The good news in the Orange County fight against ocean pollution is deadly falcons scare away — or eat —  messy, polluting sea gulls.

The bad news is those same ravenous raptors gobble up threatened snowy plovers, so officials in Dana Point have stopped a falcon program at Monarch Beach.

Monarch Beach was described as one of two “Beach Bummers” for heavy pollution in the waters off Orange County in a report released Thursday.

Heal the Bay, a major environmental group, also singled out the waters around San Clemente Pier as being seriously polluted.

San Clemente Pier made its debut on the annual list from Heal the Bay, while Monarch Beach in Dana Point was included for the second consecutive year. Last year, Monarch was ranked fourth worst.

San Clemente Pier is the second worst on the list, earning a grade of F. Monarch Beach was given a D grade.

Part of the problem at Monarch Beach is a stream that empties into the ocean, but Dana Point officials are taking steps to deal with it. The city had employed a “falconer program,” using the predatory birds to chase away sea gulls that can worsen ocean conditions, but they were also preying on the threatened snowy plovers, prompting a halt to the program, according to Sarah Sikich of Heal the Bay.

“We’ve seen it be very effective elsewhere,” Sikich said of the use of falcons.

In fact, a falconer program at Poche Beach in San Clemente has helped put it on Heal the Bay’s “Honor Roll” of beaches receiving A grades on the annual list, Sikich said. The city also used “coyote cutoffs” as a sort of scarecrow for the gulls, she added.

The cause of the pollution at San Clemente Pier is somewhat of a mystery, Sikich said. The beach has been in the news of late due to shark sightings, but Sikich said, “I think swimmers face a more pervasive risk” from bacteria.

County officials are trying to determine the cause of the bacteria. Tests so far indicate it’s not from dogs or humans, she said.

Other beaches in Orange County making the Honor Roll were:

— Balboa Beach at 15th and 16th streets, Newport Beach;

— Balboa Beach Pier, Newport Beach;

— Crystal Cove, Pelican Point Beach, Newport Beach;

— Crystal Cove, Newport Beach;

— Treasure Island Beach, Laguna Beach;

— North Aliso County Beach, Laguna Beach;

— Camel Point, Laguna Beach;

— West Street, Laguna Beach;

— Table Rock, Laguna Beach;

— Laguna Lido Apt., Laguna Beach;

— Three Arch Bay, Laguna Beach;

— Projection of Camino Estrella, Dana Point; and

— South Capistrano Bay Community Beach, Dana Point.

Heal the Bay officials said they are concerned that President Donald Trump’s budget dropped all funding for the type of grants that funds the water-quality monitoring the group does, but they’re encouraged that lawmakers have put some of the grants back into the spending plan.

–City News Service

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