Written by: David B. Waller*

I grew up in La Jolla in the 1960’s and the only trash I remember having to watch for on the beach when I went body surfing was the aluminum pull tops from soda cans because they could cut your feet. Today, almost 40 years later, I am lucky enough to spend time on the beaches in Imperial Beach. In the winter of 2018, while walking on the beach toward the Tijuana River, I was astonished by the sheer volume of plastics that were washing up on the sand. Like many of you, I decided to bring a plastic grocery bag with me the next time I took a walk. Not surprisingly, the bag was filled beyond capacity before traveling a half mile down the beach. Consequently, I decided to bring a larger bag with me the next time I took a walk. You can see how this is going! The next time I went, I brought several larger bags and filled these. Finally, I was bringing huge green garbage bags with me. At some point, these bags were so heavy (about 35-40 lbs.) that I could no longer carry them up the beach to the city waste containers. Consequently, I would stop any vehicles I passed to let them know where I had stashed the bags and ask if they could pick them up on their way back up the beach. 

Water contamination is also a problem and probably of greater concern than the plastics. Most of us have seen the warning signs posted on the beach. They seem to indicate that if you don’t go in the water when warning signs are posted your OK. I’m not sure that I agree. When waves break on the beach, particularly during high tides and storm surges, aerosols are created. That’s the mist you see on the beach when there is high surf activity. If the water is contaminated, there is a high likelihood that the aerosols are also contaminated. So, if you are walking on the beach or on the street or any place where the mist from the ocean is visible then you are being exposed to that contamination, not only by breathing the air but through contact with eyes, nose and mouth. This also means that anything the mist settles on can become contaminated such as blankets, clothes, and skin. If this is the case, then the contaminated water flowing from the Tijuana River is more of a health risk for everyone who lives near the beach and not just those who enter the water. 

As a part time resident of Imperial Beach, I am concerned that these issues are not being given the proper attention and priority they demand by our government agencies considering it affects the health, safety and welfare of the individuals that visit our shores as well as the residents of our city and adjoining communities. I am committed to helping prevent waste water from continuing to enter our oceans without treatment. That is why I am a member of the Surfrider Foundation. Let’s all make an effort to keep the water off our coasts clean; not only for our families but for the ecosystems that rely on us to be stewards of the environment we share. Join Surfrider San Diego today and see how you can help.

*#mycleanh2ostory is written by local activists who are fighting for clean water.