Vets Park trash from last fall - follow-up with Army Corps of Engineers

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Posted by Ken Kurtis on October 09, 2013 at 17:13:10:

Dan & all,

First of all, my apologies for not getting this done sooner. And perhaps I'd better remind you of what it is I'm apologizing for being tardy with.

For those who may not have been directly involved in the initial discussions, I'm a scuba instructor and part of a small group that raised a stink about unintended consequences of the Redondo Beach sand replenishment project that took place last fall near the Topaz Jetty and Veterans Park. Vets Park is a major diving area for both training and pleasure dives where literally hundreds of dives are made weekly. What we noticed from the time the project started until it finished was a black particulate/silt in the water column that destroyed visibility and left sediment on the bottom, and lots of trash littered over the bottom. Our opinion is that this was all coming from the barge offshore, either though carelessness, leaking pipes, or other factors that were not being addressed.

We had some conversations and meetings with ACE folks and feel that, while it certainly couldn't remove the damage, there was now a new awareness of the issues we raised, a new-found concern about monitoring trash in any sand being used, and an awareness that some of the procedures considered "clean" were having negative environmental impacts that hadn't been anticipated.

On 11/28/12, following a meeting at ACE of the DMMT, I did a survey dive of the affected area and videotaped it. I placed that video on-line and sent a link which many of you used. The dive started at what we call Middle Stairs, about 175 yards south of the Redondo Pier, ran along the edge of the slope into Redondo Canyon (roughly 60 feet deep), and terminated just shy of the Topaz Jetty (roughly 800 yards south of the Pier) and under the area where the offshore sand barge had been located (about 700 yards south of the Pier).

I had promised to do a follow-up dive and have only now gotten to that. A variety of factors that include my not having been diving at Vets Park much this year, have contributed to the delay. But it's also a good thing too because now we've got 10 months worth of currents, water movement, sand shifting, and everything else that takes place out of sight so we can see what effect nature may have had on things in the ensuing time since the fall.

At the bottom of this e-mail, I have some video links that include a video we made detailing the original problem ("The Trashing of Vets Park"), the first survey dive, a squid mating dive (more on that in a moment), and the second survey dive. View whatever ones you need to and feel free to share the links with anyone not on this e-mailing list.

I also want to give you some anecdotal comments from my observations in the dives I've done since last fall. I've been diving Vets Park for close to 30 years now and many other instructors also use it on a regular basis so we tend to be aware of subtle shifts that might not seem so obvious to the casual observer. I'll also throw in the caveat, as we did in our previous discussions, that I will not be able to offer any rock-solid evidence that says condition A was caused by the sand replenishment or residual damage from the offshore barge. All I can relay is what I see and tell you what's different. But I'll also mention that I'm not a big believer in coincidence and when things happen post-barge that never happened pre-barge, I'm inclined to think there might be a connection, even though it might not be provable.

One interesting thing that's changed (and I can't really say that this has anything to do with the sand project) is that the nearshore sand - and I mean within ten feet of the water's edge - has become VERY soft, almost like quicksand. There has always been a small step-down trough of sand close to shore but it's always been fairly compacted sand. No more. That same area now is very soft larger-sized granular sand and your feet tend to sink in it. It's a dive issue when exiting or entering the water with your fins on (not all divers do it this way - when water conditions permit you can also wade in to put your fins on and take them off in the same manner and walk out) because the sand is so soft that you tend to sink &/or lose your balance, which causes you to fall. Walking into or out of the water and getting up over that little underwater sand berm is now fairly difficult. Not the end of the world, just something that's different since last fall.

When we were discussing all of this previously, I expressed a concern on what the effect would be on the animal life at Vets Park, which is predominantly nocturnal. Most of the animals tend to burrow into the sand during the day and are more active at night. But I also mentioned how this was a major seasonal squid mating area (usually January-March) and we were concerned how the sand & trash might affect the squid. The run early this year was minimal. Not a good sign. But we've been pleasantly and amazingly surpirsed to find that a major, major run started in mid-August and continued through mid-September. Every single night, thousands of squid would show up to mate and lay their eggs in clusters. (This also marks the end of the squid life cycle. They all die after mating so you also get a lot of crabs, shrimp, rays, sea lions, and other scavengers coming in to feed on the squid carcasses.) To give you an idea of what this is like, one of the videos below ("Squid-Mania") will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

Now while the knee-jerk reaction might be to assume that this means everything is all right, don't forget that the squid run that most closely followed the issues we raised was a bust. And while this one was definitely amazing (and in line with a booming squid year in California - it's the state's #1 fishery) there was something very unique about this late-summer run besides the timing.

Normally, the squid come in and deposit their egg clusters in an area out from Main Stairs and a bit south. This is about 300-400 yards north of where the barge was. But this year, the egg clusters are much further north. They are actually around Middle Stairs and a bit more northward. This is a shift of roughly 200 yards northward. Coincidence? I can't say. But I can say that in over 20 years of seeing squid runs at Vets Park, I've NEVER seen the eggs this far north.

Our survey dive took place on Monday, October 7, at roughly 11AM, which was also high tide. (The first survey dive in November took place a low tide.) It was a sunny day, there was minimal surf, water temp was mid-60s in the shallows and mid-50s once we got to depth. The entire dive lasted just under 30 minutes with about 20 minutes of that being the run along the edge of the canyon from straight out from Middle Stairs to roughly where the barge was positioned near the Topaz Jetty. Some general observations:

You will periodically see my gauge in front of the camera lens. The large number at the top of the gauge is current depth. The smaller number middle right is the elapsed time. You'll note it starts
at 13 feet and 0 minutes.
You'll see a cluster of squid eggs around the 6-minute mark. They look rather emaciated.
The trash that was so prevalent in the fall is gone. A lot of credit has to go to the groups organized by Roc Allen, who hauled out bags and bags of trash, literally hundreds of pounds. But
Mother Nature also played a roll here as well. Of course, this doesn't mean it was removed from the ocean. All it means is that it was swept away somewhere that we don't know about.
Our average depth on this run was 65-70 feet whereas on the November run it was 55-60. Much of this can probably be accounted for the difference in tides, a 5.9 in October and a -0.4 in
November for a total difference of 6.3 feet.
The degree of slope from the shallows (35 fee or so) to the canyon (60-70 feet) seems not as steep in many areas as it used to be.
There are areas where things like orange/white roadwork sawhorses which has previously been fairly exposed, are now almost fully buried in sand.
There did not seem to be as much life as I'd normally expect to see, even on a daytime dive. There were a few crabs, some pipefish, some California Lizardfish, and others but not in the numbers
that I would have expected.
As we moved closer to the barge area, there seemed to be more chopped-up organic debris than in the other areas
Our concern last fall was that a black sand particulate, which we assume was from the barge, seemed to be settling to the bottom. A few times in the dive, I dig my hand a few inches under the
surface sand and pull up whatever is there and it's usually pretty dark.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know. Here are the various video links:

TRASHING OF VETS PARK - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPUctdS-cCE
NOVEMBER 2012 SURVEY DIVE - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJPfq3aLexY
SQUID-MANIA (mid-September) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsAwFlAYqrE
OCTOBER 2013 FOLLOW-UP SURVEY DIVE - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wn2F1_aV79s


- Ken

Ken Kurtis
Owner, Reef Seekers Dive Co.
Beverly Hills, CA 90213
(310) 652-4990

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