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Thinking Small to Save the Ocean

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 6 -- With Santa Monica’s beaches and the Bay as his backdrop, Jean-Michel Cousteau -- the son of renowned oceanographer and adventurer Jacques Cousteau -- helped launch “Clean Beaches Week” and honored Santa Monica’s continued efforts to clean its namesake bay.

Speaking on a day when 15,000 pounds of trash was picked up on Santa Monica’s beaches after an estimated one million visitors flocked to the city’s coast July 4, the graying underwater researcher warned that the trash humans throw on the ground today will end up in the ocean tomorrow.

“Everything is connected,” said Cousteau, an oceanic scientist whose recent research in the Hawaiian Islands has lead to the protection of critical habitat in the Pacific. Trash in the far remote islands, his research has shown, has come from several countries traveling the vast expanse of the Pacific to hurt sea life and fowl alike.

“Whether you live along the coast or on the top of a mountain,” ocean pollution affects everyone and everything, Cousteau said with a French accent. “The ocean is our life support system… We’re doing this to ourselves.

Cousteau’s keynote address with news camera’s rolling served as the inaugural speech kicking off “National Clean Beaches Week,” an effort to highlight beach clean during the week leading up to July 4 and the day after. The annual effort is organized by the non-profit Clean Beaches Council based out of Washington D.C.

“180 million Americans made two billion trips to the coast last year, generating nearly 640 billion dollars,” said Clean Beaches Council president, Walter McCleod, standing next to several beach clean-up vehicles parked on the sand like oversized Tonka toys. “As we flock to the coast in droves… we are in the midst of a litter epidemic.”

Santa Monica Mayor Bob Holbrook was one of several mayors from coastal cities and governors in 25 states that participated in the week-long beach cleanup, McCleod said.

In recognition of Santa Monica and its employees’ unique efforts to address ocean pollution, McCleod presented the City and beach workers with two plaques.

“We really do a good job,” said Holbrook, pointing to the City’s Urban Runoff center called SMURF and some controversial decisions at a policy-making level by the City Council, including an ordinance being crafted to bar local businesses from using Styrofoam products.

Such a ban, if enacted, would be the most stringent ban on such materials in Southern California.

The ordinance, said Holbrook, “really does push the envelope.” However, he added, it won’t be as effective as it could be in stopping beach pollution in the bay unless surrounding cities, including Los Angeles, enact similar legislation.

“Los Angeles has not said anything about such a ban as of yet,” Holbrook said.

Beach maintenance workers, volunteers and non-profits – such as Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay – have been instrumental in keeping Santa Monica’s most valuable natural resource safe, Holbrook said.

In fact, maintenance workers – who are currently understaffed by three permanent positions (two are injured and one recently retired) – pick up an average of two tons of trash each day on Santa Monica’s beach during the Summer, said Paul Davis, Santa Monica’s beach maintenance supervisor.

With America’s 230th birthday bash now in the past, Cousteau and others said it is time to look to the future and make sure attention is not only paid to the beaches after a big event, but every day.

“Education starts with these little guys,” said Cousteau, referring to two children who joined him at the podium. “They will be our ambassadors.”

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