Letter: We need to understand and protect Laguna sea life

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Charts matter if we want to understand and protect Laguna’s sea life and advance a healthier ocean. 

Surf the internet for the “Gulf of Santa Catalina”, the “Southern California Eddy Current” and “Ocean Upwelling” to see first hand how Laguna’s sea water is mobilized to flow upcoast delivering the area’s secondary sewage plume from the Aliso Creek Ocean Outfall to Marine Protected Areas and local coves and beaches. Each day, as much as 10 million gallons of secondary sewage, bioaccumulating to over 1/2 billion gallons annually, is discharged just 1.5 miles offshore of Aliso Beach and south of the Montage Resort.

Nautical charts for the US Coast Guard (USCG), National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Navy identify Laguna’s coastal waters as the Gulf of Santa Catalina – “discovered” by Juan Cabrillo’s expedition in 1542. A recent informal survey found that 72% of local readers agreed, yet most official documents mislabel Laguna’s ocean as the “Pacific Ocean.”

The ocean generates 50 percent of the oxygen we need, absorbs 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and captures 90 percent of the excess heat generated by these emissions. It is not just ‘the lungs of the planet’ but also its largest ‘carbon sink’ – a vital buffer against the impacts of climate change.

Open ocean waters function differently than gulf waters acting as semi-embayments to retain and recirculate seawater. When sea water enters the Gulf of Santa Catalina, powerful currents and counter-currents create gyres to capture and recirculate this trapped ocean water. Whatever is discharged into the underwater valley between Laguna Beach and Catalina Island tends to remain and not “go away.” The illusion of dilution in gulf waters only perpetuates ocean pollution as wastewater contaminates bioaccumulate in marine life until harmful algae blooms trigger deadly domoic acid poisoning events, sickening marine mammals and creating massive fish die-offs.

Wastewater in surrounding cities is mostly directed to beneficial reuse for irrigation, wildfire protection and similar non-potable demands. Laguna Beach, by contrast, still pays to discharge 1.87 million gallons to the ocean every day. We remain the only community without recycled water for wildfire protection as we continue irrigating city parks like Main Beach with precious dwindling supplies of drinking water. 

We will do better when enough of us care enough to demand an end to careless ocean discharges.

Mike Beanan, Laguna Beach

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