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Thousands clear debris from the shore

On the surface, Redondo Beach Municipal Pier is the quintessential hot spot for California fishing. Every day, anglers line the rail trying to snag halibut, Pacific mackerel, good-sized sharks and the occasional bonito or yellowtail.

Yet beneath the waves, it’s a murkier story. Derelict fishing gear — monofilament line, nets, poles, toxic lead sinkers and plastic lures made to last thousands of years — have become deadly snares for marine life. Pylons wrapped in fishing line and dangling lures continue to entangle seals and fish, killing them.

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On Saturday morning, 45 volunteer scuba divers armed with shears and trash bags collected hundreds of pounds of garbage and fishing equipment from the pylons and sandy bottom beneath the pier. From there, the stuff was hauled onshore and sorted on a large blue tarp for recycling.

The divers were among thousands of volunteers who gathered at Los Angeles County beaches, parks and inland waterways and removed trash during the region’s 21st annual coastal cleanup day. The event is coordinated by the nonprofit organization Heal the Bay, the California Coastal Commission and the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

A record 14,131 volunteers scoured 65 sites scattered across 101 miles. By day’s end they had collected 50 tons of trash, including crack pipes found at Santa Monica, Malibu and Venice beaches and a full goat hide taken out of Tujunga Wash.

“It’s a sign of our times,” said Heal the Bay spokesman Matthew King, “and the detritus of our lives.”

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Rising out of the surf during the cleanup, Torrance electrician Bob Walls, 49, and Redondo Beach computer technician Jeff Conner, 52, removed their masks and emptied the contents of their sacks on the tarp: several pounds of fishing line, a collapsible lawn chair, plastic forks and spoons, fishing poles and dozens of lead sinkers.

“We found a decomposing fish ensnared by fishing line wrapped around a pylon,” Walls said, shaking his head in dismay. “We also managed to free a large crab from that mess.”

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Added Conner: “There were lures out there still catching fish in a continuing killing cycle.”

Other divers came up with sunglasses, plastic toy cars, soda cans and beer bottles; a gas burner, a mop bucket and candy wrappers; computer hard drives, shirts and pants; flippers, knives and golf balls. Every diver came back with plastic bags discovered riding the turbid currents.

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Volunteers combing the local beaches hauled out a similar array of discards. But Jasmine Tang, 13, didn’t know what to make of the small, dark piece of flotsam she pulled out of the sand. Holding the thing up to the light and turning it slowly, she said, “Foam? Paint chip? Candy wrapper? Whatever it is, getting rid of it is going to help.”

Over at the tarp, Roy Houston, a professor of marine biology at Loyola Marymount University, marveled at the growing variety of wet debris glistening in the morning sun.

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Shaking his head, he lamented, “This tells us that a lot of people aren’t aware of their impact. A fisherman who loses a sinker or a lure — or cuts his line — might think, ‘One lure in a great big ocean is no big deal.’ But it is. Over time, this stuff has a cumulative effect on the urban ecology. Some of this stuff, such as lead sinkers and plastic items, bleed off toxic substances.”

Compounding problems, litter can provide microhabitats for a variety of marine critters. “Therefore, bringing it up to the surface can be a double-edged sword in that animals lose their protections,” he said.

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As he spoke, a small octopus wriggled out from the folds of a canvas lawn chair.

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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