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The Alphabet Series 2000: J is for Jet Ski

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
May 24, 2000


Shortly after Earth Day, a reader E-mailed to tell me Jet-skis were taking over San Onofre Surf Beach. On Saturday April 22, while surfing with his wife, this Carlsbad resident was harassed by two Jet-skis and a large hovercraft while in the line-up at Dogpatch. Turns out the jet-skis were part of a television commercial being shot for an Sports Utility Vehicle. How uncool is that?

Violating marine safety codes that prohibit personal motorized watercraft from coming within 200ft of shore and a 100 ft. from swimmers and surfers, these men on machines brought unwanted noise and pollution to one of Southern California's historic surf spots. As if that wasn't bad enough, this was done with the approval of California State Parks lifeguards.

Jet-skis are defined as personal motorized watercraft, as are Seadoos and Wave runners. And aside from them being an obnoxious waste of natural resources, these mayhem machines are highly polluting. Almost all PWCs are powered by inefficient two-stroke gasoline engines using gasoline directly mixed with oil, discharging approximately 25% of their fuel unconsumed into the water, contaminating it with highly toxic and carcinogenic benzene and toluene. It is estimated two-stroke engines collectively generate water pollution equivalent to the sinking of 15 Exxon Valdez oil tankers. Every Year.

In California, 50,000 engines and personal watercraft are being sold each year. These devices and their inefficient two-stroke engines are responsible for 1.1 billion pounds of hydrocarbon emissions per year and countless impacts on human and ecosystem health. During summer weekend days the 500,000 two-stroke marine engines in California create more hydrocarbon pollution than the state's 16 million automobiles.

Two-stroke engines also produce vast amounts of air pollution relative to their power output. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates running a two-stroke, 70 hp. motor for two hours produces more airborne hydrocarbon pollution than driving a car 8000 kilometers using the more efficient four-stroke engine. EPA regulations that would require 4-stroke engines for personal water crafts, reducing petrochemical discharge 97% are supported by Surfrider Foundation and other environmental groups. Jet-ski engines are the same kind used in most lawnmowers, many off-road recreational vehicles, and all chainsaws.

Personally I have never understood the appeal of jet-skis. Nothing more than dirt bikes for the aquatic set, these personal pollution producers, are definitely one brow. Neither physically or intellectually stimulating, these thrill toys lack any redeeming social value. For the life of me, I can't think of one valid justification to own a Jet-ski other than an anthropocentric arrogance which owners to see the earth as a playground to be destroyed at will.

Pollution from personal watercraft is particularly troubling because of how and where the machines are used. In California, marine mammal experts have voiced their concern that PWC activity near seals, sea lions, and elephant seals disturbs normal rest and social interaction, and causes stampedes into the water that can separate seal pups from adult mothers. Because Jet-skis are capable of traveling in shallow and remote areas, where wildlife is most prevalent, the environmental impact resulting from their use can not be mitigated.

Within the shallow ecosystems of water bodies, home to many organisms at the base of the food chain: fish eggs, algae, shellfish,and zooplankton, hydrocarbons released from two-stroke engines settle on the surface. Scientists have determined that hydrocarbon pollution can bioaccumulate within the complex food web, posing a serious threat to the marine environment.

Much like the precedent setting legislation in Lake Tahoe, the San Diego County coastal zone needs a total ban on personal watercraft. Doing so, San Diego will join other communities who have decided protecting the environment is more important than letting a few yahoos get rocks off riding around in circles. Besides Tahoe, other California communities banning PWCs are the cities of Pacifica and Malibu, and the counties of Mendocino and San Francisco.

The Pacific Ocean is our most precious resource, and there are plenty of non-polluting ways to enjoy it. Surfing is the sport of kings, outrigger canoes are gaining in popularity, and ocean kayaking is a growing recreational alternative. All of these are good exercise, that get people close to the aquatic environments they are trying to enjoy. A Jet-ski on the other hand is just noisy excuse for Team Testosterone to continue raping the planet.

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