Quality of the Coast

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Surfrider Foundation’s Chad Nelsen explains the current coastal conditions and how we can help improve them. 

By Amory Zschach and LBM Staff

LBM_39_QA_Surfrider Foundation_Chad_By Jody Tiongco-36
Surfrider Foundation Environmental Director Chad Nelsen is passionate about protecting Laguna’s beaches.

A grassroots conservation organization dedicated to coastal and nearshore issues, the Surfrider Foundation focuses on water quality, coastal development, beach management and access, as well as ecosystem protection.

For Environmental Director Chad Nelsen, the larger issues facing the country’s coasts and oceans are reflected within Laguna’s ecosystem. Climate and sea level changes, in Chad’s opinion, demand discussion and response. Dominated by rocky headlands that trap beach sand, Laguna does not currently face severe impacts from beach erosion; however, as sea levels rise, beach erosion and coastal flooding downtown will become more of a challenge.

Another challenge is water pollution. Chad sheds light on these issues and tells us how we can each do our part.

Laguna Beach Magazine: What are the challenges for our local coast?

Chad Nelsen: We are going to be challenged by sea level rise; this is something that we as a community need to figure out. If you look at any maps of potential threats from sea level rise inundation in California, downtown Laguna Beach is underwater. It has almost no elevation and already floods any time there is a big storm. … Also, our beaches are comprised of a very thin lens of sand over rocks, and in many places we’ve built right up to the edge of the beach with seawalls. As a result, sea level rise could cause our narrow beaches to disappear unless we take action. That is going to be a big challenge in the next 50 to 100 years.

LBM: What is being done to address local ocean health?

CN: The designation of the Marine Reserve is a step in the right direction. … In the next decade we are going to see a real improvement in the size and abundance of marine wildlife that has dwindled from past overfishing. There’s also been a lot of work in the rocky intertidal areas by Laguna Ocean Foundation to improve monitoring, enforcement and protection of those ecosystems. Also, the Orange County Coastkeeper and their kelp bed planting clearly played a role in the incredible resurgence of kelp in town. Since the late 1980s there had been almost no kelp off Laguna, but it has really come back since about five years ago. Kelp is the rainforest of the sea and having that kelp back is a great indicator that the offshore ecosystem is getting healthier.

LBM: Which local beaches are most polluted?

CN: The beaches are all pretty good in terms of water quality—except for Aliso. The water quality challenges are directly related to the size of watershed draining to the beach. Laguna has hills right up to the edge of the coast and the greenbelt behind it, making for good water quality at most of our beaches. Main and Aliso beaches drain larger urban areas and pick up more pollutants.

LBM: What outside contributor has the biggest effect on our coast?

CN: Urban runoff still threatens our coasts, and we all have some responsibility for that. Everybody’s yard drains to the street and goes down the storm drain to their beach. Pet wastes, oil from cars, pesticides and herbicides, cigarettes and plastic waste are all contributors.

LBM: What can each of us do to help lessen the effects on our environment?

CN: Everyone can do their part to minimize ocean pollution—use less plastic bags and containers, fix your car if it’s leaking, reduce chemical use in your yard, et cetera. Sadly, a good deal of trash on our beaches comes from offshore—so a lot of it we can’t control. Fortunately, Laguna has great local organizations (Laguna Ocean Foundation, Transition Laguna, Zero Waste) that provide many opportunities to get involved if you are interested in addressing ocean issues. LBM

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