Interview with Surfrider Foundation: Saving the Oceans, One Campaign at a Time

All photos provided from Surfrider Foundation

Outdoors lovers care deeply about our coastal regions, as both natural and recreational resources. And, groups like the Surfrider Foundation are working to protect our coastlines and ensure public access. Nancy Eiring, Director of Marketing & Engagement at the Surfrider Foundation, took the time to tell us a bit about recent endeavors in this realm.

The Clymb: It is clear that the coastal recreation community, from surfers and bodyboarders to birders and hikers, has served as the driving force behind the Surfrider Foundation. How does the foundation organize such a diverse group, including members not stereotypically known for being proactive and politically minded?

Nancy Eiring: The ethos behind Surfrider is protecting what you love. People get involved with Surfrider because they have a strong connection to coastal places that they use and enjoy. As a grassroots organization, we provide many different ways for recreational users to engage. These include stewardship activities such as beach cleanups and restoration events, as well as advocacy opportunities in a variety of campaigns. Surfrider’s chapter network serves as a hub for coastal enthusiasts to connect with other recreational users and make a difference on issues they care about.


The Clymb: What are some of the major action items on your group’s agenda at the moment, and what are the primary areas of the coastline you are focusing on?

NE: Surfrider has 84 chapters across the U.S. working on a variety of campaigns and programs. Here are a few priorities:

Protect the Atlantic from Oil Drilling: Surfrider chapters are working to protect the Atlantic coast from new offshore drilling. The federal government has proposed opening up the Mid and Southern Atlantic coast to new oil drilling and will make a final decision by this fall.

Ocean Planning: Surfrider is working to protect special coastal places from development in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Washington State, which are all developing regional ocean plans. Data from the recreational studies is being used to demonstrate the social and economic importance of protecting such areas.

Defend the BEACH Act: Surfrider is working to ensure federal funding for states to conduct water quality testing at popular recreational beaches to ensure pubic health and protect the enormous social and economic benefits associated with coastal recreation.

©istockphoto/RichinpitThe Clymb: What are the Foundation’s major obstacles in accomplishing these goals?

NE: There is tremendous pressure to develop coastal and ocean areas from various industries, many of whom have significant political influence. There is also a lack of public awareness about the extent of threats facing our coastal and ocean ecosystems.

The Clymb: It looks like the Surfrider Foundation has conducted Mid-Atlantic, Oregon and Washington Coastal Recreation Studies. Are there any others?

NE: Yes, Surfrider also recently completed a coastal recreation study in New England. In total, we now have scientific data for 12 U.S. states that can be used to protect popular coastal areas from development or other impacts.


The Clymb: What were the major findings of these studies?

NE: The recreation mapping studies demonstrate that coastal recreation is immensely popular and generates enormous economic benefits. Here are a few of the big take-aways.

Coastal recreation occurs everywhere. This is not an exaggeration. If there’s a patch of coastline that’s even remotely accessible, someone is using it for recreation. However, the intensity of use along the coast is not uniform. Certain areas are exceedingly popular, rendering them recreation hot spots that must be protected for present and future generations.

Recreation users are diverse and so are their activities. Recreation users straddle all demographics, including age, wealth, and ethnicity. Furthermore, these millions of users participate in a wide range of activities, including beach going, surfing, kayaking, bird watching, SCUBA diving, paddle boarding, and many more.

Coastal recreation generates billions for local economies. Coastal recreation generates major economic benefits through trip-related expenditures such as hotel visits, dining, shopping and equipment rentals. For example, in Oregon alone, coastal visitation accounted for $2.4 billion in expenditures in 2010.


chapters_2The Clymb: How can these studies be used to further your group’s causes?

NE: The studies show that coastal recreation is the dominant ocean sector, both in terms of public participation and the billions of dollars generated. In fact, these economic values dwarf those of oil and gas, commercial fishing, and other sectors by a wide margin. This provides the recreation community with enormous leverage to influence decisions that affect the ocean and coast. For example, we are using the study results to advocate for improved water quality and the preservation of coastal and ocean areas that are used for recreation (see Oregon example).

The studies also provided the opportunity to organize the coastal recreation industry as a political force. To support data collection, hundreds of businesses and groups helped conduct outreach to recreational users. Such broad participation from our community is the key ingredient for us to grow as a powerful voice in coastal management.

All photos provided by Surfrider Foundation.

To find out more about the Surfrider Foundation, check out their site here.