Surfriders Tackle Ocean Beach Cleanup
By Ryder W. Miller
With Indian Summer in progress and Ocean Beach showing signs of overuse, the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is taking efforts to provide stewardship and help cleaning up the beach.
Sean Gibson, chair of the San Francisco Chapter of the International Surfrider Foundation, explained that most of the members are surfers, but there are also members who just appreciate the Ocean Beach.
"If they have an interest or passion about the beach or ocean we're an organization that focuses on those issues and we always need volunteers," Gibson said.
There are about a thousand members in the San Francisco Chapter, which is part of an international network which represents more than 31,000 members. On Saturday, Sept. 21, Surfrider volunteers gathered for their monthly Ocean Beach cleanup. The Surfrider Foundation organizes beach cleanups every third Sunday of the month.
Gibson says the most common refuse found at the beach includes former fire sites and other refuse, including pieces of washed ashore plastic, bottles, plastic, cans and cigarette butts.
"Pack out what you pack in," Gibson said. "We encourage our members to take some trash every time they visit. It sets an example."
Mike Paquet, the foundation's environmental coordinator, said one of the biggest environmental issues at Ocean Beach has been erosion. He is happy that plans are in the works to move the Great Highway that runs south of Sloat Boulevard.
Despite some recent shark attacks north of San Francisco, Gibson thinks the waters are safe.
"We're an environmental organization so we are in defense of sharks and their rights to exist. But it is a clear and present threat in the Bay Area," said Gibson. "But most of our members are more likely to be injured driving to the beach than by a shark."
Paquet attributed the yellow tide seen at Ocean Beach in late August to a diatom (microscopic sea creatures) outburst which can result in burning eyes and possible respiratory problems.
Paquet said there is also insoluble pollution in the water which can be found on the surface. He said the surface bubbles break, causing the pollution to go into the atmosphere, creating a mist that can be seen during certain seasons.
"You're breathing it. It is an issue," Paquet said. "None of the regulatory agencies are looking into it. Most of the issues they are looking into are short-term effects of pollutants."
The local chapter also does limited water-quality monitoring. Gibson said they haven't seen any contaminants that will threaten humans based on their results. If they believed there was a problem, they would post the results on the foundation's website (www.surfrider.org). Gibson said to check the website after a big rain.
Paquet explained that when it rains more than half an inch in an hour the local waste treatment site has trouble holding the water. Due to the overflow of sewage, the water is not as safe after a rain as compared to the dry season.
The Foundation has recently started a Blue Water Task Force, which assesses local water quality.
Mo Kaluta, coordinator of the project, said the group monitors water quality monthly at numerous monitoring points, including Fort Point, China Beach, Kelly's Cove, Beach Chalet, Taraval Street and Sloat Boulevard.
Kaluta said they just started the project in the spring after the rainy season. Following Surfrider National recommendations, they searched for elevated levels of Enterococcis, but they have not found a problem yet.
Tests are performed on the third Wednesday of the month at a lab set up at the BayKeepers office at the Presidio. But Kaluta complained that they couldn't test the ocean for heavy metals.
Paquet also warned not to eat many of the Striped Bass caught at Ocean Beach because the Striped Bass spend part of their cycle in the bay, which has more pollution than the nearby ocean. Pollutants bio-accumulate up the food chain and it is dangerous to eat too much Striped Bass caught locally. Paquet said as you go up the food chain the larger the fish, the more toxic.
"They recommend only one serving a week of the Striped Bass because of the toxicity," Paquet said.
Gibson said the local chapter's priorities are beach cleanup, erosion management and clean water issues.
On Oct. 19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Surfrider Foundation will be hosting an Ocean Beach Clean Water Festival at Fulton Street at Ocean Beach to honor the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The plans are for a "paddle out," speakers who authored The Clean Water Act, raffles and prizes. For information, contact Mike Paquet at (510) 654-5520.