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By Hoiyin Ip

On March 7, Dana Point will start celebrating the 49th Festival of Whales, the world’s longest-running whale festival. More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the “Dolphin & Whale Watching Capital of the World,” which Dana Point officially became in 2019. This is a proud moment for Dana Point and Orange County.

But, I’m worried. How much more pollution will the whales have to endure from the festival? Plastics, toxics, oil leaks from boats, etc. “How can we celebrate the whales when we’re adding to the destruction of their home in the process?” said Bill Lane, Dana Point Ocean Water Quality Subcommittee member.

The harbor belongs to the County. It doesn’t have the same environmental policies as the City of Dana Point. Polystyrene foam (aka Styrofoam) foodware is OK. Smoking in public space is OK. Many residents asked the County to sync the policies with the City. (Actually, when County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett was a Dana Point Councilmember, she voted for the polystyrene foam foodware ban in 2012.) According to World Economic Forum, there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050. I would think the County would do everything to avoid a harbor like that.

Dana Point and Laguna Beach have the best plastic regulations in Orange County, but they are behind their peers in San Diego and Los Angeles counties, and upward. I still hope Dana Point would ban the single-use foodware that is plastic or contain PFAS (the “forever chemicals” that are causing Orange County Water District to shut down nearly a third of the groundwater wells). This is simply about protecting public health and the economy.

Can these whale-friendly policies be made before the 50th Festival of Whales?

I’ll end with two pieces of youth ocean art as a sneak peek of the exhibit at Newport Beach Central Library from May 11 to July 10. It’s a joint effort by Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs, Sierra Club and Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Plastic Whale

Dafne Murillo, Grade 9, Lima, Peru

“For many people in the coastal region of Peru, being able to see a humpback whale is not a rare occurrence, and has created a lucrative eco-tourism industry. Ironically, Peruvian beaches are some of the most polluted in the world. I’ve been involved in two annual beach cleanup projects, and I’ve been stunned by the countless bottles and plastic bags that are spread across the shoreline of Lima alone. This inspired my piece. My art is my version of the iceberg metaphor: people can only see the portion above the surface but are oblivious of the portion undersea. I feel this is the case in Peru (as in many other countries). People can appreciate the whales, yet fail to realize that by continuing littering the sea with their plastic waste, they are responsible for the harm of marine wildlife through ingestion or entanglement.”

Last Resort

Timothy Kim, Grade 7, Glendale, California

“What if the water was so polluted that fish were forced into fishing nets and bottles to survive? While doing research on water pollution, I found out that the most common articles of trash thrown away in the ocean were cigarettes and cigarette filters. I also found out about the dangers of the fish eating trash, either poisoning or staying within the fish until we eat it, as well as how small pieces of microscopic trash can enter fish and into our bodies when we eat them.”

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