Earlier this week, as the mercury hit 90 degrees by the beach, I headed out to Carbon Beach with another Heal the Bay staffer to conduct a marine debris survey – part of a west-coast wide effort by NOAA to monitor for debris from the devastating Japanese tsunami of March 11, 2011 . Spoiler alert: I didn’t find any soccer balls with Japanese script. But I did find an interesting connection to Japan and the early development of the beach.
If you’ve ever been to Carbon Beach in Malibu, you’ll know that it now has some of the most desirable real estate in the world (although if you’ve seen recent sea level rise projections you might question why!). As Melissa and I started to lay out our transect, collect GPS coordinates, measure the distance to the tide, and count trash, a young man walked down from one of the houses that flank the beach. His wasn’t a massive mansion. Rather it was an older beach home that had been built by his grandparents in 1941. When he heard what we were doing he paused and then started to share a short story about the history of the home. In 1941 no-one wanted to live on the beach — it was considered the front line of the Pacific theater as people scanned for Japanese planes headed in from the vast ocean. In fact, that house had been the fourth to be built on the beach. A lot has changed since then. But once again we found ourselves walking the beach looking for signs of our Pacific neighbors. Only this time, they are our friends. It was a good reminder that Santa Monica Bay is part of the vast ocean network that connects us with people thousands of miles away. So what about the trash? The good news is we found very little. Carbon beach doesn’t have the massive storm drains that bring trash from the dense city to the ocean. But despite that we found it — tiny bits of plastic debris that could have come from any place in the world. Even Japan.
My six-year old son asked one day, why do they call it Earth when it’s mostly covered with water? He has a point. 71 percent of the Earth is covered by water. Of all the water on Earth, the ocean’s hold 96.5 percent. Take one thing we can’t live without: oxygen. Did you know that between 50 and 85 percent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere comes from phytoplankton and algae in the ocean?
So on this Earth Day, let’s remember the Oceans and all they do for us each and every day.
If you have spent any time on a surf board you are probably familiar with Duke Paoa Kahanamoku — Hawaii’s legendary Olympic swimmer and surf evangelist. In 1912, he won the 100 meters freestyle in the Stockholm Olympics. And starting in the 1920s stared in a dozen feature films. But between Olympic competition and filming he travelled the world inspiring a love of the ocean through his passion for swimming and his introduction of surfing on an unsuspecting world.
Today, Heal the Bay is continuing this legacy with an innovative partnership we call “Lunch and Learn.” For the past three years we have partnered with a restaurant that bears his name, Duke’s in Malibu, to introduce kids to the ocean and give them simple things they can do to care for it everyday. What’s unique about this partnership is how it combines an outdoor field-trip, with a hosted sit-down lunch overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Many of these kids, 90% of whom come from Title I schools, have never been to the ocean despite it being in their backyard. The icing on the cake is the white linen lunch that is served as they sit and watch for whales and dolphins (actually, the icing is fudge sauce and macadamia nuts….). I only recall having that once on a field trip growing up, but thats’s another story.
I was fortunate to help out with this morning’s field trip. From the moment the fourth grade classes arrived on the big red bus, to the last slice of famous Hula Pie, there were smiles all around. But this wasn’t just about buses and pie, as important as both are. The heart of the program teaches kids about the relationship between what they do in their everyday life and the life in the ocean. The link being the storm drain that washes the debris of life from their playground, street and home through to the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean.
It was inspiring to watch the kids work in groups to test hypotheses about how water will interact with various surfaces, or sieve sand in search of elusive crabs. After lunch, everyone got animated during the quiz as they shouted out answers like, “entanglement,” “impermeable,” and “stop littering” as they competed for prizes. They get it that they can do simple things to help out. But what was most touching was sharing desert and hearing them talk about their desire to become scientists and engineers when they grew up. All that through a day at the beach, and a slice of tasty pie. Thank you Duke’s and Heal the Bay!
For the last eight weeks or so I have been looking at the Bay from the shore. True, I have enjoyed playing in the waves and swimming along the shore, but today was my first chance to get out into the Bay. I joined our aquarium team on one of their weekly collecting trips — getting kelp to feed the animals in the aquarium. As our aquariumist, Jose, says, it’s the weekly trip to the farmers market.
The Bay, and indeed the oceans, give us so much. After all they cover 71% of the planet and give us everything from the oxygen we breath, to the fish we eat, to the natural substances that thicken Jello. The list goes on. But a few hours on the bay gave me something different. A profound sense of the wonder of the ocean.
It really is a different world out there. The solid earth is replaced by the ever shifting fluid ocean. Wave upon wave. The powerful forces gently lifting our 14 foot dingy up and down as we leaned over the side straining for the kelp. The constantly changing play of light and shade on the water as the clouds and sun slid over head. Where we first encountered the kelp, the long tendrils reaching for the light lay down when they reached the surface– causing the ripples to flatten out leaving a glassy surface. The seals, sea birds, and even the odd kelp crab were at home out there. I was a grateful visitor.
Bobbing around on the surface of the vastness of the ocean gave me the same sense of walking amid the redwood giants. A sense of being a tiny part of the wonderful world.
Where else can you stand with a blooming yucca at your feet and look down on the coast redwoods and blue of the Pacific Ocean? Probably no place other than the rugged Big Sur coast. Rising thousands of feet from a rocky shoreline it has to be one of the most spectacular coasts on Earth.
And to me it’s where the redwoods of wet northern California start to blend with the Yuccas of the dry south. In a way it’s a transition zone between my old work for the redwoods and my new work for southern California’s beaches and ocean. I can’t wait to go back.