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

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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.


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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.