Topic: Pollution on beaches in Southern California

Thesis/ Research: How does ocean pollution affect animals and the environment in Southern California?

Southern California’s beaches are a very popular place to visit for tourist and just residents who live near them. Our beaches get many visitors throughout the year, there is more than 150  million visits to California beaches every year. Due to all the visits, our beaches became more and more polluted with trash, different substances, ocean debris, etc.. Ocean debris and these substances goes into the Pacific ocean and causes harms way for not only humans, but also the marine life living in the Pacific ocean, and also the environment. The Pacific Ocean receives pollution from a variety of sources. Most pollution in our ocean derives from our land.

Ocean debris, also known as marine litter, is a solid substance manufactured by humans that is processed intentionally or unintentionally. Marine debris is either disposed of or abandoned in the marine ecosystem and it injures and kills marine life, intervenes with ocean traveling, and creates a threat to human health. Ocean debris can travel through river streams, through littering, and through storm drains. Marine Debris is a global pollution and it can be such simple items like cigarette butts, plastic bags, soda cans, fishing gear, straws that can end up in the ocean and potentially harm or kill marine life. Marine debris can costs economies millions in wasted resources and lost income.

ocean-litter.jpgPlastic is big form of marine debris. Almost 90% of floating marine debris is plastic.  According to the Los Angeles Times, plastic bags are one of the most common garbage items found on California’s beaches.  Plastic bags can be very harmful to marine animals. Often marine animals commonly mistake plastic bags for food, including sea turtles. Sea turtles often confuse plastic bags for jellyfish, jellyfish is one of their favorite foods. One in three leatherback sea turtles carry plastic in their stomachs due to ingesting plastic. The plastic backs up the turtle’s digestive system making them think they are full and they end up starving to death. Even gray whales have been found dead with plastic bags and sheeting in their stomachs. Over 245 marine animals have been found to have ingested marine debris. Ocean debris may cause choking, and with plastic filling their stomachs, animals may feel full and die of starvation..

Entanglement is one way how marine debris affects animals. Plastic is not biodegradable therefore it does not break down easily and animals can get entangled in the plastic. Many animals have been trapped and killed due to the plastic. Over 275 species have been documented entanglement from Marine debris. Often when they get caught in the plastic animals have problems eating, swimming, and breathing. Fishing lines, strapping bands, and six pack rings can all affect with animals movability.    recentwhaleentanglementsintheMontereyBay NationalMarine Sanctuary.)

Another way marine debris could affect animals is disruption of habitat. Marine debris that is just flowing in the ocean can create alterations of new methods of traveling for animals, creating a new way to transport across vast ocean distances. It causes trouble for biodiversity.

Another source of pollution is ocean litter. Several examples of ocean litter are containers falling off ships from storms, trash on streets that get washed down into streams that lead into the sea, and trash waste from landfills, dumps, etc.. that goes with the wind into rivers or straight into the ocean. Only 20% of ocean litter that is found in the ocean comes from ocean based linked sources. Examples would be such as commercial fishing vessels, cargo ships, or cruise ships. The rest of the 80% comes from human based land sources, plastics and other marine debris that can not float may persist in the ocean for years travelling through the currents. Example of land based sources would be pedestrians, motorcyclists, beach visitors, garbage management, and industrial discharges in the form of classic pellets and powder. The trash in the ocean may degrade slowly and persists for years, floating and travelling with different currents, forming into patches and eventually washing up onto shore.

Pesticides and Fertilizers also pollute near land and water. Use of pesticides and fertilizers can come with serious environmental consequences. Pesticides can kill the small l non-matter  organisms such as insects, soil, bacteria,water, and fish that is beneficial to people. The presence of pesticides can significantly change the nutrient system in freshwater and marine area and the water becomes consumed by dissolved oxygen and marine life may be killed. People’s actions contaminate our environment. Debris stakes form of micro beads rinsed down drains or synthetic fibers from clothing or other items that are laundered. The effort to keep our shore lines clear of debris comes a significant cost,2012 study determined that 90 west coast communities spend a total of more than $250,000,000 each year to combat litter.

Marine debris can also be a threat to human health. Nails, glass, and syringes on the beach    can cause physical harm to people visiting the Southern California beaches. Also, trash polluting the water increases the amount of pathogens and chemicals affecting the quality of the water. Fish that humans fish for may be made up of plastic debris, therefore the humans are eating plastic debris which is not good for the human body. A study of predatory fishes in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre found that 19% of the individuals contained marine debris, most of it plastic. This included species commonly eaten by people. A 2015 study of fish and shellfish for sale in markets found 28% of individual fish sampled in Indonesia and 25% in California contained anthropogenic debris in their digestive tracts. Plastic debris serves to concentrate and transport chemical pollutants into the marine food web, and potentially to human diets.





To view the Algalita Marine Research Foundation video on the subject, Synthetic Sea,                                borrow it from our Lending Library or                                find it on their website.

Photographer Chris Jordan has created a blog,, documenting the experience                                of visiting Midway Island with other artists and journalists. The site includes powerful videos                                depicting the impact of plastic debris on the Laysan albatross population that nests there.                                This project also has a Youtube                                channel with many short videos.

Looking for images of marine debris that you can use? Find some on the                                NOAA                                Marine Debris Program’s flickr page.

Reports on the topic of Marine Debris:

  • Plastic Debris in the California Marine Ecosystem, A Summary of Current                                Research, Solution Efforts and Data Gaps. September 2011. California Ocean Protection Council and                                California Ocean Science Trust
  • Plastic Debris in the Ocean, UNEP Year Book Emerging Issues in Our Global                                Environment 2011

Access California Coastal Cleanup Day historical data,                                including “top ten” lists of debris items, and collection data dating back to 1989.

Page last updated February 2017.

Auman, H. J. et al., 1997. Plastic ingestion by Laysan Albatross chicks on Sand Island, Midway Atoll, in 1994 and 1995. In: Albatross Biology and Conservation, 239-244 [online]

Barnes, David K.A. Galgani, Francois Thompson, Richard C. Barlaz, Morton, 2009. Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. In: The Royal Society Biological Sciences Vol. 364, No. 1526, 1985-1998 [online]

Barnes D.K.A., 2002. Invasion by marine life on plastic debris. In: Nature 416, 808-809 [online]

Baulch, Sarah, Clare Perry, 2014. Evaluating the impacts of marine debris on cetaceans. In: Marine Pollution Bulletin 80, 210-221. [online]

Bravo Rebolledo, E. L. Van Franeker, J. A. Jansen, O. E., Brasseur, S. M.J.M, 2013. Plastic ingestion by harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in The Netherlands. In: Marine Pollution Bulletin 67, 200-202 [online]

Choy, C. A. Drazen, J. C., 2013. Plastic for dinner? Observations of frequent debris ingestion by pelagic predatory fishes from the central North Pacific. In: Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol. 485, 155-163 [online]

Jambeck, Jenna R., Geyer, Roalnd, Wilcox, Chris, Siegler, Theodore R., Perryman, Miriam, Andrady, Anthony, Narayan, Ramani, Law, Kara Lavender. Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean. In: Marine Pollution Bulletin Vol. 347, Issue 6223, 768-771. [online]

Leichter, J. J., 2010. Investigating the Accumulation of Plastic Debris in the North Pacific Gyre. In: Interdisciplinary Studies on Environmental Chemistry – Marine Environmental Modeling & Analysis, Eds., K. Omori, X. Guo, N. Yoshie, N. Fujii, I. C. Handoh, A. Isobe and S. Tanabe, pp. 251-259 [online]

McIlgorm, A., Campbell H. F. and Rule M. J., 2008. Understanding the economic benefits and costs of controlling marine debris in the APEC region. APEC Project MRC 02/2007 [online]

Moore, C. J., S. L. Moore, M. K. Leecaster, and S. B. Weisberg, 2001. A comparison of plastic and plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre. In: Marine Pollution Bulletin 42, 1297-1300. [online]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program. 2014 Report on the Entanglement of Marine Species in Marine Debris with an Emphasis on Species in the United States. Silver Spring, MD. 28 pp [online]

Pendleton, Linwood Kildow, Judith, 2006. The Non-Market Value of Beach Recreation in California. In: Shore & Beach Shore Vol. 74, No. 2, pp. 34-37 [online]

Rios, L. M. Moore, C. Jones, P. R., 2007. Persistent organic pollutants carried by synthetic polymers in the ocean environment. In: Marine Pollution Bulletin 54, 1230-1237 online]

Rochman, CM. Hoh, E. Kurobe, T. Teh, S.J., 2013. Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress. In: Nature, Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 3263 [online]

Rochman, Chelsea M., Akbar Tahir, Susan L. Williams, Dolores V. Baxa, Rosalyn Lam, Jeffrey T. Miller, Foo-Ching Teh, Shinta Werorilangi & Swee J. Teh, 2015. Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption. In: Nature, Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 14340 [online]

Schlining, K., von Thun, S., Kuhnz, L., Schlining, B., Lundsten, L., Jacobsen Stout, N., Chaney, L., Connor, J., 2013. Debris in the deep: Using a 22-year video annotation database to survey marine litter in Monterey Canyon, Central California, USA, Deep-Sea Research Part 1: Oceanographic Research Papers, Vol. 79, 96-105 [online]

Shavonne K. Stanek, Rebecca Sutton, Sherri A. Mason, Ellen Willis-Norton, Ian F. Wren, Carolynn Box 2015. Microplastic Contamination in San Francisco Bay. [poster online]

Stickel, B. H., A. Jahn and W. Kier 2012. The Cost to West Coast Communities of Dealing with Trash, Reducing Marine Debris. Prepared by Kier Associates for U.S. E.P.A., Region 9 [online]

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel-GEF (2012). Impacts of Marine Debris on Biodiversity: Current Status and Potential Solutions, Montreal, Technical Series No. 67, 61 pages. [online]

Marine Debris: Understanding, Preventing and mitigating the Significant Adverse Impacts on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity (2016). Technical Series No. 83. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, 78 pages. [online]

Van Franeker, J.A. & The SNS Fulmar Study Group, 2013. Fulmar Litter EcoQO monitoring along Dutch and North Sea coasts – Update 2010 and 2011. IMARES Report C076/13. IMARES, Texel. 61pp [online]

Van Sebille, E., Wilcox, C., Lebreton, L., Maximenko, N., Hardesty, B.D., Van Franeker, J.A., Eriksen, M., Siegel, D., Galgani, F., & Lavender Law, K. 2015. A global inventory of small floating plastic debris. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 10, Number 12 [online]