Coast Watchers’ Top 2012 Issues

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Raising awareness about new protected marine zones, reducing plastic debris in the ocean and fighting desalination are among the 2012 goals outlined by two environmental groups — OC Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation —that seek to protect Orange County’s coastline.

The groups have started spreading the word on recently created “marine protected areas” for Southern California. The zones, seven of which are in Orange County, went into effect this month and have various levels of restrictions against fishing and withdrawal of marine life.

“That certainly, in our eyes, is a very constructive thing for the future of our marine habitats,” said Garry Brown, the founder and CEO of OC Coastkeeper. His organization plans to use brochures and community meetings to educate fishermen about the location of the zones and their restrictions.

In addition to informing fisherman of the zones, the Surfrider Foundation also hopes to work with the fishing community to conduct scientific monitoring of the areas. Tracking their effect on marine life can lead to the areas being reduced or expanded in a process called “adaptive management,” said Joe Geever, water programs manager for Surfrider.

This could ultimately have a positive effect on fishermen, he added, because more fishing could be allowed in a restricted zone if marine populations are shown to have grown at a high-enough rate.

The groups also plan to continue their opposition to the proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

The plant has prompted concern from environmentalists over how its high-volume water intake as well as the concentrated salt water pumped back into the ocean would affect marine life. Poseidon, however, says that the effects would be minimal and that the project meets all environmental standards prescribed by law.

In addition to environmental concerns, Surfrider believes an upcoming state policy on desalination intakes will prohibit portions of the project’s current design. If Poseidon is granted an upcoming pollutant discharge permit, Surfrider plans on appealing the decision to the state water board. “We don’t have any choice but to challenge it,” Geever said.

The “great Pacific Ocean garbage patch,” as it’s described by researchers, has brought international awareness in recent years to the accumulation of plastic trash in the ocean.

Surfrider is building on the new awareness by promoting city ordinances that encourage the use of reusable grocery bags, as one of the first steps in lowering the amount of plastic waste in the ocean.

The groups are also enhancing their efforts to reduce beach pollution caused by storm drains. New regulations, codeveloped by Coastkeeper, on water discharged by metal recyclers are scheduled for approval in February, and Coastkeeper is developing technology for scrap yards to treat water.

Surfrider will continue to teach homeowners about landscape features that capture rainwater and “dramatically reduce” polluted runoff, Geever said. The group plans to hold several hands-on public workshops this year.

Coastkeeper’s focus on the restoration of green abalone along the OC coast will also continue. The mollusks once were plentiful but have been “totally depleted” by pollution, sediment and divers, Brown said.

Lastly, Surfrider will be working on its “manage-retreat” approach dealing with coastal erosion, which calls for structures to be relocated away from the high-tide line.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/nicholasgerda.

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