California Whale Entanglements: August 20th Public Meeting

Please Note: A working group has been convened to continue discussion on topics raised at the August 20th meeting described below. To see the working group main webpage with current activities, click here.

California Whale Entanglements

On August 20, 2015 the Ocean Protection Council, CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA Fisheries hosted a meeting focused on sharing information and exploring ways to reduce the risk of entanglements in the California Dungeness crab fishery. Commercial and recreational fishermen, environmental NGOs, and interested members of the public gathered to discuss this important issue. PDF versions of the slides shared at the meeting can be downloaded below.

Single-use plastic bag ban signed in California

On September 30, 2014 California became the first state in the nation to enact a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. In this precedential moment, Secretary for Natural Resources and Ocean Protection Council Chair John Laird applauds the legislature and Governor Jerry Brown for ushering in this ban.

Cost to West Coast Communities of Dealing with Trash and Reducing Marine Debris

ScreenShot035Through a 2012 contract with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Kier Associates quantified the cost spent by 90 cities, large and small, in California, Oregon and Washington located along the coast or in watersheds draining to the ocean, to clean up litter and prevent trash from entering the ocean or waterways leading to it. The study finds that these West Coast communities, regardless of their size, spend an annual average $13 per resident to control litter and reduce marine debris. Nearly fifty million people live in these three states and over 85 percent of them live on the ocean or along rivers leading to it. West Coast communities are, therefore, spending more than $520,000,000 a year to combat litter and prevent marine debris. This public cost burden makes a compelling argument for accelerating the search for effective strategies to reduce and prevent trash streams that enter our waterways and contribute to marine debris.

Information on efforts to address marine debris resulting from the 2011 Japanese Tsunami

Credit: US Navy

On March 11 of 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake stuck off the coast of Tōhoku, Japan and generated a tsunami wave that washed debris from land into the Pacific Ocean. Some of the debris washed into the ocean is expected to reach U.S. and Canadian shores over the next several years.

Efforts are already moving forward to bring information together on the event. For guidelines on handling Tsunami debris, model estimates of the debris path, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and news updates, please visit the following webpages:

Thank You Ocean Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Web Portal
Thank You Ocean provides a go-to site describing what the state and federal governments are doing to address this issue, and what you should do if you see Japan Tsunami marine debris. Check out the Thank You Ocean podcast on this topic to learn more from experts.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Japan Tsunami Marine Debris
NOAA is leading efforts with federal, state, and local partners to collect data, assess the debris, and reduce possible impacts to our natural resources and coastal communities.

Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Joint Information Center
This Joint Information Center is a multi-agency public information and education site.  The information provided here is intended to provide a convenient “one stop shop” to access official information, answers to frequently asked questions and other resources regarding the anticipated increase in ocean debris along the coastlines of the Pacific Ocean.  Reliable and accurate information is the number one goal.

Pacific Coast Collaborative Workplan on Japanese Tsunami Debris
The governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, and the Premier of British Columbia have announced that they will collaborate to manage potential marine debris from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Leaders agree to develop a joint communication strategy, share safety protocols for volunteers, and work with the Japanese government.

Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Volunteer Debris Removal Guidelines
This guideline document is meant to provide technical support to local, state, and federal agencies and non-profit volunteer organizations tasked with removing debris, including potentially contaminated marine debris, and marine debris generated by the 2011 Japan Tsunami. It was developed by the California Coastal Commission in support of the California Tsunami Marine Debris Multiagency Advisory Coordination Group (MAC-G).

Seven Governors ask for increased Federal government support to respond to Japanese tsunami debris – July 18th, 2012
The Governors of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern  Mariana Islands jointly address letter to President Obama asking for increased Federal government support towards response efforts to the Japanese Tsunami marine debris.



Plastic Debris in the Marine Environment

The OPC Marine Debris Resolution item #3 encourages new innovations to reduce plastic waste in the marine environment. One innovation is to identify alternatives that would biodegrade in the ocean and do not contain toxic materials. However, the effects and life-cycle of our current set of plastics need to be understood so alternatives can be developed.

The OPC commissioned an independent synthesis of scientific information as a place-marker for the current state of research on plastic debris in California’s marine environment. The California Ocean Science Trust partnered with USC Sea Grant, a known leader on the topic of water quality, to produce the report, which was released in October 2011.


Plastic Debris in the California Marine Ecosystem: A Summary of Current Research, Solution Efforts and Data Gaps

Related Projects


Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Pilot Project

The California Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Pilot Project was started in July 2005 by the SeaDoc Society with funding from the California Ocean Protection Council ($345,000), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation ($58,325) and the NOAA Marine Debris Program ($55,000).

The overall goal of the California Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Pilot Project was to: determine the degree to which derelict fishing gear is an important enough issue in California to warrant establishment of a statewide removal program, and,  if so, to position the project for long-term operation within the State of California.

During the pilot project  (July 2005 – December 2006) SeaDoc Society:

  • Removed nearly 10 tons of derelict fishing gear from around California’s Channel Islands
  • Identified 773 lost fishing gear targets through volunteer reports, and 47 days of volunteer diver surveys, sidescan sonar, and search and collection efforts
  • Cleaned up approximately 198 sq. km. of seafloor habitat through gear removal, resulting in reduced hazards for boaters, less obstructed grounds for commercial fisheries, and less threat for living coastal resources;
  • Repatriated 111 traps in good condition to commercial lobster fishermen
  • Completed the California Derelict Fishing Gear Removal Project Policies and Procedures Manual (March 2006);
  • Acquired permits, tested and refined protocols, and hired qualified staff and contractors; and
  • Distributed outreach materials and received media exposure

SeaDoc Society used the success of the pilot project to launch the California Lost Gear Recovery Project.  Since May 2006, the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project has retrieved nearly 11 tons of gear from around the California Channel Islands (Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Catalina). As well, the project has cleaned more than 1400 pounds of recreational fishing gear off public fishing piers from Santa Cruz to Imperial Beach including more than 1 million feet of fishing line. Several of these piers now have fishing line recycling bins, to encourage proper disposal of unwanted hooks and microfilament.


Ocean and coastal water quality

Beachgoers and wildlife need the same thing – clean ocean water. A relaxing day enjoying California’s waters can easily be undone by beach closures or widespread harmful algal blooms. With California’s coastal and ocean waters extending from the top of the watersheds to the deep waters off the coast, the Ocean Protection Council has made improving water quality a top priority.

The ocean is usually the end point of land-based pollutants that flow from coastal watersheds.  Nearshore impairment of water quality can result from municipal sewage discharges, industrial waste discharges, dredge spoils, and agricultural and urban runoff.  When water quality is poor, the ability of coastal ecosystems to support healthy fisheries, aquaculture, recreational opportunities, and other beneficial uses is undermined. The OPC is working to improve water quality through assisting agencies who enforce pollution control, encouraging new approaches to reduce non-point source pollution from land and point source pollution from vessels, eliminating harmful impacts from once-through cooling at power plants, boosting water quality testing programs and warning systems, and reducing marine debris.

Objectives of the Ocean and Coastal Water Quality Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:

Objective stormwater drainage pipe1: Enforce Pollution Controls

To reduce pollution, we must improve how California’s water quality laws are enforced. Several agencies have responsibility to keep our water clean but they may be hampered by funding or conflicting legislation. The OPC seeks to coordinate and support the agencies and their programs to enforce existing water quality laws. For example, the OPC is working with the Department of Fish and Game and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to support overlapping goals of improving water quality and protecting fish, wildlife and other coastal resources.

Photo Credit: Green Infrastructure

Objective 2: Innovation

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, California has made great strides in reducing point source pollution from industrial and other operations.  Yet, there has been less progress in reducing pollutants from non-point sources, such as storm water flows from heavily paved urban environments, construction sites, and agricultural operations. Innovative approaches are needed to continue to clean up our waterways. To that end, the OPC has supported expanded use of low-impact development through a 2008 resolution and accompanying projects.

Objective 3: Once-thEl Segundorough Cooling

In California, 21 coastal power plants use once-through cooling, a process in which large volumes of seawater are drawn into the power plant to condense steam created during electricity generation. When this occurs, small organisms such as plankton and larvae are drawn into the cooling system and killed, and larger fish are pinned against the water intake screens.  Warm water is also discharged back into the ocean, which harms the resident sea life. The OPC has supported the work of the State Water Resources Control Board to eliminate once-through cooling in California since 2006 with the passage of the first OPC resolution.

Objective 4: Water Quality TestingCape Rodney NZ credit Miriam Godfrey

Planning to enjoy a day at California’s coast can be ruined when a beach is closed from contaminated ocean water. Rapid indicators of pathogen contamination could provide for more timely notice of beach closures and openings. The OPC has targeted predicting harmful algal blooms (HABs) as one of the first improvements to water quality testing off the California coast.

Objective 5: Marine Debris

Ocean ConservancyThe accumulation of land-based litter and ocean-based derelict fishing gear in the ocean has garnered much attention in the media. Scientific studies have found more than 260 marine species suffer from marine debris by ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement. Risks from toxins and contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) associated with marine debris are a growing research area. The OPC began to address marine debris and toxins with a 2007 resolution that seeks to reduce ocean and coastal debris and its impacts to ocean ecosystems.

Objective 6: Vessel Pollution

Ships are a vital part of the ocean economy from commercial transportation to recreational use. California’s myriad of ports and harbors host pleasure craft, cruise ships, and oil tankers, all of which can act as individual sources of pollution to the sea. The OPC seeks to reduce and eliminate pollution from vessels such as developing effective alternatives to anti-fouling hull paints.


Initiatives and Funded Projects

Enforce Pollution Controls

Department of Fish and Game/LA Regional Water Quality Control Board MOU on Enforcement

Low-Impact Development (LID)

Implementation of LID in California

Once Through Cooling

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

California Sea Grant project

Marine Debris

Implementation Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter

Toxicological Profiles

Plastic Substances Study

Master Environmental Assessment on Single-use and Reusable Bags

Derelict Fishing Gear Pilot Project


Contaminants of Emerging Concern Workshop

Toxicological Profiles

Our industrial society uses a plethora of chemicals to survive. Inorganic and organic compounds are used for dry-cleaning, and producing rubber products, PVC pipes and plastic packaging. Some of these chemicals give plastics their desirable characteristics of flexibility and durability. However, most of these chemicals do not occur naturally in the environment and recently, more attention is being given to how those chemicals affect human health as they leach from the plastic products.Three chemicals were investigated in this project: bisphenol-a (BPA), nonylphenol (NP) and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). BPA has received much media attention as it is found in baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical devices, CDs and household electronics. NP is used as an industrial cleaning agent and a stabilizer of the chemical process during plastic and rubber manufacturing. DEHP is used commonly used for making PVC more flexible in many products, such as packaging, furniture upholstery, shower curtains, garden hoses and medical tubing. Research shows these chemicals can disrupt reproductive and developmental systems, increase cancer risks and damage the immune systems of experimental laboratory animals. The effects on marine ecosystems, where many plastic items with these chemical accumulate as litter, have yet to receive the same level of research so the impacts to marine animal health are mostly unknown.


The OPC Marine Debris Resolution item #11 encourages developing a plan for the phased ban of the most toxic types of plastic packaging. Part of that plan involves determining the risks to human and marine animal health from specific chemicals. The OPC turned to the expertise of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), a department of California Environmental Protection Agency whose mission is to protect and enhance public health and the environment by scientific evaluation of risks posed by hazardous substances.  OEHHA developed toxicological profile reports of BPA, NP and DEHP to inform how these chemicals affect the marine ecosystem.


The OPC used $155,684 from the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks and Coastal Protection Fund (Proposition 40) to fund this project.

Project Grantee

Integrated Risk Assessment Branch, The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)
California Environmental Protection Agency
David Siegel, PhD
(916) 322-5624


The toxicological profile reports may be viewed here:

Related Projects

Preventing Ocean Litter

Ocean litter – also commonly referred to as “marine debris” – is a persistent and growing problem worldwide that significantly impacts the health and beauty of our oceans and beaches. It poses serious threats to marine wildlife, including sea birds, turtles and mammals such as dolphins and whales, as well as human health and welfare. Scientific research demonstrates that debris in the oceans is increasing at an alarming rate: plastic debris in an area north of Hawaii known as the Northwest Pacific Gyre has increased 5-fold in the last 10 years. In the Southern Ocean, the amount of plastic debris increased 100 times during the early 1990s. These are just a few examples of the recent marked increase in marine debris. Researchers estimate that 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources, particularly trash and plastic litter in urban runoff, and the generation of trash and waste is increasing.On November 20, 2008, the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) adopted the final “Implementation Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter”. The document was created in response to the OPC’s February 2007 resolution that called for a plan of action to reduce and prevent marine debris. The report aims to prompt a change in how California generates, handles and disposes items that frequently land in our ocean. The implementation strategy offers sixteen recommendations, ranging from banning smoking on state beaches to anti-litter education and clean-up initiatives, with three priority actions that focus on reducing litter through direct economic actions. At the core is the goal of reducing the amount of litter that accumulates in the ocean, particularly the 60-80% that is lightweight and buoyant plastic material. This litter kills marine life, including endangered species, transports invasive species and toxic pollutants, and damages the aesthetics of our beaches and the sea.

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

The top three priority actions of the implementation strategy would remake California’s relationship with frequently used plastics and commonly littered items. The first priority action is to create a producer take-back program, or Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), for convenience food packaging. Successful EPR programs reduce waste by motivating manufacturers and distributors to use less packaging and more recyclable types of materials. The second priority action is a ban on polystyrene take-out food containers and a fee on single-use plastic and paper grocery bags. The goal behind this proposed fee and ban is to encourage a shift toward reusable bags and containers that are safer and less damaging to the marine environment. The third priority action recommends a fee be placed on commonly littered products that are not suitable for a take-back program or ban. The goal is to provide an incentive to consumers to buy less environmentally damaging products and to create a source of funds that can be used for new and improved litter-related programs, such as stricter enforcement of litter laws, increased clean up efforts, or alternative product development.

The OPC adopted the implementation strategy to encourage manufacturers, distributors, environmental groups, regulatory agencies and the public to reassess how our actions contribute to the growing problem of marine debris. Written with the guidance of the Marine Debris Steering Committee, the report is the first comprehensive plan that involves all Californians in a broad effort to curb ocean litter.


Plastic Debris in the California Marine Ecosystem: A Summary of Current Research, Solution Efforts and Data Gaps (September 2011)

Implementation Strategy

Marine Debris Resolution

Extended Producer Responsibility Resolution

Related Projects

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy