By: Sherry Lippiatt, California Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program
Over the years of the NOAA Marine Debris Program, there have been many efforts around the country to rid our waters and shores of marine debris. As part of our ten-year anniversary celebration, let’s take a look back at one of those efforts in our California region.
Back in 2008, the Port of San Diego, with funding through the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant program, initiated a three-phase project to remove marine debris from a former anchorage site and surrounding shorelines. By 2013, over 447 metric tons of debris had been removed!
From the 1980s until October 2008, the A-8 was a free anchorage site in San Diego Harbor that could accommodate up to 150 vessels. 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. The eventual closure of the A-8 due to safety and environmental concerns created an opportunity for the Port to partner with NOAA to clean up the Bay. Over the course of the project, everything from vessels and other boat parts, to a bathtub, washing machine, and even the proverbial kitchen sink was removed. These large items were lifted off the seafloor by skilled divers with the assistance of a ship-based crane.
Since the closure of A-8 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.
Unfortunately, vessel debris isn’t the only (or even the primary) source of marine debris in San Diego Bay and there is still a lot out there. Following the completion of the A-8 cleanup, the Port has continued to engage the local community through “Operation Clean Sweep,” an annual shoreline cleanup effort that brings out over 1,000 volunteers each year. Since the program began in 1990, over 10,000 people have volunteered to help remove hundreds of thousands of pounds of debris from sites around the bay.