Marine Pollution

The land and sea are inextricably linked. Much of the water pollution in California, from urban or agricultural runoff to municipal discharge, ends up in the ocean. Historically, the legal and policy frameworks and the many institutions that govern land-based activities and freshwater resources have developed and been administered quite separately from those related to the oceans. OPC is uniquely positioned to continue to advance effective management, and to reduce the impacts of land based activities on the ocean, in partnership with other agencies that have regulatory authority and coordinating roles concerning these issues.

The OPC has identified three priority land-based threats to ocean resources (described below) where the Council can make tangible progress through improved coordination, targeted information sharing, and development of policy recommendations.

Downstream Impacts

Over the past several decades there has been dramatic decrease in coastal pollution through the construction of treatment plants and implementation of water quality regulations. However, California’s ocean resources continue to be impacted by pollution and by emerging, complex problems along the coast. Addressing some of these issues may require significant policy changes, enormous infrastructure investments, improved monitoring or advancing our scientific understanding. The OPC can help by identifying targeted studies and policy recommendations to ensure that protection of the ocean is integrated into the state’s approach to water management.


Funded Projects

Marine Debris

Photo Credit: Sonoma Coast Surfrider

Marine debris is a problem of international scale, as demonstrated by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre; however, it is also an issue that needs to be addressed at a local level. Marine debris pollutes our beaches, creates a hazard for humans, entangles and poisons wildlife, and imposes costs on local municipalities through collection efforts and lost tourism revenue. The OPC will continue its work to coordinate efforts to reduce marine debris by leading collaborative partnerships, supporting implementation of past recommendations, funding targeted studies to inform management and policy debates, and sharing that information with decision makers.


Funded Projects

Sediment Management

Photo credit: NOAA

Sediment management in upland watersheds, along the coast, and in the near shore environment has significant impacts on habitats and coastal resources. Modifications on land including dams, sand and gravel mining, and paving many coastal watersheds continuously diminish sediment input into coastal areas, while coastal armoring and placement of hard structures along the coast exacerbate coastal erosion and impede natural sediment transport. Sediment is an essential resource needed to maintain various coastal environments such as beaches, wetlands, and dunes. However, sediment can also act as a pollutant, carrying contaminants such as metals; it can also smother salmon and steelhead spawning habitat. Improving sediment management will be critical for the state to maintain natural coastal habitats in the face of rising sea levels.


Funded Projects

Artificial Lighting

California from space

The California coast lights up from space. Photo Credit: Michael Konig

Artificial lighting refers to lights placed near the shoreline that alter where, when, how much, and what wavelengths of light are present. Commonly termed “light pollution,” this excess light comes from a variety of sources, including streetlights in residential or commercial areas, advertising lighting, architectural lighting, and vehicle lighting, creating a patchwork of excess light reaching coastal habitats.

Artificial light in marine and coastal areas can have a variety of negative impacts on habitats and species, including seabirds and tidepool animals that live in our coastal environments. Artificial lighting is a concern all along the coastline, but additional measures should be taken to reduce or eliminate artificial lighting near Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), especially in Southern California, where many MPAs are adjacent to densely populated areas.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the effects of artificial lighting on our coast and how you can help.