November Rain Flushes Eight Months Of Trash Onto Santa Monica Beach

Monday, 10 Dec 2012, 3:10:00 AM

Mitch James

Team Marine cleans up plastic-strewn beach after first series of rains while Heal the Bay Surfrider Club finds alarming spikes in fecal indicator bacteria.
Courtesy photo
Team Marine cleans up plastic-strewn beach after first series of rains while Heal the Bay Surfrider Club finds alarming spikes in fecal indicator bacteria.

Santa Monica High School's Team Marine removed more than 75 pounds of trash from the Pico-Kenter storm drain in November, preventing a small portion from entering the ocean. The majority of the trash was plastic.

This marks the fifth consecutive year that Team Marine has documented the flow of pollutants coming out of the storm drain and performed emergency clean ups.

Lighter rains caused two separate “gurgles” of the Pico-Kenter Storm drain, one on Nov. 8 and a bigger one Nov. 16. The gurgles lubricated the drains, dislodging plastic litter that had accumulated in the dry season and carrying some of it onto the sand in front of Shutters and Casa Del Mar hotels.

Upon heavier rains the morning of Nov. 29, the real “first flush” occurred, with water scouring a pathway through the sand to the ocean.

During the first flush, approximately eight months of stored plastic litter washed out into the Santa Monica Bay.

“Despite city bans on plastic grocery store bags and Styrofoam, we haven’t seen any major reduction over the years in the amount of plastic pieces flowing out of the storm drain,” said Edie Cote, co-captain of Team Marine.

Armed with supplies such as reusable gloves and buckets, Team Marine filled four 18-pound trash bags of debris.

The bulk of the litter was composed of plastic materials, such as single-use Styrofoam cups, utensils, straws, bags, and cigarette butts. An unidentified, beige “mystery foam” formed a blanket on top of the runoff leaving behind a frothy residue on the sand.

Meanwhile, Samohi’s Heal the Bay Surfrider Club’s weekly ocean water samples revealed an extreme spike in fecal indicator Enterococcus bacteria.

Co-president Sadie Schiffman-Eller said the Santa Monica Pier site had a concentration of 3,622 colony forming units of bacteria per 100 milliliters, when the safe level is 104 CFUs and lower.

"That’s 30 times over the healthy limit," Schiffman-Eller said.

She said the ill effects of plastics are well known.

"Up to 95 percent of floating ocean debris is composed of plastics, which have accumulated in all five major oceans killing marine life through ingestion and entanglement," she said.

Team Marine is an organization at Santa Monica High School dedicated to sound research and environmental advocacy.

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