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Troubled Waters

The Impact of Civilization on California's Central Coast

Troubled Waters

Impact of Civilization
The Impact of Civilization on California's Central Coast

For thousands of years, humans have interacted with the world's oceans and waterways to pursue many interests, such as food, water, mineral and energy resources, trade and commerce, transportation, recreation, exploration, and colonization.

Continuous usage of these natural environments and resources have contributed to their deterioration over time. In Santa Barbara, community efforts are ongoing to clean and restore our coastal waters, and ensure their future stability.

Shipping and Urban Growth

The Santa Barbara Channel is an active transporation corridor. Many large vessels pass daily through the Channel's International Shipping Lanes. Most of these ships carry containers with cargo. About half of them go southeast and half go northwest. Tanker ships generally travel outside the Channel.

Shipping wastes. pollutants, and the risks of vessel accidents impact commerce and the environment on a global scale. Researchers work to monitor these issues and find solutions.

Urban Growth

More than half of Americans live in coastal counties. In California, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are among their favorite destinations. Lining the waterfronts are homes, businesses, farms, freeways, tourist lodgings, and other urban developments.

Over time, increasing amounts of waste runoff from human activities have greatly affected coastal water resources. Public demand for action has resulted in efforts to clean up each source of waste runoff in our commmunity.

Resource Extraction and Recreation
Resource Extraction

Historically, humans have taken many natural resources from the ocean, such as fish, shellfish, marine mammals, kelp, and oil. In the Santa Barbara Channel, some of this resource extraction became extreme as certain marine species' populations noticeably declined or approached extinction.

Many rules and restrictions have been created to protect and monitor marine resources. Local, state, and federal groups help enforce these policies and promote awareness, but work still remains to be done.


The Santa Barbara Channel is a natural playground of recreational opportunities. Recreational enthusiasts and their equipment, however, often impact water quality, wildlife, and coastal beaches with their pollutants, excessive noise, speed, and close proximity to sensitive habitats or wildlife.

Surfers, swimmers, and other concerned citizens have effectively demanded action to reduce the harmful effects of various recreational activities. Ecotourism, environmental education, and scientific research efforts also help to promote public respect for the natural world and its wildlife.

Trash on beaches

Trash on beaches
Local Photographer Lori Rafferty Documents Trash Along Channel Islands Beaches

With the increase in shipping, urbanization, resource extraction and recreation in the Santa Barbara Channel, human activity along our coasts is becoming increasingly apparent with the arrival of more and more trash. Some of the trash may have fallen overboard a ship, or include a lost trap that was once owned by a commerical fisherman.

However, the majority of trash along our beaches comes from regular people -- local residents or tourists who have come to sample the Santa Barbara coastline. Balloons that may innocently blow away can become a death sentence for endangered sea turtles. Old toys can get lodged in the throats of marine mammals. Beachcombers can become seriously injured by stumbling across old household objects. But there is something that you can do! Next time you're out for a stroll, try to pick up at least one piece of trash and dispose of it properly. Imagine how quickly trash would disappear along the coasts if everyone did that everyday. It's simple and easy. Do your part today!

About the Photographer

Lori Rafferty grew up in Ventura County exploring the California coastline and Channel Islands at a young age. After graduating from UCSB with degrees in Zoology and Environmental Studies, she took up photography as a serious hobby to compliment her adventurous spirit. She is the only woman to successfully cross the local channel on a windsurfer. Lori held a U.S. Women's Speedsailing record (32 knots) for three years and became a successful photojournalist in the sport of windsurfing during the 1980s. During beach walks and sailing trips to the islands with her family, Lori began a personal photo project documenting the trash they discovered. She eventually found that "even though there were always natural beauty to enjoy, we were constantly reminded of our human impact by the volume of trash that drifted all the way out there. The obvious, the bizzare, the rare, and the toxic. Unfortunately, our trash all ends up somewhere." These photos by Lori Rafferty represent just a small collection of what she's encountered. Currently, Lori divides her time up with family, photojournalism, and pursuing her love of water sports, the backcountry, and all things in between.