Landmark Statewide Microplastics Strategy Recommends Early Actions and Research Priorities to Reduce Microplastic Pollution

In response to increasing concern about pervasive and persistent pollution caused by microplastics, California has prepared a first-of-its-kind Statewide Microplastics Strategy that recommends early actions and research priorities to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment. The Strategy follows the direction of Senate Bill 1263 (Portantino), which was signed into law in 2018 and is scheduled for adoption by the Ocean Protection Council at its Wednesday, Feb. 23 meeting. 

University of Toronto / Tsui, N.

Essential to California’s Microplastic Strategy is the recognition that decisive, precautionary action to reduce microplastic pollution must be taken now, such as taking comprehensive action to reduce single-use plastics and other top sources of marine litter, while scientific knowledge and understanding of microplastics sources, impacts, and successful reduction measures continue to grow. Plastics are ubiquitous in both our daily lives and in the environment. Worldwide, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, and without any intervention, this amount is anticipated to triple by 2040. Over time, plastics break down in aquatic environments into pieces of ever-decreasing size, with those less than 5 mm in size known as microplastics.  

Microplastics are easily ingested by marine life, causing harm such as tissue inflammation, impaired growth, developmental anomalies, and reproductive difficulties. Microplastics have also been found in human stool, lung, and placenta samples, indicating the potential for human health impacts, and within soils and plants.

Research in California has identified tire and road wear, synthetic textiles, cigarette filters and single-use plastic foodware as among the top identified sources of microplastics in California bay and ocean waters, sediment, and fish tissue.

The Statewide Microplastics Strategy sets a multi-year roadmap for California to take a national and global leadership role in managing microplastics pollution. The Strategy outlines a two-track approach to comprehensively manage microplastic pollution: the first track lists immediate, no regrets actions and multi-benefit solutions to reduce and manage microplastic pollution, and the second track outlines a comprehensive research strategy to enhance the scientific understanding of microplastics in California and inform future action.  

Photo courtesy National Science Foundation/SCR #193528

Solutions 

  • Pollution Prevention: Eliminate plastic waste at the source (products or materials from which microplastics originate). 
  • Pathway Interventions: Intervene within specific pathways (ex: stormwater runoff, wastewater, aerial deposition) that mobilize microplastics into California waters. 
  • Outreach & Education: Engage and inform the public and industries of microplastic sources, impacts, and solutions. 

Science to Inform Future Action 

  • Monitoring: Understand and identify trends of microplastic pollution statewide. 
  • Risk Thresholds & Assessment: Improve understanding of impacts to aquatic life and human health. 
  • Sources & Pathways Prioritization: Identify & prioritize future management solutions based on local data. 
  • Evaluating New Solutions: Develop and implement future solutions.  

The public is invited to participate in the Feb. 23 meeting. Agenda and instructions on joining can be found here.

OPC’s Year in Review: Meeting Challenges, Advancing Equity, Protecting Our Ocean

“As we look to 2022, our goal at the agency is to… continue California’s global leadership, combating climate change, transitioning our economy, and protecting our people and nature in the meantime. I believe strongly that people are resilient and that nature is resilient. We can adapt and weather these changes we are experiencing right now, and we at the Natural Resources Agency and across state government are focused on strengthening the resilience of our communities, our residents, and of our natural places to these changes we are experiencing. I’m optimistic that we will work harder than ever before and make unprecedented process toward building this resilience.” – from California Natural Resources Secretary and Ocean Protection Council Chair Wade Crowfoot’s end of the year video message

As 2021 brought global challenges to the forefront, the state of California responded with bold, decisive actions to protect our coast and ocean. OPC staff led multiple projects designed to restore wetlands, improve water quality, prevent plastic pollution, respond to environmental justice inequities, promote sustainable fisheries, protect marine wildlife and build resilience to climate change.

Despite the many looming threats, we continue to find hope in the form of scientific solutions to the planet’s biggest problems and in the promising work done by our grantees on the front lines. Join us in celebrating specific achievements from the past year below: … read more

Draft Statewide Microplastics Strategy is Available for Public Comment

OPC is pleased to release the draft Statewide Microplastics Strategy, which outlines a statewide research strategy and recommended early actions to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment, consistent with Senate Bill 1263 (Portantino, 2018).

We welcome feedback on this draft Strategy.

Public comment should be submitted to OPCmicroplastics@resources.ca.gov by 5:00 pm on January 21, 2022.

 A revised draft, based on public comment, is anticipated to be released in February 2022 for consideration by the Ocean Protection Council at its February 23, 2022 meeting. Questions can be directed to OPC’s Water Quality Program Manager, Kaitlyn Kalua at Kaitlyn.Kalua@resources.ca.gov.

Environmental Justice Communities to Receive $7.5M for Coastal Water Quality Projects

At its December 7 meeting, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) for the first time approved funding exclusively for coastal water quality projects that directly benefit Environmental Justice (EJ) Communities. A total of $7.5M in Proposition 1 funds will be disbursed to six projects that support multi-benefit ecosystem and watershed protection or restoration, habitat enhancement, resilience to climate change and community engagement. 

While OPC regularly funds important ocean- and coast-related projects throughout the state, this is the Council’s first time soliciting projects that provide direct benefits to state-defined disadvantaged and severely disadvantaged communities, California Native American tribes, and communities that score above 80 percent on CalEnviroScreen results.

Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency and OPC Chair Wade Crowfoot commended the state’s investment in the proposed community-driven projects, saying, “This effort is a really powerful model for how the state can prioritize funding that more effectively advances both natural resources protection and environmental justice.” 

OPC Wetlands Program Manager Maria Rodriguez agreed. “This is OPC’s first step in accomplishing a dedicated pathway for funding EJ communities and projects that put community benefits at the forefront and emphasize social and economic benefits,” she said. “These are elements that OPC is working to incorporate into other funding opportunities to ensure community benefits are meaningful, direct and can be delivered through projects or programs OPC is leading.”

Funded projects span California’s coastline

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California Biodiversity Day 2021 – Get Involved!

As a state, California boasts both the highest number of species total and the highest number of species that occur nowhere else. Our state’s animal and plant life is so varied that we’ve been named as one of 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots by Conservation International. For California Biodiversity Day on Tuesday, Sept. 7, we’re turning our attention to what climate change means for ocean wildlife – and what we’re doing to protect the habitat those creatures rely on. (See the full line-up of California Biodiversity Day events here.)

Plenty of iconic ocean creatures can be seen from California’s shores including harbor seals, sea otters, elephant seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and whales. Our tide pools feature anemones, urchins, nudibranchs, limpets, mussels, crabs and many more animals uniquely suited to living in these constantly changing homes. Cormorants, osprey, sandpipers, godwits and pelicans are only some of the hundreds of species of coastal birds diving, soaring and nesting along our beaches. Dozens of types of flowers and other plants dot long stretches of undeveloped coastline. This all combines to create a fascinating and beautiful 1,100 miles along the Pacific Ocean. … read more

California Ocean Protection Council Announces West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel

California and Oregon are joining forces to help address ocean acidification and hypoxia, a West Coast-wide threat to our shared marine and coastal ecosystems. The California Natural Resources Agency, on behalf of the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), today signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Oregon to jointly sponsor a high-level science panel to help address the issue of ocean acidification and hypoxia.  The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel will provide state-level decision makers with the knowledge needed to evaluate and develop action plans for these complex issues. The science panel will also identify the research and monitoring needed to contribute to a West Coast-wide assessment of ocean acidification and hypoxia, and address information and data gaps critical to resource management decisions. … read more

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia

Ocean acidification and hypoxia, two phenomena often coupled for a variety of biological and oceanographic reasons, have the potential for profound impacts on living marine resources. Scientists have already demonstrated serious impacts on shell-building organisms, among others, and severe effects on the shellfish industry have been documented in the Pacific Northwest. In California, resource managers, stakeholders, tribes and citizens are beginning to express concerns about these emerging threats to local ecosystems, communities, and coastal economies.

Ocean Protection Council and Partner Efforts to Address Complex Processes

California is uniquely situated to advance collective understanding about ocean acidification and hypoxia and to use this knowledge to inform multiple management strategies. The California Ocean Protection Council and the California Ocean Science Trust are working hand-in-hand to elevate attention to ocean acidification and hypoxia in several arenas. Through its Cabinet-level leadership, the Ocean Protection Council is working both within the state and with West Coast leaders to identify appropriate responses to these coast-wide phenomena. This work is exemplified by the interdisciplinary West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, convened at the request of the Ocean Protection Council by the California Ocean Science Trust to provide decision makers with the knowledge needed to thoughtfully evaluate effective management actions.

California’s investment in a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) provides opportunities to study the early impacts of ocean acidification, hypoxia and other stressors, while bolstering the resilience of California’s ocean ecosystems in the face of these emerging threats. The Ocean Protection Council and the Ocean Science Trust are positioned at the nexus between science and policy, and this collaboration brings emerging science to bear on evolving policy and management responses within California and across the West Coast. Several key efforts are described below.

A West Coast Leadership Priority

The Pacific Coast Collaborative and West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health recognize ocean acidification as a priority ocean and coastal health issue, given the added vulnerability of the West Coast. In December 2013, the West Coast Governors and the Premier of British Columbia mobilized to provide a joint letter to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in fulfillment of an initial action called for in the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy to enlist support for research on ocean acidification. This letter raises awareness of ocean acidification at the highest levels, promotes the collaborative efforts and leadership from the West Coast, and requests specific action and enhanced support from our federal partners. In response, a convening of state, provincial, and federal leaders to develop a joint strategy to address ocean acidification and hypoxia is currently being planned for later in 2014. The OPC Executive Director is in close contact with counterparts in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia on this issue.

West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel

OAH Panel LogoAt its September 13, 2012 public meeting, the OPC formally charged the OPC Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT), under the leadership of the California Ocean Science Trust (OST), with convening a high-level ocean acidification and hypoxia science panel to provide decision makers with the knowledge needed to thoughtfully evaluate effective management actions. Recognizing the west coast-wide nature of the potential impacts, the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel is composed of leading scientists from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia who will look for driving mechanisms that are common to the entire Pacific coast. The Panel will build upon the work of the Washington State Ocean Acidification Blue Ribbon Panel, address information and data gaps critical to resource management decisions, and identify the research and monitoring needed to contribute to a west coast-wide assessment of ocean acidification and hypoxia.

California Current Acidification Network

photo credit: Henry Wolcott

C-CAN is an interdisciplinary collaboration among managers, scientists, and industry working to coordinate and enhance acidification monitoring along the entire west coast. The OPC Science Advisor (OST Executive Director) and several of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panelists participate on the C-CAN Steering Committee. C-CAN works with the regional ocean observing system associations, including the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CenCOOS) and the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS), to coordinate and encourage development of an acidification monitoring network for that serves publicly available data through the sharing of resources. C-CAN has produced a vision document describing how this data could be used by the management community, as well as a core principles document that describes the elements of a comprehensive and efficient monitoring network.

Supporting Scientific Partnerships to Enhance Understanding

The OPC has committed support to improve scientific understanding of acidification and hypoxia and the impacts to biological resources. The OPC is funding research through California Sea Grant to provide insights into effects of the upwelling of acidic waters and implications for shellfish along the California coast, and recently approved funding for scientists to perform integrated modeling of acidification, hypoxia, and nutrient inputs in the coastal ocean. The project will enhance current regional oceanographic modeling systems enabling a more comprehensive and consistent evaluation of both anthropogenic and climatic perturbations on near-shore physical, chemical, and biological conditions.

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

Toxins

Contaminants of Emerging Concern Workshop

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