On a gorgeous San Diego afternoon, 64-year-old surfing legend Skip Frye strokes his longboard into a towering blue wall of water hurtling toward the aptly named Sunset Cliffs. He fades left to discourage a half dozen teenagers from dropping in, then smoothly carves a fat bottom turn to the right, climbing the wave, cross-walking to the nose, gliding like a gull across the wave’s wind-brushed face. On the surface, it is a quintessential California day.
Under the surface, it’s a murkier story. Surfers know the popular break as “North Garbage.” Just a few miles down the beach, the Point Loma Water Treatment plant spews 180 million gallons (681 million liters) a day of partially treated sewage into a pipe that carries it 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) out into the ocean. Until it was extended in 1993, the 12-foot-diameter (3.7-meter-diameter) pipe was only two miles (3.2 kilometers) long, and its brown plume often ended up in the surf zone. Storm drains flush car-drippings such as oil, gas, and brake dust, along with a raft of coffee cups, soda bottles, and pet excrement, straight into San Diego’s surf breaks every time it rains. Frye and his fellow surfers now routinely suffer a laundry list of waterborne ailments, from sinus and ear infections to more serious illnesses like hepatitis.
“There will be a time when the sea’s dead,” says Frye, who once predicted San Diego’s waves would be too toxic to surf by 2000. “We’re kind of like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.”
Over the many decades the economic standing of the United States, specifically California, had fluctuated due to many unforeseen factors. One huge factor that cannot be anticipated, and often causes drastic effects on the economy, are geologic disasters. The state of California is notorious for having earthquakes that shake up the state quite often and leave the affected area with a substantial ...
And yet, still the masses come, lured by surf, sand, and laid-back lifestyles. Call it the Jimmy Buffett syndrome. Every week more than 3,300 new residents land in southern California, while another 4,800 hit Florida’s shores. Every day 1,500 new homes rise along the U.S. coastline. More than half the nation’s population now lives in coastal counties, which amount to only 17 percent of the land in the lower 48. In 2003 coastal watersheds generated over six trillion dollars, more than half the national economy, making them among our most valuable assets. Yet two blue-ribbon bipartisan panels—the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, convened by the Pew Trusts and the U.S. Congress, respectively—recently issued disturbing reports that found the coasts are being battered by an array of pollution and population pressures. Former Secretary of Energy Adm. James D. Watkins—not exactly a wild-eyed environmentalist—chaired the U.S. commission and laid it out for Congress:
“Our failure to properly manage the human activities that affect the nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes is compromising their ecological integrity…threatening human health, and putting our future at risk.”
What follows are stories of people with salt water in their veins, who, in ways large and small, are having an impact on our shores.