Sparkling waters and pristine beaches are part of summer fun, but keeping oceans clean has become increasingly challenging for shore communities.
Water pollution led to more than 25,000 beach closures in the United States in 2006, the most in nearly two decades, according to a report by the National Resources Defense Council.
Every eight months an amount of oil equivalent to the Exxon Valdez spill is dumped down storm drain systems into coastal waters.
Now a new device called the smart sponge is becoming the latest weapon in the fight against water pollution.
Long Beach, Calif., has begun using the smart sponge to help clean up pollution from the nearly 4,500 tons of waste that flow into the waters around that city each year, most of it shooting down the Los Angeles River after rainstorms.
In Long Beach, 2,000 sponges have been placed in city storm drains since 2004, neutralizing dangerous chemicals and catching debris before it has a chance to hit the ocean.
"The smart sponge is very similar to the sponge that you'd find in your home at your sink, except it has properties that allow it to absorb oil and kill bacteria on contact," said hydrology expert Duane Cook.
Tests show a drastic improvement in water quality, with a 97 percent bacterial kill rate and 1 million gallons of contaminated water diverted from the storm drain system every month.
Other beachfront cities like Miami and Norwalk, Conn., and airports and marinas are putting smart sponges to use as well.
"It's the last line of defense to protect the environment," said Glenn Rink, the creator of the smart sponge.
However promising the sponges may be in the fight against pollution, though, water experts say preventing pollution is still the best line of defense
"There is no silver bullet. … There's no golden ticket to solve our storm water problem," said Steve Fleischle at the Water Keeper Alliance. "What we really need to do is we need to educate people to not litter, to not dump motor oil down the storm drains."