Activist Spotlight, Blue Water Task Force
February 27 2020

Activist Spotlight: Mary Simun with the South Bay Teach & Test

by Colleen Henn

Meet Mary Simun.

Mary coordinates the South Bay Teach and Test Program. The Teach and Test program is a hybrid of Surfrider Foundation's Blue Water Task Force and Beach Cleanup programs, empowering local students in the South Los Angeles area to monitor bacteria levels in the ocean and trash pollution at our local beaches. On a sampling day, students collect both water quality samples and waste from in front of storm drain outlets. Students present this data to the South Bay Chapter and local officials to inform the greater public about plastic and water quality pollution at their beaches. 

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?  

As an environmentalist and science educator, my priority is to expose young people to authentic science experiences, so when I was approached by Alan Walti (Surfrider volunteer extraordinaire!) about participating in a pilot program to test water quality with the Surfrider Foundation over fifteen years ago, I jumped at the chance to participate with my high school students. When I retired from the classroom, Alan asked me to continue working with the Teach and Test program (BWTF) as a Surfrider Foundation volunteer. I became a principle of the program, then shortly thereafter joined the Executive Committee of the South Bay Chapter.

Q: What are some local issues that affect water quality in your community?   

As a former member of the Water Quality Task Force, I was amazed to learn just how many factors affect water quality along our section of the coast: 

  • Runoff from streets, yards and streams 
  • Agriculture (trash, pet waste, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, oil and other chemicals)
  • Boats (fuel, oil, trash, paint and other chemicals)
  • Waste from shore activities (including sunscreen chemicals and trash)
  • Fishing waste
  • Marine animal and bird excrement
  • Dead animals (including fish kills from red tides, domoic acid)
  • Power plant and desalination plant influx and effluent
  • Dredging
  • Send deposition to prevent coastal erosion

…the list seems endless.

Q: How is your Chapter/Club responding to those issues? 

The South Bay Chapter organizes regular beach clean ups and regularly participates in local events (fairs, public outreach events) to educate the public, but our primary focus is the BWTF Teach and Test and Waste Characterization Programs. 

Students from local middle and high schools collect water samples twice per month at local beaches and harbors and test the water for nterococcus bacteria. They are involved in the entire process, including processing the samples and reading the results of the tests and publishing them on the Blue Water Task Force page. Additionally, they collect trash and post the results on the Surfrider website. At the end of the school year, students present action plans to explain how they are going to help mitigate the problems they have helped monitor and learn about. 

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?  

Teach and Test, 100%! I love observing how excited students get as they learn how to test the water quality, knowing they are participating in an authentic science experiment: the results matter! It helps them feel informed, educated and empowered. They grow so much during the sampling year it is impossible to quantify. I have had many students who were non-science majors participate in the program, then graduate with a BS in science! We are changing hearts and minds in our program!

Q: Why is being involved in the Surfrider Foundation important to you? 

I have always loved the ocean and participated in environmental activism, and I love working with passionate, fun, like-minded people who also want to save the Earth! There are advantages to working with a large organization that other small groups do not have access to, such as experts in specific fields and a wide variety of resources. The mission is simple, powerful, and easy to explain to people.

Q: How can we all pitch in to help protect clean water and healthy beaches? 

No action is insignificant nor too grand: from properly disposing of pet waste, to working with local governments to implement policy that alter how a community operates, everyone can help be a part of the solution. Earth is a closed system: nothing will ever disappear. Helping to change peoples’ point of view about their role and responsibilities in society and on our planet can start with the simple act of picking up a piece of trash on the beach.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?

I greatly appreciate the fact that the Surfrider Foundation South Bay Chapter Executive Committee has always been supportive of the Teach and Test Program, and with funding from West Basin we have never had to worry about our program being cut. In fact, it has expanded several times, and currently is undergoing one of the largest transformations ever. We now have a wonderful dedicated group of Surfrider volunteers who were recruited by this program who work exclusively with us on Teach and Test. My Co-Chair, Jodi Rhodes (also a retired educator), is a new and invaluable addition to our program this year. A local shop, Dive n’ Surf, stepped up when we lost our lab of fifteen years and gave us a new home. Last but foremost are the students, for whom the program was created and without their passion and dedication would cease to exist.  Go Surfrider!!

 

A special thanks to West Basin Municipal Water District for providing funding for this program, to Dive N Surf for providing lab space, and for these participating schools: Parras Middle SchoolPalos Verdes High SchoolEl Segundo High SchoolMira Costa High SchoolRedondo Union High School, & Lawndale High School