Life On the Coast

by on July 26, 2023 · 3 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

By Anne Kegley

I explored the reef at a little beach this week. A low tide had just passed. In a small cove south of the OB pier, the receding tide uncovered a diverse and richly occupied intertidal zone.

It was 8:30 am, still gray. A biosphere a world away from downtown beach crowds.

Blue-green sea anemones had planted themselves in the sand like paver stones, rinsed by receding waves.

It was a marine garden,  decorated with limpets of many colors clinging to the cliff walls.

All photos of shore creatures by Anne Kegley.

Black mussels attached themselves to the rocks in clumps.

Small striped shore crabs were hiding in the crevices of the rocks.

It was satisfying to see how clear and clean the water was. Ocean Beach and Point Loma consistently get high scores for water quality.

Heal the Bay, a nonprofit organization committed to protecting the public health and providing water quality information, issues a beach report card for public beach water quality all along the west coast.

The 33rd Annual Beach Report Card was issued this June, including an Honor Roll and a Beach Bummer list. From the Pacific Northwest to Mexico, seven hundred beaches were evaluated for water quality, with three grades each: one for summer, one for winter-dry weather and one for winter-wet weather.

As you might imagine, the long stretch of sunny days in the summer has 94% of California beaches getting a grade of A or B.  During the rainy season, good grades decline temporarily but significantly.

The record amount of rainfall that fell across California last winter took its toll everywhere and led to an enormous decrease in water quality. There was a very short Honor Roll list.

Out of the seven hundred beaches tested, only two beaches had good or excellent grades during the wet weather. One of them was at Point Loma lighthouse.

Seawater is tested by the City of San Diego Marine Biology, Marine Biochemistry and Environmental Chemistry divisions. They sample areas near shore at public beaches and river outflow areas as well as off shore. Eight of the fifty two sampling sites are in the Point Loma kelp beds.

During the summers, Ocean Beach and all along the cliffs consistently get an A if there is no rain. Testing is done at the San Diego river, the jetty, Bermuda, Narragansett and Newport Avenues, Ladera St. and Point Loma lighthouse.

There were all A’s, except for Sunset Cliffs at Ladera, which got an A during dry weather but a D  when it rains.

The San Diego Coastkeeper is another hard working advocate for preserving a clean coast. To keep you updated with water quality at your favorite beach, Coastkeeper provides the status of more than 80 San Diego beaches.

For over two decades their efforts have helped reduce the number of sewage spills by 90%. Coastkeeper has been involved in ensuring clean, healthy San Diego beaches and reducing single use plastic waste. Their work also includes organizing beach clean-ups, and promoting Marine Protected Areas, including Famosa Slough, Tijuana Rivermouth, Batiquitos and San Elijo Lagoons, La Jolla, and the Point Loma kelp forest of Cabrillo State Marine Reserve.

It appears we really are swimming in beautifully clean water- laboratory confirmed.  It’s getting even better over the years. However, nature still has its own contaminants.

Since 1927, California has had an early detection system year round for algae-produced biotoxins, including PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning) and domoic acid.

California’s Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program is the oldest monitoring system of its kind in the nation. Not only do they monitor the water, but also wild mussels since mussels concentrate toxins more efficiently than other sea life. Not hard to catch, either.

For any rise in levels of these toxins detected in the ocean or in wild mussels, a health advisory is issued for wild-harvesting of shellfish.

There is always a Don’t-Eat-Wild-Mussels advisory for May through October, when algae blooms are more likely.

Commercially grown mussels are a booming industry, as they are grown in colder waters in aquaculture farms with close monitoring of water quality.  The 2022 harvest of New Zealand mussels was 80,000 metric tons.  Garlic butter makes them most amazing.

If you’re not chipping mussels off the reef for dinner, you have nothing to worry about . You’re more likely to get hit by a falling coconut than end up in the ER with PSP or domoic acid poisoning. Should you ditch your surfboard or playing in the waves? Not a chance.

You would have be eating wild mussels during the summer months during an algae bloom, like the seagulls, or consuming pounds of contaminated anchovies and sardines like the sea lions to be affected.

USC’s Marine Science department has reported a few sea lions and seagulls affected by these toxins, but it’s not common.

Algae is more likely to bloom in the presence of excess nitrogen and phosphorus due to water contamination. Kelp forests eat nitrogen and phosphorus for lunch, cleaning the water, leaving algae deprived of nutrients.

It’s no wonder that Point Loma made the Heal the Bay Honor Roll even in the rain, since the kelp forest off Cabrillo Point in the marine reserve is the largest and deepest one in California.

It is a scuba diver’s paradise, to see the sun filtering down through the leaves of swaying kelp, sometimes 70 feet in height. Its shelter fosters a diversity and abundance of sea life.

This thriving underwater ecosystem provides habitats for over 800 species of sea life including tuna, sea bass, octopus, lobsters, eels, sea urchins, sea snails, brittle stars, seals and sea otters.

It is estimated that kelp forests contribute $500 billion annually to the global economy by providing a safe spot for valuable fish and seafood species and capturing over four million tons of carbon annually.

The tiny cove is a microcosm of the rich biodiversity of our coastline. Coastal preservation and enhancement has been put in motion by many forward-thinking environmentalists, marine scientists and lovers of the sea.

I think I’ll go back to the cove and contemplate the perfection of an anemone and then dive through a wave!

Anne Kegley moved here as soon as she could and has been a resident of OB for fifteen years. She describes herself as “Nature lover, ex-biology major, and thalassophile.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Blavatt July 26, 2023 at 11:32 am

Anne- Good reporting with a lot of important information. Also, great photos. Thanks for the article.


Anne K July 26, 2023 at 11:41 am

Thank you Kathleen, it was great fun to do it!


Bobby Cali July 28, 2023 at 1:55 am

Enjoy this article very much. Much more science which is what I like.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: