Shopping carts, furniture, baby strollers, suitcases and orange cones were some of the bigger pieces of trash strewn on the sand with countless plastic bottles, baby diapers, and bits of Styrofoam mixed in with tree branches and twigs.
The “heartbreaking” scene in Seal Beach on Sunday shocked Trish Gussler, who traveled from Anaheim to the San Gabriel River for a gloomy morning beach walk to bird watch between the storms.
“It was horrifying, that’s the only way I could explain it,” she said. “It was phenomenally sad.”
During dry summer months, pristine Southern California beaches draw millions of visitors. But during the wet season after heavy storms, the beaches can look more like landfills as trash travels down waterways, onto the sand and into the ocean. The trash was a familiar sight along the coast, especially where inland rivers met with the ocean.
The area along the San Gabriel River, which borders Seal Beach and Long Beach, can be especially littered after it rains. The mouth of the river funnels runoff from 52 inland cities straight into the ocean, with trash and debris flowing down storm drains.
Pam Conti, a school teacher who regularly does water-quality testing at Doheny State Beach with her class, posted video on social media showing water spewing from the San Juan Creek to the ocean Saturday, creating waves that looked like “chocolate milk.”
“And of course, all the trash,” she said as she panned the video over the debris on the sand. “It’s just a floating thing of trash. It’s so gross. Oh my god, nobody wants to surf in that.”
Conti gathered samples Friday from the Sana Ana River that borders Newport and Huntington beaches, the San Gabriel River in Seal Beach and the San Juan Creek for her 5th grade students at The Pegasus School in Huntington Beach to test.
The test is the same as what county officials conduct throughout the year, with results coming back within 24 hours, and the effort is part of a citizen-science project with Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force.
“We test for enterococcus bacteria, an indicator species for worse types of bacteria like E. coli,” Conti said. “If enterococcus is present that means these other more serious, infection causing bacteria are most probably also present.”
According to the results, the levels of bacteria were off the charts – though not surprising to Conti, who knows the bacteria levels shoot up after storms.
The concentration levels of bacteria per sample are reported as the most probable number, or MPN. The state standard MPN for water quality is 104.
The results showed San Gabriel River’s MPN was 4,374, Santa Ana River’s at 1,989 and San Juan Creek’s at 6,586.
“An MPN of higher than 104 means signs should be posted warning people of the potential health hazard,” Conti said.
No signs were visible warning the public Monday morning, despite heavy rain through the weekend.
“It’s typical to have these numbers during large storm events; all the pollution and animal feces, or possibly human, is coming down stream from cities,” Conti said.
How to help:
Monthly cleanups are held by Save Our Beach at the San Gabriel River on the third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to noon, rain or shine. Meet at the 1st street parking lot in Seal Beach.