After purchasing two Groupons for a 5-hour fishing trip with my father, I couldn’t have been more excited about the day we had planned on Orange County waters with Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching. But, as I reeled in a baby mackerel, my largest catch of the day, the guy next to me flicked his cigarette butt into the water. I kept telling myself, “Remain calm. Do not feed him to the pelicans.” Then another man tossed his cigarette butt overboard while we were anchored west of Thousand Steps Beach. Then another. 6 cigarette butts were thrown into the water on just the starboard side of the boat. “Breathe…,” I thought, not wanting to embarrass my father with a scene.
I looked around at the skippers and they were busy detangling fishing lines and helping net small fish. It didn’t appear that they took notice of what was happening with the smokers. No preventative measures, such as signs or ashtrays, were taken to control cigarette butt litter on board. They had a rather large rubbish bin on board, but still no place to extinguish cigarettes.
Tiffany E. (surname declined) at Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching informed me they run 9 fishing trips per week on average. When questioned about their cigarette disposal policy on board, Tiffany E. hesitated, “Ummmm…..,well, I guess smokers can throw their ashes in the ocean.”
“What about the cigarette butts,” I asked.
She responded, “They’d have to throw the butts in the trash.”
But the problem is that many smokers do not throw cigarette butts in the trash bin. And, how can smokers throw their cigarette butts into the trash bin without starting a fire if the boat operators provide no way to extinguish the cigarette beforehand?
“It is the small pieces of trash like cigarette butts that go unnoticed and often times the most harmful to sea life. Marine litter ingestion is one of the primary kinds of damage to wildlife because fish, birds, and marine mammals mistake them for food. Most often you can find cigarette butts in the sand in front of hotels, near park benches, close to trashcans, and high up in the corners of the beaches where the tide washes them.” - Eco-Warrior, James Pribram
San Diego Coastkeeper considers cigarette butts “one of the most prevalent debris issues throughout San Diego County’s beaches.” Yet, it is clear to me that no specific protocol is established to manage cigarette disposal; and, no employee environmental training or awareness is in place to adequately manage the proper disposal of cigarette butts on recreational vessels. I would like to see a change sooner than later.
According to Brian Owens at California Department of Fish and Wildlife, boat captains are not liable for what their guests toss overboard. Instead, the individual is liable for fines and subject to arrest. But, as the Southern California game warden pointed out to me, they have to see the act in progress before they can take any action. This governance, or lack thereof, provides no motivation for captains to control their patrons and you can bet recreational vessel captains do not report their guests’ conduct to authorities.
Cigarette butts can leach chemicals such as cadmium, lead and arsenic into our marine environment within an hour of contact with water.* Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of fish, whales, birds and other marine animals which leads to ingestion of hazardous chemicals and digestive blockages. The pieces can get lodged in an animal’s intestinal tract or build up in its stomach, which can often lead to the animal’s death.**
Because marine mammals like dolphins are at the top of the food [chain], and because they have the most blubber which is where toxins concentrate, they build up the highest levels of contaminants. The effect of these contaminants on marine mammals include: tumors, immune system breakdown resulting in outbreaks of viruses, abnormal growth, and reproductive disorders such as still births, and calf mortality due to toxins passing through the mothers milk.***
I would like to see three things happen:
1) Marine recreational vessels fined $10,000 for each cigarette thrown into the ocean (and those fines used to support organizations dedicated to beach clean-ups and the organizations dedicated to rehabilitating marine mammals that suffer from litter ingestion);
2) A mandate requiring marine recreational vessels to provide a convenient process for disposing of cigarettes, such as numerous secured ashtrays; and
3) A mandate requiring marine recreational vessels to post signs warning would-be ocean polluters that disrespect for our ocean will not be tolerated.
Have better solutions? Leave your comments below.
CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide Fish and Wildlife with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters. They also offer rewards for information leading to arrests. Use your smart phone video to document incidents.
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