Growing up in San Diego as a Filipino-American, I was fascinated by food and how it connected me to my heritage and other people around me. As I grew older and began my journey into the workforce, I learned how our food is grown, sourced, transported, and shared with the world. When I started working in the environmental field almost a decade ago, I realized it was not just food that connected us, but water too. At San Diego Coastkeeper, we often repeat the phrase “we are all connected by water” to remind ourselves that our actions, big or small, ripple out and affect everything around us. These factors are critical to our survival, from what we eat to where our water comes from.

Water is the source of life. It sustains, nourishes, and connects us to everything on this planet. As we navigate the challenges of a changing climate and a growing population, we must be mindful of our impact on this precious resource. In this issue, we delve into complex topics like marine protected areas, polluted urban runoff, and the connection between our local seafood and the health of our watersheds. Because, after all, we all live downstream.

Whether you’re a farmer, a foodie, or simply a lover of nature, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your relationship with water and how you can make a difference. Stay curious, stay informed, and stay engaged. And most importantly, enjoy the bounty of this beautiful season, knowing that we are all connected by water.

Take good care,

Alyssa Celones Senturk

Communications and Outreach Director, San Diego Coastkeeper

San Diego Coastkeeper team members sharing information.
Image: Courtesy of San Diego Coastkeeper.

About San Diego Coastkeeper

Founded in 1995, San Diego Coastkeeper protects and restores fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters in San Diego County. Coastkeeper uses a strategic blend of advocacy, science, education, and community engagement to tackle persistent and emerging water quality and supply issues across our region. For more information, visit

Part I: How Stormwater Pollution Impacts Our Health and Seafood

By Lucero Sanchez

While most of us are familiar with elevated levels of mercury and other heavy metals in some fish species, more studies have found the presence of other toxic pollutants in our seafood. New and emerging research shows the prevalence of PCBs, PFAs, POPs, microplastics, and more. This new alphabet soup of acronyms might have you wondering how our seafood is becoming riddled with toxins and whether there is any way to prevent it.

The fact is, seafood quality and availability are affected by the health of watersheds. At San Diego Coastkeeper we like to say, “If you’re not in the water, you’re in a watershed.”

A watershed is an area of land draining into a common body of water. The mountains, canyons, and valleys act as a funnel, shedding water to the lowest point in a watershed. Some watersheds drain into a river, lake, estuary, or bay, while others drain into the ocean. You can think of your bathtub as a small-scale model of a watershed and a drain sewer as the common water body. In San Diego, we have 11 watersheds that all drain to the Pacific Ocean.

Map of San Diego County watershed
San Diego County Watershed Map. Courtesy of San Diego Coastkeeper.

Pollution Threatens All Life

Stormwater pollution is San Diego’s most persistent threat to our marine ecosystems.

Living in cities like San Diego means that large portions of our watersheds are highly urbanized, which can lead to issues when it rains. City streets have impervious surfaces like buildings, parking lots, and roads that block water from soaking into the ground. When stormwater or urban runoff flows over hard surfaces like roofs, asphalt, and sidewalks, it picks up trash, debris, and chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides along the way, eroding landscapes and creating public safety concerns.

In San Diego, we built most of our stormwater infrastructure almost 100 years ago to move water away from the city as quickly as possible to prevent flooding and property damage. Water running through this network of storm drains and outfall pipes is untreated, meaning pollution flows off our streets and onto our beaches.

After it rains, the fecal indicator bacteria levels off our coast consistently exceed public health standards. In Southern California, many are familiar with the 72-hour rule, a guideline that discourages people from entering the water for at least 72 hours, or three days, after it rains to avoid getting sick from contamination. While San Diegans can try to avoid entering the ocean during this time frame, sea life doesn’t have that option.

illustrated fish
Courtesy of San Diego Coastkeeper.
Seafood Dead Zones

Pollutants can wreak havoc on the natural balance of marine ecosystems. Increased nutrients can lead to harmful algal blooms, like the red tides we see here in San Diego. When nutrients like those found in fertilizers are higher than average in a water body, eutrophication sets off a chain of events that can lead to dead zones and massive fish kills. The abundance of nutrients causes an excess of plant and algae growth (or blooms), starving the surrounding waters of oxygen the fish and seagrass populations need.

Ocean Acidification

When the overabundance of algae and plants begins to decompose, this produces a lot of carbon dioxide. Excessive CO2 lowers the pH of seawater, a process known as ocean acidification. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls ocean acidification the “osteoporosis of the sea,” a process made worse by rising temperatures and added toxins. Studies show that lower pH results in less carbonate, an essential mineral used by sea life to build shells and skeletons. This reduces catch for local commercial and recreational fisheries, meaning smaller harvests and more expensive seafood.

Toxic Bioaccumulation in Fish

Bioaccumulation is the buildup of toxic chemicals, like copper and zinc (compounds used in car brake pads and tires), in living tissue over time. It occurs when organisms, like fish, take in harmful substances faster than their bodies can break them down and eliminate them.

Consuming fish on the lower end of the food chain (also called trophic levels), such as anchovies, sardines, and herring, can help minimize our exposure to chemical contaminants. The higher up the food chain we go, the larger and longer-lived those species become, and the more accumulated pollutants like DDT and mercury are in fish like tuna.

For example, if you’ve fished at any popular spots along San Diego Bay, as with other public fishing places throughout the state you’ve likely seen warning signs listing potential health concerns related to eating the fish in the area.

For updates on fish advisories throughout the state, visit Good Catch California, a program created by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).

Improving Watershed Health Improves Seafood Supply

By protecting our watershed, reducing pollution, and fighting climate change, we can ensure safe and sustainable seafood for all. It all starts with us. As individuals, we can conserve water, reduce waste, wash our cars at a car-washing facility, install rain barrels and catchment basins, and plant native species gardens at home. On a larger scale, community members need to vote for candidates who support clean water initiatives and participate in public discourse to pressure companies and governments to take the necessary steps to protect water quality for everyone. One small way to take action is to sign up for newsletters of organizations already engaged in this work. San Diego Coastkeeper’s newsletter includes calls to action, blogs, important news, and more.

Together we can protect the future of seafood.


Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve
Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. Image: Marie Diaz.

Part II: Marine Protected Areas

A San Diego County Guide

By Marie Diaz

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are areas of the ocean where human activities are restricted to protect the environment and marine life. MPAs aim to preserve entire ecosystems rather than single species. They can include nature reserves, underwater marine parks, and other areas that benefit fisheries, local economies, marine biodiversity, and public health. Regulations within these areas vary and may allow for or exclude research, fishing practices, recreational activities, or travel. By protecting a small percentage of our waters and providing a safe haven for keystone species, we can minimize extinction risks, reestablish ecosystem integrity, enhance productivity, and increase the diversity of life for the entire region.

Visiting MPAs in San Diego

San Diego County boasts 11 unique MPAs that cover a variety of landscapes and feature different levels of protection. We dive into three marine protected areas here.

The Future of MPAs in San Diego

In 2012, San Diego Coastkeeper helped establish MPAs throughout California. The organization continues to monitor and advocate for protected spaces, educate communities, clean up trash and pollution, and work with local fishermen to conserve these areas. MPAs ensure safe and sustainable seafood, cleaner waters, and better public health.

Visit for more information and a full list of San Diego County’s marine protected areas.

Batiquitos Lagoon

Before opening in 1996, only five fish species existed in the Batiquitos Lagoon. Over the years, MPA management focused on restoring tidal action to the lagoon and has since helped significantly increase the number and diversity of fish, now ranging up to 65 species. Lagoons provide critical breeding and nursery areas for a wide array of coastal fish, provide habitat and food for resident species, and serve as feeding areas for seasonal fish. Batiquitos Lagoon is a “No-Take” State Marine Conservation Area. Learn more on the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation website.


La Jolla Cove

Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve and San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area are adjacent marine protected areas just offshore the University of California, San Diego. They include La Jolla Cove and neighboring areas. These MPAs are near deepwater canyons, providing cold, nutrient-rich waters to many habitats like kelp forests, surfgrass beds, and rock reefs. This “underwater park” is home to many unique species, including leopard sharks, blue-banded gobies, garibaldi, nudibranchs,California spiny lobsters, sea lions, kelp bass, dolphins, and migrating whales. Matlahuayl comes from the Kumeyaay language and means “place of the caves.” Learn more on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.


Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo State Marine Reserve extends off the Cabrillo NationalMonument in Point Loma and includes a rocky intertidal area and an underwater kelp forest. This MPA is an excellent place to go tide pooling and observe colorful sea stars, mussels, sea urchins, anemones, shore crabs, and sluggish sea hares during low tide.


When observing animals in the tide pools

Avoid touching animals

Touching animals can cause damage and stress to them and could lead to personal injury.

Leave life where it is

Never remove animals, shells, or rocks from the tide pools. Observe them where they are and avoid turning over rocks.

Walk gently

Take care not to step on any plants or animals.

Check your local tide chart

Tides can rush in when we least expect them. Avoid danger by consulting a tide chart or an on-site expert.

For more tide pooling dos and don’ts, check out

Part III: Hungry for Knowledge?

5 resources to feed your understanding of food and water

By Alyssa Celones Senturk

The issue of climate change is vast, and understanding it can be overwhelming. But as individuals, we can take small steps to make a big difference. One way to start is by educating ourselves through various forms of media. This way, we can understand the challenges we face and figure out how to create a better future. Here we highlight our top media recommendations that can feed your understanding of food and water and help you make informed decisions about what you eat and drink. From books and podcasts to documentaries and television shows, these resources offer a wealth of information and perspectives on how climate change impacts every aspect of our daily lives. Get ready to satisfy your hunger for knowledge and dive into these resources.

Song for the Ocean Blue


Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World’s Coasts and Beneath the Seas is part travelogue and part scientific investigation. Scientist and fisherman Carl Safina journeys around the world to capture the perilous plight of three fish groups (bluefin tuna, Pacific salmon, and tropical reef fish) and the people and industries critical to their survival. Safina’s prose is eerily beautiful and heartbreaking, evoking similar feelings to Rachel Carson’s revolutionary text, Silent Spring.

In Deep


Season one of In Deep, a podcast from The Water Main, will take you through the labyrinth of how we clean, manage, and deliver our water—from the toilet to the tap. Join host Jed Kim and a team of reporters as they explore the strangely fascinating and troubling world of clean water, from history to policy and full-on drama. With conversations with water advocates, historians, scientists, politicians, and everyday citizens, In Deep is a must-listen for anyone who cares about the importance of maintaining our water systems and the danger they pose if they fail.

The Water Footprint of Food


Want to know the true cost of your food choices? The Foodprint website’s report, “The Water Footprint of Food,” brilliantly highlights the hidden water costs behind our favorite foods. With clever infographics and clear explanations, the report takes a deep dive into the water needed to produce everyday food items and how it impacts the environment and communities. It’s an eye-opening read that will make you think twice about what you put on your plate. Trust us, this report is the missing ingredient in your food knowledge recipe.

Water & Power


Water & Power: A California Heist attempts to untangle the mess of water rights in California while hearkening back to the 1974 film noir classic Chinatown plot. From contaminated drinking water or no water at all to agribusiness billionaires, this movie is a clear warning of what’s to come in small towns and across the globe. Documentary director Marina Zenovich expertly weaves current events, historical corruption, and intimate interviews into a compelling and sometimes disturbing tale of our murky relationship with water in the Golden State.

Years of Living Dangerously

(TV Show)

Glancing at the credits, one might mistake this National Geographic series for a Hollywood action movie, with stars like Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Cheadle, and Jessica Alba. Although Years of Living Dangerously aired on Showtime almost 10 years ago, the stories of climate change and the big and small ways we are connected economically, environmentally, and politically still ring true today. Whether you’re a veteran or new to the cause, this show has something for everyone. All two seasons are available to watch for free on YouTube.

*Links are not affiliated.

The Source of Life originally in published in the summer 2023 issue.

Cover image by Lauren di Matteo.
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