A conversation with marine biologist Rimmon C. Fay, 57, owner of a marine specimen supply firm, an ex-member of the state Coastal Commission and a leader in the fight against pollution in Santa Monica Bay. Los Angeles officials have agreed to spend $2.3 billion to improve treatment of toxin-laden sewage the city dumps in the bay, which is being considered for the federal Superfund cleanup list.
Q: You were one of the first marine biologists to explore the waters of Santa Monica Bay. What was the bay like before pollution took hold? A: I grew up here on this bay and learned to swim in it at the age of 5. My recollections as a child were (of) clear water, blue water. I can remember the kids a few years older than I diving for coins off the Venice pier. The water was clear enough that they could see the coins we would throw into the water. There were kelp beds--tremendous kelp beds--all through Santa Monica Bay. And growth on things like pier pilings--the mussels were nearly a foot thick or maybe greater. And, of course, the birds, pelicans especially, thousands resting on the piers and the breakwaters. It was clear and clean and abounding in life. And then there was an abrupt change: The appearance of the chlorinated hydrocarbons--DDT and the PCBs. The appearance of heavy metals in the late 1940s, early 1950s. And, of course, what happened was that things failed to reproduce. It was an across-the-board failure in reproduction--everything from algae on through all the invertebrates and fish and into the birds and marine mammals. Q: Your first big victory in the fight to protect the bay was in 1970. How did that come about? A: It was quite curious. For years I was bitterly and openly frustrated by the state Department of Fish and Game, which had not aggressively pursued water-pollution problems here. Although some members of the department were hostile toward me for my outspoken disappointment in them, other members of the department provided me with information that they dared not make public themselves. A portion of this information indicated that DDT concentrations in the fish in Santa Monica Bay were the highest ever determined in any fish anywhere in the world. And I didn't know what to do about it. Here I am, an independent fisherman, and I've got this truly explosive piece of information.