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Rubber Duck Derby Proposal Brings Squawks of Protest : Fund-raiser: Up to 20,000 of the toys would be dumped into the ocean off Redondo Beach by the American Cancer Society. Conservationists see it as pollution.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Concerned about pollution in Santa Monica Bay, Redondo Beach conservationists have taken on a new foe. It’s small. It’s yellow. And it just goes to show that one man’s environmental menace can be another’s bathtime pal.

Rubber ducks--those cute, yellow tub toys--have become the focus of an ecological debate in the wake of a proposal by the coastal cities unit of the American Cancer Society to hold “Duck Derby” for charity near the Redondo Beach Pier.

The latest thing in fund raising, the derby would launch 10,000 to 20,000 toy ducks--sponsored for $5 apiece--from a yacht into Santa Monica Bay. Borne by the waves, the flock would float past a “finish line” onshore, and the first duck to the beach would win its sponsor a trip to Mexico or Hawaii or a new car.

The event, proponents said, could net as much as $100,000 for cancer research and draw attention to the Redondo Beach Pier, which is struggling to rebound after being nearly destroyed by fire and winter storms in 1988.

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But critics contend that the Cancer Society might as well just toss 10,000 pieces of trash into the surf, and local environmentalists worry that the ducks might be eaten by fish or marine mammals.

“There’s a lot more to this than dumping a bunch of ducks in the ocean. Where are they all going to go?” asked Redondo Beach Councilman Terry Ward. “If they end up onshore, then who’ll pick them up? And if they go out to sea and end up spread out from Malibu to Point Fermin, we’re going to look pretty stupid.”

At Ward’s behest, the council--which initially had approved the June 29 event--voted Tuesday to reconsider the Cancer Society’s request later this month.

“I hadn’t really thought about it when we passed it originally,” said Councilman Ron Cawdrey. “But when it was brought to my attention that there’s a real possibility that these things could go out to sea or be eaten by a mammal, I thought, I don’t know that I want to be a part of this.”

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Proponents of the event were stunned by the council’s decision, and said the arguments made against the derby by former Councilman Archie Snow and others are preposterous.

“This has been done in cities all over the country,” said Barbara Broide, executive director of the American Cancer Society’s coastal cities unit. “There was one off the Santa Monica Pier to benefit Childrens Hospital just last year.”

Broide said the ducks are nontoxic and waterproof and would be numbered so promoters would know exactly how many were in the water. Oil booms would be set up around the 200-yard-long race course to keep the toys from floating out to sea, she added, and volunteers would scurry to retrieve each duck as it washed ashore.

Elaine Mutchnik, operations manager for the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp., which helped sponsor a similar derby in Santa Monica last May, said their derby was so successful for the pier and for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles that they have planned to stage it again this year.

“There was some concern here that the ducks would be hazardous to bird and marine life, but we covered it. Every duck was accounted for,” she said.

James Graham, director of marketing for the Redondo Beach Harbor Department, which is helping promote the event, said his city would follow Santa Monica’s lead.

“We don’t anticipate any problems,” said Graham, adding that the Harbor Department would do all it could to “put everyone’s minds at ease that a seal won’t float up on the beach with a duck stuck in its throat.”

Nonetheless, Ward and Cawdrey remain unconvinced. Pollution is pollution, they say, no matter how cute it is.

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“At first, I though, aw, rubber duckies--no big deal,” said Ward. “But 10,000 of them? That’s a lot of ducks.”


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