8 Anchorage cleanup, the Port does an amazing job of engaging the local community through “Operation Clean Sweep,” an annual shoreline cleanup effort that brings out over 1,000 volunteers each year.
Since the closure of A-8 anchorage and the beginning of the project in 2008, the Port has seen a decrease in debris found in the bay’s salt marsh and eelgrass beds. Less debris on shorelines and beneath the water’s surface doesn’t only lead to a more picturesque bay, but it has a direct benefit to endangered species like the California Least Tern, Western Snowy Plover, and Eastern Pacific green sea turtles that rely on these habitats for nesting and foraging.
Hats off to the Port of San Diego and all other project partners on a job well done in cleaning up the A-8, and a big thank-you to Eileen Maher with the Port’s Environmental and Land Use Management Department and the Vessel Assist crew for hosting me during a recent visit!