Cleaning Up America's Coasts with the Surfrider Organization

Our plastic addiction has intensified...every year, an estimated 5-13 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans, and in the U.S, about 100 million bags are used annually. That’s about 360 bags a year for one person in this country. That’s a lot of plastic.
— Melissa Mefford, Communications Manager, Surfrider Foundation
Image by Geraint Rowland

Image by Geraint Rowland

By: Christine Hogg

When a development project was set to cause havoc on the coast lines of Malibu California 30 years ago, a group of surfers fought hard to protect their local wave spot. It was a last ditch effort that brought the surf community together, and a protest that made history in marine conservation. Since that day, empowered by the knowledge that the love of their wave-spots can save marine environments, the Surfrider Foundation has evolved into one of the largest volunteer-activist networks dedicated to defending the coasts of the United States.

"Plastic Beaches" by Jennyvids

"Plastic Beaches" by Jennyvids

Composed of an incredibly passionate, volunteer-based network of 85 chapters and 50 youth clubs in coastal communities across the U.S., the Surfrider Foundation is committed to cleaning up coastlines throughout America. They are supported by national and regional staff with expertise in law, policy and community organizing, and are able to address global problems on a local, regional and national level. Surfrider’s work has expanded from protecting just surf spots to ensuring access to beaches and clean water, working on coastal preservation, looking at long-term solutions for ocean protection and stopping plastic pollution at the source.  

It’s no secret that plastic pollution is ruining the world’s oceans. In a startling report released at Davos by the World Economics Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that one truckload of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean every minute. That’s approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic every year. By 2050, the weight of plastics is expected to outweigh the fish and marine life that call the ocean home. “Our plastic addiction has intensified,” said Melissa Mefford, Communications Manager at Surfrider. “In the U.S., about 100 billion plastic bags are used annually. That’s around 360 bags a year for each person in this country. Every day, more than 500 million plastic straws are discarded. For every 167 disposable water bottles the average American uses, only 38 are recycled. Less than 5% of plastic bags are recycled. That’s a lot of plastic.”

Image by Day Donaldson

Image by Day Donaldson

"Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea" by Smithsonian's National Zoo

"Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea" by Smithsonian's National Zoo

In an attempt to alleviate the problem and educate the public, Surfrider’s volunteers act in unison as a first response team to local threats in coastal communities across the U.S. They collaborate on both the local and national level with regional staff and issue experts to carry out Surfrider’s mission through campaign, program and educational initiatives in their local communities. One example of this is the Blue Water Task Force, which acts as the Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer-led, water testing, education and advocacy program. Citizens and officials receive alerts in their communities about problems regarding water quality in order to brainstorm solutions. The Blue Water Task Force has demonstrated success by identifying problems with beach and coastal water pollution, raising public awareness of these incidents and working collaboratively with local stakeholders to find and implement pollution solutions.

"Plastic [not] fantastic, pt. 2." by digitalpimp.

"Plastic [not] fantastic, pt. 2." by digitalpimp.

Currently, just 56% of the U.S’s coastlines are considered protected from pollution and developmental threats. Through the ongoing efforts of their volunteer network and stakeholder engagement, the Surfrider Foundation network has counted more than 360 victories achieved since 2006, when the count began. Those victories include plastic bag and EPS foam bans, stopping bad development projects, keeping beaches accessible, creating marine protected areas and stopping offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic in order to protect the world’s ocean, waves and beaches for the future.

Learn more about Surfrider’s ongoing projects

See how you can get involved

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