While the fate of the sinking SS Palo Alto may be irreversible and can serve as a metaphor for the declining health of the world’s oceans, the destiny of the oceans are still in our hands. In order to reverse that course, we first have to educate ourselves, and build an understanding of what is going on.
For most people, the shoreline is their one point of contact with the ocean, but for a variety of reasons, little about its condition is ever revealed; not about the quality of the water, not about the condition of the local ecosystem, not about the condition of the greater ecosystem of the world’s oceans in general. This lack of information occurs precisely at a location where it could be most useful.
Often times this visit to the shoreline is a visit to a public beach. Today, the standard infrastructure of a typical public beach frequently includes, car parking areas, picnic areas, promenades, toilets, showers and life guard stations to name a few. While life guard stations are the infrastructural elements that house those who monitor our safety while we are in the water, there is currently no infrastructure that allows us to monitor the water quality of the ocean or educate us on the condition of the local ecosystem. Meanwhile the immediacy of these shoreline locations makes them one of the most useful sites to do this work. Generally speaking, it is not that there is a lack of information, but there is a missing link to connect to the information and that missing link is a conduit for the information to flow to the general public.
At Seacliff State Beach, we propose providing this missing link by adding a new element to the existing beach infrastructure. This element would be an environmental monitoring station where the public would be informed of the water quality and environmental conditions of the ocean in their immediate area, while also being educated about the greater complex ecosystem of oceans in general. Programmatically, the station would serve as a prototype for a new global standard for the beachside dissemination of information on the oceanic environment to the general public. Formally, the design of this monitoring station would have an iconic quality, much like the prefabricated life guard stands that can be found all over California. While this specific monitoring station would be a prototype designed for California State Beaches, designs for other locations could vary, while always being easily accessible, recognizable, and adaptable to specific site conditions. They could be fixed or mobile, freestanding, or incorporated into existing structures such as life guard stands. Information could be displayed manually or electronically, depending on the budget at the individual location. In addition to local statistical information, educational information could also be displayed of both local and global importance. Where feasible, new technology could be employed giving the beachgoer a greater understanding of what lies below the oceans surface, perhaps incorporating such devices as real time underwater camera feeds, among others. At Seacliff State Beach, on the coastline of Monterey Bay, the water quality is adversely impacted from urban, rural and agricultural pollution sources. Monitoring stations here could report on elevated levels of nitrates, sediments, persistent pesticides, metals, bacteria, pathogens, detergents and oils among other water pollutants found in storm water runoff. Local measures to correct these problems could be measured by the general public at the monitoring station.
We can reverse the course of the ocean’s declining health. These locally based, monitoring stations are just one step in a greater process that creates a less abstract, more meaningful, understanding of our environment and therefore an informed public to push for that change.