Over 300 discarded toilets, along with other unusual garbage, have been discovered at a reef off California's Malibu coast that is populated by fish, lobsters and sea urchins. The toilets are now being hauled out of the water for proper disposal, according to the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center's SeaDoc Society.
(One of the first loads of toilets comes up from the reef. Photo: Kirsten Gilardi / UC Davis)
The cleanup effort is being coordinated by the society's California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, which has contracted with local sea urchin fishermen, scuba divers and other individuals.
The toilets that are being pulled from the sea are being unloaded in Marina Del Rey where they'll be lifted from a boat to the dock by winch for transport to a landfill.
Around 300 tires were also found lying on a large stretch of reef.
This is the first time that the project has handled cleanup of items other than fishing gear.
Since May 2006, fishermen and divers working for the project have cleaned up nearly 17 tons of gear (mostly commercial nets and traps) from the waters around the California Channel Islands.
They've also hauled away more than 1,400 pounds of recreational fishing gear off public fishing piers from Imperial Beach to Santa Cruz, including more than 1 million feet of fishing line.
It's important to get this stuff out of the water and away from marine life since, even without a fishermen at the other end of a line, most fishing gear can kill fish, birds, seals and sea lions. It can also damage the reefs and kelp beds that are the basis of the California coastal ecosystem.
To help prevent such littering in future, the project has installed recycling bins for unwanted hooks and lines on a dozen piers. It's going to take about a week, however, to remove the toilets, tires and other garbage from the reef.
The work isn't easy.
Aside from having to stick their heads down old toilets, the workers must pull out the debris from water that is up to 80 feet deep. The rocky reef is about 1 1/2 miles east of Point Dume, on the edge of Point Dume Canyon. The area is home to many kinds of fish, as well as lobsters and sea urchins, and is under consideration by the state for designation as a marine protected area.
This cleanup is expected to cost $30,000. It is funded by the State Wildlife Conservation Board and the California Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission monies come from a fund established to mitigate impacts to the sea floor from a recent fiber-optic cable installation project off the Southern California coast.
No one at present knows who dumped the toilets and tires.
But everyone can help clean up California's underwater coast by reporting sightings of lost fishing gear or loss of gear to (888) 491-GEAR (calls are toll-free) or to www.lostfishinggear.org.