The Trashy Side of Newport Beach

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Some of the trash collected in Newport Harbor

In some ways, on some days, we all live trashy lives.

Even an inadvertently dropped gum wrapper via the forces of gravity, wind, and water runoff find itself in company with all manner of discarded detritus heading to our oceans and beaches.

Trash is strictly a human byproduct. Just walk Newport’s sands after a crowded summer day. Or stand by the outflow of the Santa Ana River, or the entrance to the Upper Bay estuary post-storm to witness the “flood” of trash tangled in broken foliage washed downstream, to either float offshore, rest on our beaches or become locked in the life-giving vegetation of the Back Bay.

Newport’s coast is but a mini-microcosm of the world’s oceans and beaches. The largest trash receptacle in the world is the North Pacific Gyre — aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — where human debris becomes trapped in a circulating meeting of currents constrained by landmasses. Indeterminate in size, this Garbage Patch is estimated to encompass between 270,000 and 5.8 million square miles.

Concern for our environment over the decades has spawned some very influential, nonprofit organizations dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of the world’s oceans, seas and coasts.

One such group is the Surfrider Foundation, founded in 1984, by “a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu.” Since then, the San Clemente-based organization has grown to “include a diverse group of ocean and beach enthusiasts,” according to Stephanie Sekich-Quinn, Senior Manager, Coast and Climate Initiative.

Today, the organization focuses on research on the condition of the world’s oceans, compiling reports from a broad variety of sources so it can “advocate for better laws to protect coastlines.”

The foundation claims more than one million supporters, activists and 200-volunteer-led chapters and student clubs in the U.S, with “more than 800 victories protecting our coasts.” Worldwide, they list chapters in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

With its 1,100 miles of coastline, California “leads the country in coastal management,” a recent Surfrider report claims. The state received a “Beach Grade” of A, due to “excellent policies and implementation focusing on sediment management, coastal armoring, development control and sea level rise.”

Bags of trash collected from Newport Bay during a past cleanup event. / Photo by Sara Hall ©

Another well-known monitoring and activist group, Heal the Bay, headquartered in Santa Monica, listed 51 out of 500 daily-monitored beaches and watersheds in the state to its Honor Roll, up from 35 last year. Locally, both Corona del Mar and Crystal Cove made the cut.

To earn a spot on the Honor Roll, a beach must be monitored weekly all year and must receive an A+ for all seasons and weather conditions.

It’s no accident that Newport Beach’s beaches are A+ rated. Credit can be given not only to environmentally sensitive and beach proud residents, but to the city’s five-member quality control team led by Senior Engineer John Kappeler.

“We test 35 spots in the bay and ocean once a week for bacteria,” said Kappeler, adding that “Our current focus is on keeping trash and debris out of our waters. The back area of the harbor doesn’t get as much flushing as the open areas, but the next phase of dredging beginning in March will help that.”

Up to 850,000 cubic yards of silt will be removed.

The Upper Bay is an ecological preserve, with “lots of native stuff out there,” Kappeler observed. “Trampling on the foliage does more harm than good.”

It’s a challenge to keep debris out. To that end, there are interceptor traps set above the Upper Bay to capture as much waste as possible. At the Newport Aquatic Center, a boom is set to ensnare trash and debris—up to 70-80 tons annually. Kappeler is quick to mention that much of the debris is wet vegetation along with plastic bottles, thus adding to the tonnage.

“About 700 tons of debris yearly flows down the Santa Ana River to pollute ocean and beaches alike,” he said. Most debris pollution in Newport occurs on the city’s western beaches.

Not all control efforts are visible. “Throughout the city, we have things called CDS units that are buried underground in storm drains that capture trash, up to 20-30 tons annually,” Kappeler shared.

Depending on the size of these, they are cleaned out either quarterly or twice a year. Trash is then trucked to the Newport’s maintenance yard, dried out, then delivered to a landfill. Cost for each unit range between $250,000 and $1 million.

Like the submarine branch of our Navy, Kappeler and his maintenance-and Eco- surveillance team are truly a “silent service.”

Yet their environmental efforts scream loudly in helping to keep Newport Beach the clean and beautiful city it is.

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