Nurdles

I woke up this morning to the news the California State Senate failed to pass a ban on plastic bags, really sad news and a disgusting example of our government for sale. The havoc these bags cause to our oceans and waterways is devastating to fish, wildlife and ultimately us. Toxins such as Phthalates, that leach from the plastic, as well as pollutants that adhere themselves to the macro plastic particles, get into the food chain as more and more of the fish we eat mistake these macro particles for their food.

A lot of people are aware of the problems with plastic bags, but many may not know that another culprit is a benignly named little bugger called the nurdle. Nurdles are pre-production plastic pellets and resin materials typically under 5mm in diameter, that are used in the production and manufacturing of thousands of the products we use. Over 250 billion pounds of nurdles are shipped each year, and many, many of them fall off of railroad cars and ships, and then find their way to our oceans and beaches.

It is estimated that about 10% of the litter found on beaches worldwide are nurdles. I roamed a beach in Seal Beach, just south of Long Beach, to find hundreds of them lying around the beach, I can tell you the story is the same on most any other beach you might find yourself beach-combing on. Nurdles are just part of the family of plastic trash that is caught in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre that wash up on our beaches and get ingested by birds and fish. Atolls in the Hawaiian archipelago like Kure and Midway are littered with plastic debris and the carcasses of albatrosses that migrate there and eat the plastic particles, and either suffocate or starve to death. The graphic example of what was found inside the belly of an albatross is courtesy of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, an organization that is doing extraordinary work in the areas of research and education concerning plastic in our oceans.

There is no easy way to wrap this up I’m afraid, passage of the plastic bag ban would have been a good start. This leaves it up to local cities and towns to institute bans, which has already started to happen in towns like San Francisco and Palo Alto, with other cities like Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach soon to follow. As long as the chemistry and petroleum industry has millions of dollars to spend swaying the votes of our legislators, it will be a long hard fought battle each time.

Ballona Wetlands

It’s August and I am slowing down with Summer’s end approaching, so I thought I would just run some one shot posts for a few weeks. I went out last night to shoot the Ballona Wetlands, a beautiful area south of Marina Del Rey and just west of the Playa Vista housing development. For a number of years, and continuing to this day, there has been a battle to save the Ballona Wetlands from further development. The wetlands once extended north to Venice and further inland, and has been slowly built on over the years, the latest foray was the massive housing complex of Playa Vista, which you can see on the right side of the photo. What remains of the wetlands was saved by the acquisition of the land by the state, and the efforts of groups like Friends of  Ballona Wetlands. Wetlands, besides their pristine beauty and home to numerous species of birds and other wildlife, are a very complex eco-system as well as nature’s natural wastewater purification filter. The wetlands are located at the mouth of the Ballona Creek, which was once a natural flowing waterway, but is now a paved channel for rain and wastewater runoff.

I wanted to juxtapose the wetlands with the encroaching Playa Vista development. I thought a dusk shot would more dramatically make the point with the lights from the buildings and traffic along Lincoln Blvd., contrasted with the quiet serenity of the wetlands. The problem was that all that quiet serenity was going to be very dark compared to the lights, sky and the setting sun. I used a trick that every printer learns to do when making their B&W prints on an enlarger, a little dodging and burning. In this case, I waved my appointment book with its straight edge up and down, right in front of the top half of my lens while I was exposing the image. The exposure was about 20 seconds and I dodged the book for about 15 seconds, which kept the upper part of the exposure dark and from burning out the sky and mountains too much. A little tweaking in Photoshop didn’t hurt either.

Water: The New Oil

We're going heavy on the pictures and light on the text this week. I had a post about gardening ready to go, but the ongoing nightmare in the Gulf made me think about our water, waterways and oceans and how we have taken it all for granted for so long. I went through my library and pulled out an assortment of images I have shot over the years that relate to water and show the human impact on it. There have been a number of articles of late that call water the new oil, a term referring to the growing scarcity of potable water in many parts of the world due to drought, and the territorial conflicts that will continue to arise out of the shortage. The term now has a horrible irony in light of current events.

Not only is water becoming scarcer, but it is becoming more toxic and polluted, and not just from major catastrophes like oil spills, but by the daily dumping of garbage, plastic, industrial waste and sewage. The fact is we all have choices we can make on a daily basis, and it is up to each of us to take responsibility for the things within our power to change. I'm feeling preachy today, but there really are so many things we can all do to help - water conservation, using natural non toxic products, and our use of plastic. Consider the fact that every piece of plastic ever created still exists somewhere, and will do so for years and years to come. Do you really need to buy disposable plastic water bottles, or could you use a re-usable bottle and filter your tap water? Think about how much money you would save, as well as the damage you would be preventing. If you do use plastic, recycle it as well as all the other items that your city or town will let you. I once heard a woman say that she doesn't feel like recycling, I didn't realize it was about feelings.

I get angry when I see things get to the point where it is too late, like it may be for the Gulf. That tipping point is being fast approached on many fronts and there is no one other than ourselves who can do anything about it. Are we willing to make at least small changes to our lifestyle, to make small sacrifices, to change our buying habits? There is a lot to blame big oil for, good reason to point the finger at government regulators, but we are the consumers, and as long we support and buy their products, they will continue to produce those products that pollute and endanger our planet and environment. End of sermon!

Ballona Creek Footbridge

I just recently moved to Culver City and was immediately drawn to the Ballona Creek, a nine mile waterway which was once a meandering creek that could quickly turn into a torrential river after severe rains. It was paved over, á la the LA River, by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1935 to prevent flooding and damage to surrounding homes. Needless to say, much of it’s quaintness would seem to be lost at first glance, but after spending some time along it’s banks and its 7 mile bike path, I started to feel the allure.

Shopping cart in Ballona Creek

On a clear night last week I went down to a particularly photogenic footbridge that crosses the creek just west of Overland. I had made up my mind to make the creek an ongoing project and the footbridge had caught my eye as a nice subject to photograph. I took a few initial shots from the upper banks, focusing on an abandoned shopping cart that had been dumped into the river. It was not the first cart I had seen in the creek and I guarantee not the last. I think the only reason people dump them in the creek is to watch them roll down the slides of the creek banks and splash into the water.

Ballona Creek footbridge at dusk

I slowly descended down the paved slope to the water’s edge for a final shot of the bridge at dusk, and I set up my camera inches away from the water, about a foot off the ground. I often get my best dusk shots when it looks as if the shoot should be over, when the sky is dark with only a hint of blue in it. The digital capture (we used to call it film) records it brighter than our eyes do and it can balance out quite well with the darkness of a foreground or whatever else is in the frame.

I clicked away some 30 second to one minute exposures and sat cross-legged by the water as it gurgled by. I was totally unprepared for the calmness of the setting and how nice it was to sit by an urban stream. What a great place to watch the sunset. I could only imagine how it might look if someday the pavement is removed and the natural state of the creek returns. More on the Ballona Creek in a few weeks.

Welcome to the first post of Citizen of the Planet.

I once heard David Burnett, the famous photojournalist, say that photographers get to parachute in and out of other people’s lives. I always thought that was a great way of describing what we do. My camera has always allowed me to enter places and worlds I would never have found otherwise, allowing me to learn a little bit about a lot of things, and sometimes a lot about a few things. Along the way I am usually privileged to meet some very interesting people. That is why I love what I do. What I have discovered shooting a lot of the environmental and Green stories these last few years, is that quite often those interesting places and people are in my own backyard.

Dolphins and Oil Derrick in Catalina Channel

I had been shooting mostly travel subjects for as long as I can remember and even started my own photo agency, Ambient Images, that specialized in travel photos from New York and California. But a few years ago I wanted to move in another direction, to possibly get back to the photojournalistic roots that first took hold of me and my camera some twenty five years ago. It was obvious to me that the big story of our time was what was happening to our planet. On one hand the planet was under assault from the encroaching and gluttonous needs of mankind. Species were dying, the earth was warming and the precious air and water that our lives depended on, were becoming fouler and fouler with each day.

Helicopter dropping water on Sylmar wildfire

On the other hand, there are all the people who have been awakened to the earth’s plight and who have not sat idly or blindly by as these irreversible travesties continued to blight our planet. Technology was changing at seemingly lightning speed to help us meet our energy needs from alternative sources, and battles were being waged to preserve our waters, our air and our health from further erosion. There were many who were making great and sometimes even just small sacrifices to bring attention to these things, so that the rest of us might take off our blinders long enough to see that action was going to be required on all our parts if we wanted our children to inherit something even resembling the planet and glorious natural world that we are still privileged to live in. These heroes are often just our neighbors who spend a day cleaning a beach or river, or it might be a couple of guys who sail across an ocean on a raft, or the family that spends a year living without the normal amenities of life because of their negative impact on the environment.

Heal the bay Clean up at Venice Beach

The first event I photographed was a beach clean up in Venice for Heal the Bay, a well known and longstanding organization that is dedicated to the clean up and education of all matters relating to Santa Monica Bay. I have gone on to work with FoLAR – Friends of the LA River, LA Conservation Corps, the Million Trees LA Initiative out of the Los Angles Mayors office, CBE – Communities for a Better Environment, LA Eco-Village and others.

The "Junk" raft sails from Long Beach to Hawaii

The most interesting story I have done so far was that of the “Junk” raft. Over several months I followed the preparations of Marcus Eriksen and Joel Pascal as they built and made ready to sail their Kon Tiki like raft, made from 15,000 plastic bottles and an airplane fuselage, 2100 miles from Long Beach to Hawaii to bring awareness to the North Pacific Gyre and the floating plastic soup that is permeating the Ocean and infiltrating our food supply. I was lucky enough to be on the ORV Alguita, Captain Charlie Moore's 50 foot Catamaran that towed them out to sea for four days to help them on their way for the ten week journey. We hit a gale on our third day out, an interesting experience for this born and bred New York City boy. I am proud to say that I did not get sea sick, a feat I attribute to riding the New York subways for most of my life.

Plastic Water Bottle Floating in Pacific Ocean

After that trip I would never see a plastic water bottle or  bag the same way. The theme of plastic in our rivers and oceans continues to attract my camera as well as the story of water in Los Angeles in general. Anyone who knows a bit of Los Angeles history or has seen the movie Chinatown, knows how important and critical a role water plays in the dynamic ecosystem of Southern California.

I have come to understand that our own backyards are simply microcosms of what is occurring elsewhere, and that the hard work and spirit that is happening in one neighborhood, is repeated hundreds and thousands of times over in communities in this country and around the planet.

Los Angeles River Expedition in 2008, Glendale Narrows

I hope to show show in this blog, through the use of pictures and words, what is happening in my backyard of Los Angeles and Southern California. I will do my best to make it entertaining as well as educational. I will of course be traveling and showing you the result of those exploits, and I also intend to invite guest photographers to show their work here from time to time, something I am very excited about. Please offer your comments, your critiques and your corrections. I am new at this blogging thing and your input will help me guide me and teach me. Breathe deeply and be well.