Educating students and empowering the community with the Blue Water Task Force
As the COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of in-person learning opportunities put a damper on all school-based Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) programs, Surfrider’s South Bay Chapter in Los Angeles, California, was thrilled to welcome students back to the Teach & Test water quality program during the fall semester of 2021.
The South Bay Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) is one of the longest-running water testing programs in the Surfrider Foundation’s national chapter network. Dubbed ‘Teach & Test’ locally, this chapter program has been measuring bacteria levels at South Bay beaches with the help of hundreds of local school teachers and students since its inception in 2004. The goal of the program is to educate students and raise community awareness of the water quality issues and environmental challenges facing the South Bay community. By doing so, the chapter is striving to reduce environmental impacts and improve conditions at the beach for all members of their community and for local wildlife.ƒ
The chapter currently monitors 23 beach and wetland sampling sites, ranging from the Malaga Creek Outlet in the Palos Verdes Estates in the south to the Ballona Creek Wetland that intersects Playa del Rey Beach and Venice Beach to the north. Monitoring this many sites is only possible with the help of local students and all of the participating schools, which currently includes six public high schools, one middle school and Santa Monica Community College. Every other Sunday throughout the school year, teams of students and teachers, along with community volunteers, collect water samples from designated sampling sites and bring them to the fresh-air water testing lab hosted at Dive N’ Surf in Redondo Beach. All samples are processed by students under the supervision of the chapter’s Teach & Test volunteer coordinator, who is a biologist and retired educator. After each sampling event, all water quality data are entered into the BWTF website and a report is emailed to all the participants so they have immediate feedback on what their findings were that week.
While water samples are collected, students also pick up trash at the beach, along the street nearby, in front of storm drain outlets and in the Redondo Beach Harbor and Marina. The collected trash is brought back to Dive N’ Surf where it is then sorted, counted and weighed for the chapter’s Waste Characterization Study. The resulting data are entered into the Surfrider Foundation’s Beach Clean-up Database and the chapter uses these data to support advocacy efforts to reduce plastic pollution in the community.
Over the years, the chapter has put a lot of work into developing a program that not only generates important data, but also provides an excellent opportunity for local students to participate in a scientific study with real-world applications. This approach gives students insight into career paths in the environmental and water quality sector. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, one of the South Bay BWTF’s biggest supporters, the West Basin Municipal Water District, hosted an annual field trip at one of its water treatment and recycling facilities. On these excursions, the students learned how freshwater management and wastewater treatment affects water quality at the beach. This year, West Basin has invited the students and their teachers to a Water Industry Careers guest panel and the South Bay Teach & Test Coordinator is guiding the students as they put together their own water career action plan throughout the spring semester. At the beginning of May, all of the participating students joined together for a year-end celebration to present their water quality and plastic pollution data to their teachers, chapter members and local water and environmental professionals. Each student finished the school year with a certificate of completion, new friends and a much greater understanding of the different water quality and environmental challenges that face the communities in South Bay. In some cases, the students have even been inspired to follow educational paths that lead to careers in coastal conservation or science.
The chapter is thankful for their program sponsors, the West Basin Municipal Water District and Dive N’ Surf, as well as the dedicated volunteers of the South Bay Chapter and the teachers and students of participating schools who remain enthusiastic and committed to this valuable community program.