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UC Davis' SeaDoc Society pulls toilets, tires from seafloor


By News Service

Hundreds of discarded toilets and tires are being recovered from a reef off the Malibu coast this week, in an effort coordinated by the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, a program of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center's SeaDoc Society. The project represents the organization's first cleanup of debris other than fishing gear.

"We've all too often used the ocean as a toilet, so it feels good to actually pull toilets out of the ocean," said Kristen Gilardi, a veterinarian at UC Davis and director of the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project.

The recovery effort began May 24 and was expected to last about a week. It is taking place in waters 80 feet deep, on a rocky reef 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.

Recovery crews are unloading the debris in Marina Del Rey. The toilets are being transported to a landfill; the tires will be recycled.

View a Los Angeles TV news broadcast about the cleanup, "Fishing for Toilets."

How and when the trash was dumped is unknown, but reconnaissance divers have estimated there are about 300 toilets and 300 tires lying on a large stretch of reef.

Expected to cost $30,000, the cleanup 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 fiberoptic cable installation project off the Southern California coast.

The California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project was established at UC Davis in 2005 to enhance and restore underwater habitat for the benefit of marine animals and people. 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 Channel Islands off Southern California, and 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. The project has also installed recycling bins for unwanted hooks and lines on a dozen piers.

The project was established with grants from the California Ocean Protection Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program, as well as philanthropic gifts from private donors.

Lost fishing gear can kill fish, birds, seals and sea lions, and damage the reefs and kelp beds that are the basis of the California coastal ecosystem.

You can help clean up California's underwater coast by reporting sightings of lost fishing gear or the loss of your own gear, by telephone, (888) 491-GEAR (toll-free), or online.

Claudia Morain, News Service director, and Sylvia Wright, senior public information representative, contributed to this report.

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