A Mystery Solved

Many mysteries wash up on the beach. A little over a year ago, I found a message in a bottle with a cryptic love note curled up inside, and on a foggy morning in April, I was surprised to discover a partial denture smiling up at me from the rocks.

I can’t help but wonder about the people behind the items I find, and I often make up stories about them as I walk, all the while wishing I knew what really happened.

A mystery I had always hoped to solve came to a resolution recently.

Because I have been cleaning the same stretch of coastline in Carlsbad several times a week for over three years, I have come to notice patterns. The type of refuse that washes up varies depending on the weather and the tides, but some things remain constant. Water bottles, bottle caps, straws, and balloons are common beach finds throughout the year.

In addition to everyday single use plastics, I have frequently found something unusual—small plastic sprockets. I actually made it a personal challenge to spot at least one every time I visited the beach because my clean up efforts just wouldn’t feel complete if I didn’t have any to take home.

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March 15, 2014

As my collection of sprockets grew, I became more and more curious about them. I was told that they were probably coming from sprinkler systems. The idea seemed plausible. I could imagine how sprinkler parts would enter the run off and end up at the ocean.

However, the sprockets continued to wash up, and I began to question this theory. Why were there so many and where were they coming from?

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October 27, 2014

As time went on, the sprinkler explanation didn’t make sense any more, and I felt compelled to find an answer. I posted a photograph to Instagram and asked the network of beach cleaners who are active on Instagram to help me identify them.

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December 8, 2015

I received several helpful responses. People suggested that they were aquarium filter media, plastic biodiscs, biofilm carriers, and wastewater treatment bacteria substrates. A few mentioned that sewage treatment plants use them, and another added that a sewage treatment plant was determined to be the cause of biofilters entering the ocean near where he lives.

Their answers led me to the water treatment plant located just east of the beach where I walk. Naturally, I assumed  it was the culprit. I called the plant to report what I was finding and spoke to an engineer who assured me that they do not use that type of biofilter. I was glad that they weren’t the source but felt frustrated that I didn’t have an answer.

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June 5, 2016

In May, I posted another photo to Instagram and @justgrabbits responded with a comment: “When biofilters go rouge, geeze, Janis. Do you find a lot of these?” Then, Toby Brown, the man behind the @justgrabbits movement, messaged me on Facebook and suggested that I contact the local Waterkeeper or Coastkeeper organization.

I immediately contacted SD Coastkeeper, and it didn’t take long for me to hear back from Matt O’Malley, the Waterkeeper Legal and Policy Director for San Diego. He was interested in knowing more and sincerely wanted to help me solve the mystery.

In mid June, my husband and I met with Matt and gave him a handful of biofilters. He shared the information with the San Diego Regional Water Board, and they traced the biofilters to Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute, a sea-bass hatchery located at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, CA.

On June 28, the Regional Water Control Board conducted an inspection. As a result, they issued a Staff Enforcement Letter and are holding the facility accountable for discharges that are polluting the Pacific Ocean.

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July 26, 2016—A record breaking 24 biofilters were collected during one afternoon walk.

I am thrilled that this source of plastic pollution will be stopped and am gratified to know that my persistence led to a positive outcome. I expect to find fewer and fewer biofilters over time, but I will continue to clean the beach as often as I can because many more mysteries will be washing up.

I will never know the story behind the message in a bottle nor will I know how the dentures ended up in the beach, but this one important mystery has been solved with support from the planet-loving, beach-cleaning friends I have made through social media and thanks to my newfound friends at San Diego Coastkeeper.

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To report pollution or water waste to SD Coastkeeper: http://www.sdcoastkeeper.org/act/find/report-a-pollution-incident

For information about how to have fun and “help pick up a bit” visit, Grabbits

 

This entry was posted in #Litterati, Environment, Instagram, Marine Debris and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A Mystery Solved

  1. tutormentor1 says:

    Yours is a crusade that must be very satisfying. Keep it going.

  2. Sonja says:

    Thank you so much. My husband and I often take out buckets for clean up to the Terramar beach near the power plant and the lagoon. I find many of these sprockets as well. I am so VERY grateful you had the gumption to get to the bottom of this and do something about it. You have just empowered me! Thank you a thousand times. I will be more mindful with every price of trash I pick up from this day forward.

    • Wow! Thank you so much for commenting. My thanks to you and your husband for cleaning the beach.

      I am amazed that you have seen the biofilters too. How long have you been finding them and how many do you think you have picked up?

      I walk south of Terramar. I hope our paths cross sometime.

  3. Josephine Thompson says:

    Mystery solved article brings comfort! Thank you for your beach cleaning and your persistence in where the sprockets and biofilters have originated. A neighbor just sent me this blog, as he knows that I have been beach cleaning regularly for the past four years here in Pacific Beach, CA (moved here then). I have wanted others to join me in an evening clean up, when people have left for home and their beach toys and gear are left within reach of the tides coming in, only to be washed out to sea. Could we possibly form an organization, that brings attention to this issue? I am overwhelmed with much of what is left that is not recyclable. I have heard that in Carlsbad there is a beach art that is made from plastic or shoes left on the beach. Is this true? I would like to see this. Just knowing how diligent you are in this effort, gives me reassurance. Last year, during the Fourth of July festivities here, I did major beach clean ups for 3 days. What I saw got to me personally and I began to lose all faith in humanity. I don’t do well around explosives and the noise that the fireworks make either. The amount of trash left on the beach at that time was truly alarming. This year, as I was heading to the beach on the night of the Fourth, I was stopped by seeing a traumatized sea gull walking down the middle of the street, hurt from the fireworks (I assume). A broken wing. I followed the seagull and guiding it, to a safe place, several blocks away. I wanted to take the seagull to the wildlife rescue and needed help to do this. I couldn’t get anyone to commit to help me at that late hour. The neighbors there said to leave the gull there to rest. The gull was gone the next morning. I want to be better prepared the next time.
    Again, thank you for love you share for our ocean and the marine life.
    My degree recently was in Sustainable Community Development and this is one way I choose to make a difference. I feel that environmental education is so needed as well. ~ jo

  4. Josephine Thompson says:

    Mystery solved article brings comfort! Thank you for your beach cleaning and your persistence in where the sprockets and biofilters have originated. A neighbor just sent me this blog, as he knows that I have been beach cleaning regularly for the past four years here in Pacific Beach, CA (moved here then). I have wanted others to join me in an evening clean up, when people have left for home and their beach toys and gear are left within reach of the tides coming in, only to be washed out to sea. Could we possibly form an organization, that brings attention to this issue? I am overwhelmed with much of what is left that is not recyclable. I have heard that in Carlsbad there is a beach art that is made from plastic or shoes left on the beach. Is this true? I would like to see this. Just knowing how diligent you are in this effort, gives me reassurance. Last year, during the Fourth of July festivities here, I did major beach clean ups for 3 days. What I saw got to me personally and I began to lose all faith in humanity. I don’t do well around explosives and the noise that the fireworks make either. The amount of trash left on the beach at that time was truly alarming. This year, as I was heading to the beach on the night of the Fourth, I was stopped by seeing a traumatized sea gull walking down the middle of the street, hurt from the fireworks (I assume). A broken wing. I followed the seagull and guiding it, to a safe place, several blocks away. I wanted to take the seagull to the wildlife rescue and needed help to do this. I couldn’t get anyone to commit to help me at that late hour. The neighbors there said to leave the gull there to rest. The gull was gone the next morning. I want to be better prepared the next time.
    Again, thank you for love you share for our ocean and the marine life.
    My degree recently was in Sustainable Community Development and this is one way I choose to make a difference. I feel that environmental education is so needed as well.

  5. HI, Josephine! Thank you for your response to my blog post. Passionate people like you give me hope when I get down about environmental problems. Please know that there is a worldwide community of people who are doing everything they can to clean the planet. In fact, are you on Instagram? If so, you can connect with groups, including #litterati, #2minutebeachclean #take3forthesea and #grabbits. Local organizations include I Love a Clean San Diego, San Diego Surfrider, and San Diego Coastkeeper.

    I haven’t heard about the art in Carlsbad, but I take photos and make things with the plastic I pick up, and next Saturday, I am going to have a booth at the Alley Art Festival in Vista. Through marine debris art, I hope to educate and enlighten people so that they begin to see the problem. I am also a teacher at an elementary school and do projects with kids so they understand that they can make a difference.

    I am sorry to hear about the injured gull. I have found many injured birds over the years and have usually managed to catch them. I am not afraid to pick them up bare-handed. I have also used a sweater or a towel tossed gently over them to subdue them so I can pick them up. I take injured birds to Project Wildlife which is a San Diego-based rescue organization that cares for wildlife.

    If you would like to connect further, you can follow me on Instagram @janisselbyjones or send me a friend request on Facebook. I would love to stay in touch!

    Thank you for your love and care for the ocean and the creatures that call it home!!!

    • Josephine Thompson says:

      Hello Janis,

      As you can see, I am not computer savvy and not on Instagram. I will take the time soon to learn this though, so I can follow you. I just might be able to come up there to Vista to meet you in person at the Alley Art Festival. I need to connect with like minded caring environmentalists. It strengthens me when I need that extra push to get out the door and down to the beach. I continue to take classes which have just started. Fortunately, I made the Dean’s honor list for the first time, and since others who join the honor society must do community service, I can share what I do and hope to get others to join me, an answer to my desires. I’m so happy to hear from you, Janis. I heard the statue is called something like Magdalina, but not finding it on the internet. I heard the sculpture was also an art teacher. I would like to see this! Have you visited the Discovery Science center in Chula Vista? There is a large art work there made of plastics from the ocean, and made in the shape of a large fish. Just heard on the news that Obama designated protection for the world’s largest marine reserve in northern Hawaii. The Marshall Islands is shown in a documentary about the thousands of dead albatross, but here is a shorter clip: https://vimeo.com/25563376 ——called Midway. Very Alarming.
      Thank you for reminding me of what I must be called upon to do! ~jo

      • Hi, Jo! Perhaps the piece you have heard about it the Surfing Madonna. You can see it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surfing_Madonna
        Please let me know if you can make it to the Alley Art Festival and will send you information about it. Thanks for the link to the Midway video. I haven’t watched it yet but I will. Please stay in touch and let me know how I can help you in your quest to engage others in caring for the environment.

  6. Pingback: August 29 - North County Resident Utilizes Coastkeeper’s Pollution Hotline to Solve Mystery - San Diego Coastkeeper

  7. Josephine Thompson says:

    Janis, I don’t believe it was the Surfing Madonna, that I was told about, as it was made from plastic pieces from the ocean, I was told. ?? The Midway video is from 1-2 minutes, if that.
    But there are other clips after that which are equally important. My classes have started = two different community colleges, in which I take public transportation and bike + homework. Hope I can make it Sat. FYI, my email is: josefinathompson@gmail.com (please send directions)

  8. Hi Janis–I am late in this thread, but was recently notified of your solving of the mysterious sprocket litter on the beaches and want to thank you for following through on this problem. I have lived in North County for 40 years and in the past 30 have lived in Carlsbad. I have been walking the beaches regularly for many years and like you, collect all sorts of litter and odd stuff…including those sprockets. Have been gathering them for what seems to be a long time and noticed their appearance was cyclical. Their numbers would ebb and flow like the tides–sometimes I’d find dozens, then they’d become scarce…then again, dozens, along the Pine Avenue to Tamarack stretch of beach. Now it makes sense as I imagine the hatchery flushed these things out into the ocean in their own cyclic routine of raising batches of fish, cleaning the tanks and biofilters. I haven’t seen any sprockets in recent weeks, and I thank you for that.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am amazed to know that others have been finding the bio-filters. I have a leg injury and have been unable to get to the beach for almost two months. I did go for a very short beach walk on Sunday and found one right away. I’m curious to know if you have seen any recently. Have you saved the ones you have found? If so, I would love to have them. Please stay in touch and keep me posted about your finds.

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