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Cleaning up the A-8 in San Diego Bay: A Look Back

By: Sherry Lippiatt, California Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.


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.

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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.

Check out the original blog post on this effort and read more about this project on our website and on the Marine Debris Clearinghouse, including updates on the project from 2009 and 2012.

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Preventing Marine Debris in California

California isn’t only the site of innovative marine debris removal projects, but is also where some really interesting and creative prevention projects are taking place! Here are two new projects that the NOAA Marine Debris Program is proud to be a part of:

ReThink Disposable is a project by the Clean Water Fund that works to combat the use of single-use items in restaurants. This project works directly with restaurants to help them make the transition to reusable items, reducing their waste and saving them money over time. Educational materials are also provided and displayed in order to educate customers and encourage them to make choices to reduce their contribution to marine debris. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Similarly, EarthTeam’s Zero Litter project works to prevent marine debris through youth service learning in San Francisco Bay Area communities. By engaging high school students in marine debris internships, not only are the students empowered to become leaders in such a movement, but other students and the community are also engaged and educated. In addition, the interns take part in shoreline cleanups and monitoring, lead community events and presentations, and disseminate all of their work to the public via blog posts. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

There is a lot of cool stuff going on in our California region! Keep your eyes on our blog this week for more!

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Fishermen Take the Lead in California Removal Efforts

Marine debris is a pervasive problem and unfortunately, our golden state on the west coast is not immune. However, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) is supporting some innovative projects that are actively addressing this problem. To give you a cool example, California is the site of a nifty marine debris removal project that started last summer.

Led by the SeaDoc Society at the University of California, Davis and working with area fishermen, this project in Northern and Central California is working to fight a big debris problem: derelict crab traps. Derelict traps can cause all kinds of problems for marine life, recreational boaters, and for fishermen. Apart from losing expensive traps, the fishery suffers as derelict traps continue to capture crabs that could otherwise be caught by an active fisherman (a concept known as ghost fishing). To address this problem, commercial fishermen are going out during the closed crabbing season to recover lost pots.

A boat full of derelict crab traps collected by commercial fishermen.

The F/V Maureen full of derelict crab traps collected by commercial fishermen, including boat owner Bob Maharry . (Photo Credit: The SeaDoc Society)

These fishermen are collecting over 750 derelict crab pots, effectively restoring over 8,000 square feet of seafloor habitat, and then doing something pretty cool with them: selling them back. The fishermen sell the pots they recover back to the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association (HFMA), who then sells them to their original owner at a fleet-agreed price per trap. The proceeds are what fund the project the following year.

This project is building off a past effort supported by the MDP and its goal is to become self-sustaining so that it can continue as long as it’s needed. For more on this project, check out the project profile on our website.

Keep your eyes on our blog for more on our California region this week!

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California Fights Marine Debris With New Storm Water Regulations

By: Sherry Lippiatt, California Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Plastic marine debris on a beach.

Trash spouted out of a storm drain and onto a local beach in California. (Photo Credit: NOAA)


As we previously explored in this blog post, California’s coasts are consistently plagued with marine debris, so the state’s active and engaged environmental community has been working to build momentum and visibility on the issue. Recently, there has been response to this problem in the form on a new Trash Policy.

Curious about the buzz over this recently EPA-approved Trash Policy (aka Trash Amendments) in California? Check out this recent post from our partners at the California Coastal Commission for a non-wonky history of trash reduction policies in the state and what these new storm water regulations will do to reduce marine debris. Get the full story from the California State Water Resources Control Board here.

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Tijuana River Action Month Inspires Binational Cleanup Efforts

By: Cara Stafford, Guest Blogger and Stewardship Coordinator at Tijuana River NERR

From September 12th through October 17th, a total of 3,898 volunteers spent their Saturday mornings removing 85,609 pounds of debris and 284 tires from canyons, creek beds, and beaches in the western portion of the Tijuana River Watershed. This effort was part of the sixth annual Tijuana River Action Month (TRAM), a series of volunteer-driven education and stewardship events held each fall. The TRAM aims to mobilize community volunteers and groups on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border to become stewards of the Tijuana River Watershed, as well as to recognize key efforts and investments by public and private agencies, businesses, non-profits and community groups to protect and restore the Tijuana River. This initiative is organized by the Tijuana River Action Network.

Last year, the Southwest Wetlands Interpretive Association (SWIA), in association with the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (Tijuana River NERR), was awarded funding through the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s (MDP) Community-based Marine Debris Removal Grant competition to support binational cleanups through an expansion of Tijuana River Action Month, as well as further outreach and restoration. These efforts aim to capture and remove land-based debris from canyons and riparian habitats (along the banks of the river) within the Tijuana River Watershed before it enters the sensitive habitats of the Tijuana Estuary and Pacific Ocean. It also aims to prevent future debris inundations by implementing improved debris capture infrastructure, performing outreach with schools in Tijuana, and engaging Mexican NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and waste industry companies in Tijuana River Action Month cleanups.

For more on cleanup efforts in the Tijuana River NERR, check out the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s website.

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California’s “First Flush”

By: Sherry Lippiatt, California Regional Coordinator for the NOAA Marine Debris Program

Marine debris along the California coast. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

Marine debris along the California coast. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

Some parts of Southern California have already had record rainfalls this wet season, thanks to storms that moved through in mid-September. The state desperately needs the rain, but not the marine debris that comes with it. Major rainstorms inevitably lead to runoff, which can mobilize and turn upstream litter into marine debris downstream. Unfortunately, this yearly influx of much-needed rains often translates to a surge of marine debris, or the “first flush.”

This year could be a particularly wet one for California. The National Weather Service is predicting a wetter than average year with El Niño, which brings more marine debris concerns, as sights such as seen in these photos are common after major winter storms.

So what can we do? For starters, the easiest thing is to continue to reduce, reuse, and recycle to cut off debris at the source. If wet or windy weather is in the forecast, try to schedule a neighborhood cleanup before the storm, and consider not leaving your full garbage, recycling, or compost bins on the street until the weather has passed.

The upside is that local efforts to intercept and filter out solid debris in runoff are on the rise. As you might have read in a previous blog, a NOAA study showed that reducing marine debris on Southern California beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents. Preventing litter from becoming marine debris is good news for our beaches and our wallets!

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

Marine debris along the Santa Monica coastline in Southern California after the “first flush,” the first Fall season rain. (Photo Credit: Heal the Bay)

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Wiyot Tribe Wraps Up Massive Marine Debris Removal Project

By: Stephen Kullman, Guest Blogger and Natural Resources Director for the Wiyot Tribe

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In June, the Wiyot Tribe completed a major marine debris removal effort on Indian Island in Humboldt Bay in Northern California. The removal of legacy industrial marine debris from the Tribe’s sacred lands at Tuluwat Village was part of a major project that also included public outreach and education and the removal of abandoned concrete floating-dock sections scattered throughout Humboldt Bay.

The cultural significance and tragic history of the restored area makes this project’s success particularly meaningful. Tuluwat is considered the center of the Wiyot Universe and is the site of the Tribe’s World Renewal Ceremony, which occurred annually until it was violently interrupted in February 1860. During the approximately week-long ceremony, a group of vigilante settlers rowed over to the island from Eureka under the cover of night and massacred up to 200 Wiyot and other people, mostly women, children, and elders. Following this horrific crime, the sacred Tuluwat midden, or shell-mound, was leased to the Duff Drydock Company and used as a boat repair facility for more than 100 years, contaminating the land and surrounding waters with chemicals, metals, and industrial waste. In 2000, The Wiyot Tribe purchased 1.5 acres of the Tuluwat Midden and began a multi-million dollar remediation project that culminated with the Tribe’s first World Renewal Ceremony in March 2014. Despite the on-land clean-up effort, tons of debris remained in the mudflats and waters surrounding the site, including steel wayrunner rails, creosote-treated pilings and lumber, cables, and a variety of unidentified metal pieces.

With the assistance of NOAA’s Community-Based Marine Removal Program, the Wiyot Tribe completed the removal and disposal of more than ten tons of assorted debris. In addition, they removed 30 concrete and Styrofoam floats from Humboldt Bay and 2 others from Samoa Beach before the floats weathered, broke apart, or entered the Pacific Ocean. The Tribe and its partners broadened this effort’s reach through a number of public outreach and education events, including two volunteer cleanup days, a Humboldt Bay Boat Tour, and a Marine Debris themed “Ocean Night” at the Arcata Community Theater.

To learn more about this project, visit the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.