An island of toxic plastic - three million tons of it - floats about a thousand miles off the California coast. More than 1,500 miles wide, it far outweighs the plankton in the sea, and forms an amorphous mass made up of tiny chips too small to clean up.
SFGate.com, one of the web's best newspaper sites (which fronts an often mediocre newspaper, go figure) has been on the story for a few days. It focuses on Charles Moore, the marine researcher from Long Beach, who has studied the trash heap for the last 10 years. The news is not good.
"For every 6 pounds of plastic that we got, there was only one pound of zooplankton," Moore says on the Algalita Marine Research Foundation's web site.
And here he is, quoted in Justin Berton's story in the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Any attempt to remove that much plastic from the oceans - it boggles the mind," Moore said from Hawaii, where his crew is docked. "There's just too much, and the ocean is just too big."
The trash collects in one area, known as the North Pacific Gyre, due to a clockwise trade wind that circulates along the Pacific Rim. It accumulates the same way bubbles gather at the center of hot tub, Moore said.
A two-liter plastic bottle that begins its voyage from a storm drain in San Francisco will get pulled into the gyre and take weeks to reach its place among the other debris in the Garbage Patch.
While the bottle floats along, instead of biodegrading, it will "photodegrade," Moore said - the sun's UV rays will turn the bottle brittle, much like they would crack the vinyl on a car roof. They will break down the bottle into small pieces and, in some cases, into particles as fine as dust.
The Garbage Patch is not a solid island, as some people believe, Moore said. Instead, it resembles a soupy mass, interspersed with large pieces of junk such as derelict fishing nets and waterlogged tires - "an alphabet soup," he called it.
Reliably readable Mark Morford takes on the travesty with characteristic bite:
Is there anything more impressive than the idea that you can, say, toss away your little Calistoga bottle or your plastic Safeway bag or your meth syringe or old iPod case or cigarette lighter or DVD wrapper here, and it will somehow, through a miraculous combination of time and wind and wastefulness and the flow of nature's beautiful eternal pulsing rhythms, wend its way 1,000 miles out to sea and then, well, just swirl around, slowly breaking apart and poisoning all life surrounding it...
So - paper or plastic?
Sometimes the light tricks your camera and you get colors that weren't there. Not this time. This was the sunrise today, red sky, red sea, sweet breeze, a flight of pelicans just above. Rain in the air, change in the air. Feels like fall.
We were lucky here in Malibu. More than 4,500 acres burned, we lost homes and businesses and a church, but we look at the fires to the north and to the south of here and know things could have been so much worse.
Go anywhere in town and people share war stories - where they were when the flames appeared, what happened next. But even those with the scariest tales, of scorched roofs and burning decks, of daredevil water drops in narrow canyons, of valiant firefighters facing walls of flame, even they'll tell you how lucky we were.
As the firefighters left town over the last few days, Malibu did its best to show its gratitude. Restaurants and cafes and grocery stores often refused their cash. Fancy hotels opened their doors for free. Residents shouted thank yous and cheered as the engines rolled by. (A few firefighers even got the papparazzi treatment at Nobu, a singularly bizarre form of respect.)
I was among those cheering and waving, and because I've got this little forum, I want to say it in print - thank you to the firefighters who left their own homes and families and risked their lives to save ours. This work you do, it's extraordinary.
Thanks also to the many readers who sent e-mails of encouragement and concern. I heard from people across the street and across the world, from New York and Iowa and Oregon, Belize and Paris and Detroit. It was lovely to hear from all of you, to know the updates on the blog were actually useful, and to learn how many people truly love Malibu.
Kevin linked to a discussion about a blogger yesterday who wrote, in all seriousness, "I couldn't recall ever seeing pine trees in Malibu." That line had a lot of locals laughing.
The truth is, a little bit of everything grows in Malibu. Like the rest of the state, we're home to an outlandish mix of native plants and wacky imports that date as far back as the missions. Hike into the hills and you'll see natives like the coast live oak, the flowering ash and the California juniper growing side-by-side with migrant species like palms, acacia and, yes, pines.
Here's a coastal prickly pear, a lovely native, growing happily in a canyon near the sea. (And right behind are two unwelcome invaders - the eucalyptus and the power pole.)
KTLA has the details on the big rig crash.
According to Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Philip Brooks, the big rig driver was traveling illegally on Kanan Dume Road, which is off-limits to truck traffic. He noted that many truck drivers have been using Kanan Dume in the past several days because Malibu Canyon Road, the normal truck route, has been closed because of the brush fire in the area.
According to Brooks, the truck driver was traveling at about 70 mph and could not stop as he traveled downhill on Kanan Dume, then ran through the red light at Pacific Coast Highway, slamming into two vehicles. The driver of the first car, a Mercedes, was killed on impact, Brooks said.
The truck also hit a vehicle being driven by a county firefighter on his way to work. The firefighter, who suffered a broken ankle, was trapped in his vehicle, but another driver pulled him from the vehicle before it broke into flames, Brooks said.
The firefighter, who broke his ankle, was safely pulled from the burning car. Is being treated at UCLA Medical Center.
* We hear that two people died in the Kanan crash. Road to remain closed through the afternoon.
Big rig crash on Kanan sparks a little grass fire. Copters and fire crews all over it.
PCH closed at Kanan. (I only know this because I was thisclose to going shopping in the Valley.)
All traffic being routed - excruciatingly slowly, I might add - through Point Dume.
It's barely six a.m. and already lots of traffic on PCH. (It's open in both directions, according to the Malibu city web site.) Let the commute begin!
Malibu Canyon Road is open from town up to Piuma, but Carbon and Tuna canyons remain closed.
Charter has restored TV (and phone and DSL) service.
And here's a photo of a different kind of commute, on the original Pacific coast highway.
I've been hearing from a lot of people who regret having signed up for one of those bundling offers - you know, phone, DSL and TV, all from a single carrier, often at a low rate. Here in Malibu, a communications company lost some fiber optic cables in the fires, and bundled households have been left without internet, telephone and television ever since. Triple whammy.
"We've been cut off when we need information the most," Susan e-mailed via a borrowed DSL line. "Please tell your readers to spread the wealth."
Now, for a change of pace, here's the little dog in one of her favorite spots, keeping cool up at the barn.
"It's a horrible day, but it's also a beautiful day because you get to spend time with your family. Live in the moment."
Pam Conley Ulich, Malibu's mayor pro-tempore, during a news conference. Washington Post
I just drove from Trancas to Cross Creek and back and the city's getting back to normal. Tancas Market is open, as is the Starbucks there. Lots of espresso, pastries and war stories. No newspapers, but people are being pretty good about sharing.
Trancas Chevron, the Point Dume gas station, the 76 station near Corral, and the Chevron next to Malibu Urgent Care all closed. Shell at Cross Creek still seems to be the only game in town. (Though as the day progresses this will likely change.)
Ralphs and CVS both open. Parking lot filling up with people shopping, staring, and taking pix like the one below.
Charter trucks and crews everywhere.
** Roadblock at Kanan still in place, checking IDs for southbound cars. (If traffic is too backed up, you can skip it via the Heathercliff-to-Zumirez route.)
** Roadblock at Puerco Canyon is gone.
Lots of tents going up at the command center at the Civic Center, presumably so firefighters can get some sleep. Water drops continue on lingering hot spots. Fire still burns in the Las Flores area, but is not on the move. Scanner talk says things are edging closer to being under control.
Some fire companies already heading south. Kern County's convoy got big cheers and loud honks from locals driving by.
* Check out the Malibu Times' amazing photo of a water drop.
* Malibu Surfside News has this photo gallery.
* Some Fire Stats:
About 4,500 acres burned.
No injuries or fatalities.
Fire nearly 20 percent contained.
Officials peg Friday as probable date for fire, which still burns in the Las Flores area, to be completely out.
Winds, now intermittent, expected to end on Wednesday.
A different mood in town today, where the staging area at the Civic Center has grown and become more organized. Firefighters from many counties tend to their rigs and their gear. Breakfast is served, even as helicopters fly over, low and loud, on their way to Pepperdine's water source.
** The roadblock at Puerco Canyon between central Malibu and downtown is gone. However, the southbound roadblock at Kanan is still in force.
The Shell station is open and selling gas. Businesses remain closed, though some storefronts have lights on as owners return.
Here's today's sunrise, from Bluffs Park. Huge plume of smoke from southern fires drifts across the skyline.
We've had a front-row view of the fire here in Paradise Cove and this morning, not a lick of flame visible from the Corral Canyon/Carbon Mesa area.
Winds, which started gusting at about 3 a.m., are now hot and steady but not too strong. If the pattern of the last few days holds, they'll kick up a bit more as dawn breaks. Weathercasters still talk of a gradual end tomorrow to the present wind pattern.
Roads in Malibu are quiet, road blocks still in effect.
After a welcome afternoon lull, a sunset bout of wind. Fitful and fretful, not as sustained as earlier today.
Here's the view of Malibu's most active fire, where a plane and three helicopters are making a final assault.
Up at the barn now, where the temp is in the 90s, but still, utterly still. Planes and helicopters dip in and out of the canyons, where a trace of smoke hangs in the sky.
Kanan Road is open, and people with local ID allowed in and out.
No gas stations open in Malibu, so conserve what you've got.
And now some good news: no injuries in Malibu thus far. The line of flames that crested the ridge earlier has receded.
Upper Las Flores Canyon now in flames.
We can see lines of helicopters, which tank up at Pepperdine, vanish into the smoke as they dump water on the fire.
We feel it, see it, begin to gather on the bluff.
Wind shifts, fire shifts, and the first tiny tongue of flame appears.
Cruising around Malibu this morning, the little red pickup offering a bit of camouflage amid all the red rescue vehicles.
Ralphs open and oddly empty. Firefighters resting and listening to scanners, buying something to drink. Clerks worried and heaping blessings upon us.
Here's the clock tower next to Diedrich's. Below that, especially ominous to a mobile home dweller like me, the melted remains of a construction trailer.
The Governator at the Malibu fire news conference. ("Conditions are really terrible," he says. D'oh.)
Fire officials warn about capricious winds, that entire city must stay on alert.
Malibu's acting mayor takes the mike and, once again, starts thanking fellow officials. News channels instantly cut away and go back to covering the fire.
The major update at this time: tanker planes now fighting the fire, which burns with renewed vigor, in Carbon Canyon area.
Our fire, about 2,500 acres, is now 10 percent contained. It burns east of Carbon Canyon, though with high winds, all parts of the city remain on alert. All schools here and in Topanga are closed.
State of emergency in seven counties. Reciprocal aid coming from Nevada and surrounding states.
Deep in the canyons the fire still burns, though nothing like the infernos in Canyon Country or San Diego County. Here in Malibu we're in the watchful, woeful mode, just beginning to absorb the changes to our little town.
Winds are high and so dry, your skin stretches tight and your lips crack. PCH is clamped shut, strict roadblocks at Puerco Canyon and Kanan Road. The Civic Center is a staging area for everyone who has a hand in keeping us safe.
staging area at civic center in malibu
Just a smudge of smoke on the southeast horizon. Wind picking up, temperature dropping. Surfers stand on the bluff and, after a glance at the much-improved fire zone, stare longingly at the south swell, blown out and a little crumbly, now hitting the shore.
And just like that, the fire heads west.
The wind kicked up again a few minutes ago, hot and strong and steady. Smoke pours out of Corral Canyon, where planes and 'copters swarm. Almost 4 p.m.. We're heading into autumn dusk, an unsettling time to lose the light. Time to collect the dogs, pack the Plymouth and think about the best place to spend the night.
*corrected to Corral. (Not Latigo, as previously reported.)
It's been quiet for half an hour now. Absolutely no wind, but we know that can't last. The fire burns south and east of us, zero percent contained, a hundred percent unpredictable.
Residents in the Cove are restless. We're caught between two traffic stops - Malibu Canyon and Kanan Road. Can't go south at all. North is iffy - you might get out, but chances of being allowed back in are slim. So we're stuck, waiting to see what the wind will do, where the fire will go. We walk to the bluff to watch smoke waft from the cleft in the hills and wonder what piece of our sweet home town we're losing now.
Fire moving in both directions - just dropped to the hill above the Malibu Pier and is running uphill toward Saddle Peak.
800 firefighter now in Malibu. 1,000 more on the way. Firefighters' shift change has begun, with fresh companies relieving those who have been at work since before dawn.
New site for fire info. Maps, updates, discussion forums, links.
Area around Malibu Pier - which includes David Geffen's newly-remodeled Malibu Beach Inn, to say nothing of the pier's iconic neon sign, which finally works - now threatened as flames flow down the hillside.
Plumes of smoke now seem to be moving westward. Scattered scanner talk speaks of wind shift.
After a bit of a lull, the winds have kicked up again. Howling around the roof, slamming the house with gusts so strong, the long and lanky jacaranda in front is bent almost double.
Press conference carried by local news stations. Local officials spend some time thanking each other by name.
Fire moving east now. Wind conditions still changeable.
Two (unnamed) businesses destroyed. Three homes destroyed. A dozen homes partially burned.
No injuries or fatalities at this time.
Fire expected to last "several days."
Firefighters referred to as "gallant." Amen to that.
Fire now 1,200 acres.
No one - not even residents - allowed through to Malibu.
We're listening to the scanner here in Paradise Cove. Now two fronts to the fire: west side of Malibu Canyon has burned through to PCH. East front still in the hills and now headed for the sea.
Fire in Serra Retreat. Civic Center turned into staging area.
Winds 50 mph. Gusts to 108 mph.
Copters sucking water from ponds at Pepperdine, which has been evaucated.
Officials say fire started by downed power lines.
Our Lady of Malibu's school and Webster Elementary school now both in danger.
Three homes in flames on Malibu Road.
Fire crews at the Ralphs' shopping center, where palm trees are in flames.
All local news channels now covering the fire.
Fire jumps PCH to Malibu Road (the Old Coast Highway) where a house is now engulfed.
Hughes Labs on fire; Malibu Presbyterian completely burned; Malibu castle engulfed; Pacific Coast Animal Hospital threatened and all animals successfully evacuated.
Historic Adamson House threatened and tanker units sent to protect it.
PCH closed in both directions from Kanan to Topanga.
Five hundred acres burned. Two hundred homes evacuated. Evacuation center set up at Zuma Beach.
Flames crested the hill for an instant at 7:30 a.m. but haven't been seen since. Sirens everywhere. Wind from all directions.
(Written by Meg Archambault, Quinn Delgado, Katrina Perry of Pepperdine University)
Itís another beautiful day by the beach. Thereís a knee-high swell and itís time to catch some waves. You suit up and carry your longboard down to the sand only to notice a bridal gown floating aimlessly yards away from the Santa Monica Pier. That is what Jessica Belsky, communications manager of Heal the Bay, saw one day at a beach cleanup. Is this any way to keep our once pristine beaches? SoCal, itís time to get out and clean up.
Heal the Bay is a nonprofit organization with headquarters in Santa Monica. This associationís main focus is the Santa Monica Bay and surrounding Southern California coastal waters. Their methods to repair these areas include fundraising and collaborating with locals to clean up areas affected by litter and sewage.
A large part of this organizationís plan includes the Malibu Lagoon Habitat Enhancement Plan. The lagoon, a popular tourist site, was once a dump site for fill material and is continuing to deteriorate due to urbanization of the area. The purpose of this project is to ďdesign a restoration plan for the Malibu Lagoon ecosystem that provides the greatest benefit for enhanced ecosystem structure and function while accommodating the various stakeholders in the region to preserve and enhance recreational use activities.Ē
The planís first phase, approved on June 19th, involves relocating the parking lot from its current location to the intersection of PCH and Cross Creek Road. Not only will this detract traffic near the lagoon, but the lot will also steer some water runoff from entering the region through a system of filters.
Other avenues of assisting the area and further Southern California beach properties depend on volunteers for support. Those interested in cleaning up Los Angeles Countyís dirtiest beaches can join at any time. The next opportunity to help is October 20th, 2007 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Santa Monica beach off Pacific Avenue.
For people inspired to get involved, Heal the Bay can be reached online at healthebay.org or by calling (310) 451-1500.
Just a few miles from the Malibu Country Mart, where you can get your Rolls detailed, eat sushi with Kate Hudson and blow two hundred bucks on a cotton tee, another society is in full swing.
Bluffs Park, a wild swathe of ragged acres, overlooks the sea. It's fight or flight over here, from bug-hunting lizards and flesh-loving hawks to packs of coyotes who eat almost anything. The food chain, and no one's ever safely on top.
The stretch of PCH devoted to BritWatch was clear of cars yesterday afternoon. Where did everyone go? Here, to help Brit buy an ice blended at the Cross Creek Starbucks. (As opposed to the Trancas Starbucks, known as BeachBucks, or Diedbucks, a particularly soulless branch of the chain where Diedrich's Coffee once stood.)
This is the Cross Creek branch in a celeb-free moment. A few more visits like yesterday's, though, and we'll have to start calling it WarBucks.
Lines of parked cars show up on a daily basis on our stretch of PCH. Sometimes it's contractors and tradesman working on yet another mega-mansion remodel. Sometimes it's a party so big, even the host's vast grounds can't contain the celebrants. But this particular clot of cars, ranged in front of gated estates with names like Thunder Bay and Mar del Amore, is all about Britney.
They appeared a few weeks ago, right around the time the fallen pop star put her Malibu house up for sale. She rented a place up in the hills and, this being Malibu, there's only one way in and out. (Well, there is another way, a back-road detour that would steer her clear of her personal rat pack, but she either doesn't know or chooses not to use it.)
So when Britney's home, these guys are parked on PCH. You can see them better here, in the larger photo. (Which takes so long to load, it's easier just to use this link.) They stand around for hours, visiting and gossiping, smoking and watching the road. Homeowners got so pissed, they put up those traffic cones to keep their driveways clear.
When these cars are gone, it means Britney has left the building, twenty or so stalkers trailing after. It also means a new slew of crappy photos of a troubled girl caught in (and yes, courting) the spotlight are about to hit the tabs.
Did it rain hard where you are? Here in Malibu, it poured. Still and chilly this morning, shredded clouds hanging over the hills.
I know, I know, another dawn. I had planned to write about the horde of paparazzi who now stake out my stretch of PCH because poor, sad Britney Spears moved in across the street. But Brit's elsewhere today and so is that vile pack of rats.
So here instead, the shades of pink that lit the sea and sky.
Yesterday, after a long day of running errands (and cruising no fewer than four freeways in the process) in the little red Chevy pickup, it dies. Just quits on a quiet country road here in Malibu. Quick check and yep, there's gas, there's oil pressure, the battery's charging and Keb' Mo's wonderful "Dangerous Mood" is still playing. But the engine, which cranks, just won't turn over.
So I call AAA and a computer says "Roadside Emergency" and asks for my 16-digit membership number. Which I don't have because I seem to have left my wallet at home. I randomly punch numbers into the phone until I annoy the computer so much, it connects me to an actual human being who sends a tow truck. With a driver who refuses to help me because - oh yes - my driver's license is in the wallet I seem to have left at home. He does, however, offer to charge me sixty bucks AND six cents a mile to tow the truck without my ID. When I decline, he leaves me in the road.
So I walk to the Cove, get the Plymouth - and my wallet with my license - drive back to the dead truck and call AAA. Again. And yell at a very nice young man as I explain what happened the first time around. The very nice young man sends a tow truck. Again. Same company, different driver. And when I try to show the new driver my license he says, "I don't need that."
So he towed the pickup to Malibu Auto where Kelly sighed as I told him yes, I know the truck has 275,000 miles on it but yes, please do replace the distributor, which is rusted out beyond belief.
And then I drove home in the 1949 Plymouth with the original flathead six engine that roars up even the steepest Malibu hills with amazing grace, and I promised that sweet, solid 58-year-old sedan that I would finally, finally replace the torn headliner.
It's a popular corner in Malibu, this grassy lot next to PCH. Every interest group with an annual event has staked a claim here - the Kiwanas Chili Cookoff, the Lion's Club flea market, the Methodist Church's Pie Festival, the film festival, the annual Christmas/Hanukkah displays.
Last night the spot played host to a group of anti-war protestors holding signs and waving like mad to honking motorists. A sheriff's deputy parked his cruiser across the street for a bit, then lost interest and drove off.
Next up: A screening of "The Mummy," on a portable screen at the Malibu Pier on Saturday at 7 p.m. (888.310.PIER.)
As my mother
would will say, "Wear a sweater!"
The wedding was silent and serious, men in tuxedos and women in floaty dresses, a bride, a groom and a really big cake. The funeral was loving and loud, neighbors in wetsuits and leis, a paddle-out and then a feast. And the pie festival was pure hometown fun. Some famous faces, sure, but mostly regular people eating pie, enjoying the sun and watching their kids play.
Oh, and my apple pie won a ribbon again. Third place, this time. And it sold out in ten minutes. High praise at four bucks a slice.
They used to call them santanas, these sun-blasted gusts of dry, dry wind that bedevil Los Angeles each fall. Then some sanctimonious someone took offense to the underworld aspect and cleaned things up, added a vowel and turned it into Santa Ana. Silly.
In other parts of the world, relentless downslope winds are called the mistral, the sirocco, the foen. It's all the same, though, when the house shakes, the dog howls and sparks fly from the cat's fur.
Here's Raymond Chandler, telling it better than I ever could:
"...(they) come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."
I'm home making crust for tomorrow's apple pie and the wind here is blowing like mad. Here's Zuma Beach at 1 p.m., sand blasted smooth, sea churned white by these endless gusts.
My blog was still brand new at this time last year and I was getting a bit self-conscious about all of the Malibu sunrises I kept posting. (A feeling that has clearly worn off.) So I blogged the Chili Cookoff and I blogged the Lion's Club Flea Market and then, this being a very busy time of year in our little town, signs popped up for the annual Malibu Pie Festival. Perfect.
The idea was to get some girlfriends together and have fun shopping and baking and entering our pies. And the first two parts, the shopping and the baking, worked out as I had hoped. But the actual contest part got a little weird when I entered in the apple pie category and accidentally won. First place. (Maisie was ecstatic. She ate the blue ribbon an hour after we got home.) Nothing to complain about, no one to mock. Big blogging bummer.
As I shopped for apples at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market for this year's pie festival - it's this Saturday from 11-3 at the Malibu Country Mart, if you're interested in attending - I had an epiphany. After winning first place the first time out, there's really nowhere to go but downhill. Blogging heaven! It'll be (almost) as good as winning a blue ribbon.
Maisie, I'm afraid, does not agree.
Thanks to Kitty Radler for pointing out this item: One of last month's dead blue whales washed ashore again, on Broad Beach this time, according to Zeke Barlow (now that's a great byline) of the Ventura County Star. The carcass was towed out to sea. Again.
Sometimes all the shifting, drifting blue around here, sea and surf and sky, gets you craving a high-voltage jolt of pure color.