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California Beaches: Got pollution?

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 29, 2004


"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." — Aldo Leopold

O.K, it is now official the nation's coastal waters are in serious decline. Of course most Southern Californians who depend on the Pacific for their recreational needs have long understood this. Beach closures are commonplace, wildlife is threatened to the point of extinction, and new threats appear with each new technology introduced. According to a report issued by the 16 member U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy appointed by President Bush, "there's a crisis out there."

Talk about an understatement.

Twice last week, while going about my business, I was approached by individuals with informal beach reports. In both instances these folks brought with them complaints about the amount of garbage intruding on their Boneyards surf sessions in Encinitas. Accompanying the second report was the belief the Navy was responsible for some of the garbage floating in the surf. I assured him he was correct. The Navy is exempt from most, in not all environmental laws.

In the Defense Authorization Bill passed in November of 2003 were Bush administration sponsored provisions exempting the Defense Department from complying with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. From solid waste to sonar the Pentagon has been a given a free pass to pollute at will. And where regulations do exist enforcement is in no way a priority of the Bush Administration.

In no way do I doubt some of the solid waste pollution fouling coastal waters, and the narrow beaches of Southern California, has been generated by the U.S. Navy. I'm also certain beach trash is the least of the worry regarding Military ocean dumping. But we should not fool ourselves in thinking we are not all complicit in someway.

All one needs do is spend an hour or two strolling along any beach to understand the enormity of the problem, and how there are innumerable sources contributing to the coastal pollution problem.

Currently three California cities have in place smoking bans on beaches, with Solana Beach being the first to enact such an ordinance. Of course there is the question of enforcement. By why quibble, right? Sadly, one of the side effects of smoking is the use of the beach as an ecological ashtray. Cigarette Butts just don't happen, each and every butt littering the beach is connected to series of human beings. Like the Navy, however, cigarette smokers are only part of the problem.

During beach clean-ups I always find a plethora of plastic straws, tampon applicators, and candy wrappers. Discarded toys, beverage containers, bottle caps, and plastic bags are found as well. During storms beaches take on the appearance of landfills as trash washes out of our communities and into the ocean and on to our beaches. We can only imagine the amount of garbage littering the continental shelf, and the deep Pacific. All of this garbage is waste generated by people of the coastal regions of the world.

Where I am glad the Bush Administration commissioned a commission to contemplate the ongoing ecological crisis facing oceanic and coastal ecosystems, I wish the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy better reflected the full philosophical spectrum of scientific academia. If that had been the case, I'm certain the result of three years worth of study would be a deeper understanding of the crisis threatening the ecological stability of the coastal regions of the Pacific.

Now that the study is complete what does anyone actually think the Federal government will remedy the situation? Everything the Bush Administration has done other than appoint industry-dominated commissions, has been in direct contradiction to sound environmental stewardship. What is the likelihood the results on this inquiry will provoke the same response as that of the presidential commission on global warming, which was a vigorous mix of spin and denial?

If the findings of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy are not filed in the oblivion file they'll be used as the basis of yet another study. As most environmentalists know the nature of the governmental beast is to study any given issue to death. Unfortunately for future generations of all coastal species, the demise is usually that of the biological systems being study.

Unfortunately for us we are one of those species.

Perhaps the next Presidential commission should focus on the suicidal tendencies inherent in homo sapien sapiens.

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