Californians heading to the seashore to cool off this summer may have been met with an unwelcome surprise. Higher sediment deposits, potentially dangerous bacteria, and sewage spills caused by heavy runoff after record rains have sullied the quality of ocean water. This year, only two California beaches qualified for the Honor Roll on Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card. Last year, 50 California beaches earned the honor.
Nearly all California adults believe the condition of oceans and beaches is very (67%) or somewhat important (27%) to the economy and to quality of life, according to the most recent PPIC Statewide Survey on the environment. These numbers have held a steady majority since July 2017; furthermore, inland residents agree with coastal residents on the value of California’s oceans and beaches (64% inland, 68% coastal).
What ocean and coastal issues worry Californians most? Majorities view plastics and marine debris (71%) and declining marine life (60%) in the Pacific as big problems; half say beach pollution along the coast is a big issue, while 45% of Californians see overfishing as a big problem.
These worries over coastal conditions may be reflected in support for policies that safeguard coastal areas. Nearly all adults favor maintaining the rules and boundaries of national marine sanctuaries and California Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect fish, wildlife, and their habitat off the coast.
The ocean also means more to California than recreation and natural beauty—it provides a source of power and energy. Overwhelming majorities of Californians support coastal energy proposals such as building desalination plants and allowing wind power and wave energy projects.
Even across party lines, the residents of the Golden State agree on the value of maintaining MPAs as well as the benefits of providing wind power, wave energy, and desalination plants. Overwhelming majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents favor these policies.
By contrast, just one in three favor oil drilling off the state’s coast. On this issue, Californians of different parties disagree: nearly two in three Republicans are in favor, compared to three in ten or fewer Democrats and independents.
Californians also differ somewhat in their opinions on coastal policies based on where they live. Inland residents are slightly more likely to favor oil drilling off the coast and coastal residents are slightly more likely to favor maintaining MPAs. However, similar shares of inland and coastal Californians both tend to favor wind power, wave energy, and desalination plants at somewhat similar rates.
The quality of Pacific coastal waters has suffered after unprecedented rainfall unleashed stormwater runoff, which was partially responsible for sewage spilled into the Pacific and coastal waterways this spring. The risks posed by extreme storms combined with the effects of climate change and human activity—like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—may be heightening Californians’ concerns about the health of the ocean. As leaders in the state explore options toward keeping our oceans and beaches clean, PPIC will continue to monitor Californians’ opinions on the state of our oceans and beaches.