He Shelves Sea Shells By the Seashore

Dennis Kellys tales of briny woe

Our coastal waters provide further examples of small victories and inexorable decline. Kelly is cheered that the levels of heavy metals and polychlorinated hydrocarbons—inorganic chemicals such as DDT—have been declining in the local sea life.

"I had a program set up for a while where I'd collect dead sea lions and dolphins that washed up on the beach and get tests done on them. That's when we found out, about 15 years ago, that the sea life off this coast was so polluted that individual dolphins qualified as toxic waste. You'd be violating the law if you buried them." That's no longer true.

That's the plus side. The minus:

"All the fisheries are gone. The abalone are gone. The lobster population is in real trouble. The natural kelp beds are gone. The only balanced indigenous tide pools remaining are on tiny strips of private coast. We're only starting to study the effect of the air pollution that settles on the ocean's microlayer surface, where a lot of the larval fish live. At full-tilt, the Huntington Beach power plants will be sucking in 160 million gallons of water per day and heating it up 15 degrees, killing 100 percent of the plankton that goes through it. And I don't entirely trust the sanitation district to scrutinize itself in its $4.1 million study of whether it's their waste fouling the waters, which, of course, will be an even bigger problem if it's the power station that's sucking it into shore.

"Meanwhile, the Irvine Co. is doing a shameful job above Crystal Cove. They announced they were using 'state-of-the-art' methods to divert their construction-site runoff away from the ocean. Right. That's why last year, you could see a two-mile plume of silt flowing out from the cove. Crystal Cove is the last place here where dolphins can birth their young, and with people from the 6,000 homes the Irvine Co. is building splashing around in the cove, the dolphins are going to abort their babies and not come back."

Hopeless? No, just vexing and exhausting. "It requires eternal vigilance. It isn't fun going to these interminable meetings. But people who think it's useless need to look at what a few people have accomplished. There's Frank and Fran Robinson, who took on the Irvine Co.'s plans for Upper Newport Bay three decades ago, and thanks to them, it's an ecological preserve forever now. John Cunningham, a lifeguard, helped start Friends of the Sea Lion. The sea lions they doctor have an 85 percent chance of survival compared to the zero percent they had before. There's Jack Skinner, a retired physician who took on the health department when they insisted they were doing enough bacteria testing at our beaches. He collected his own samples, proved them wrong and got them to do a better job. There's Laura Davick and the Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove, and there's Garry Brown and Randy Seaton of Orange County CoastKeeper, who, though they're a new group, have had a great impact. They're all just individuals who aren't doing any more than anyone else is able to do. The only difference is that they're doing it."

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