PASSION + PROTECTION Surfrider Foundation

One Ocean Beauty interviews Surfrider Foundation CEO, Chad Nelson, about his mission to turn passion for the ocean into protection.

Setting the stage, can you tell us about the Surfrider Foundation?

The Surfrider Foundation is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. We turn passion into lasting protection. Our volunteer network consists of 81 chapters and 91 student clubs who manage local campaigns, champion policy initiatives, carry out programs that tackle threats head on, educate and raise awareness around the issues facing our ocean.

Where does your impact reach?

Our irreplaceable national network of chapter volunteers serves as the first response to local threats in coastal communities across the US. They are the boots on the ground who collaborate on both the local and national level with regional staff and issue experts to carry out our mission through campaign, program and educational initiatives in their local communities. Through our network of local activists and chapters, Surfrider affects change at a local level by community.

What are the main issues that Surfrider works on?

Our mission is to protect clean water and healthy beaches and we do this through five initiative areas: clean water, plastic pollution, ocean protection, beach access and coastal preservation. Each initiative has active program and campaigns, such as our Blue Water Task Force volunteer water testing program or our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program.

I’ve heard there are around 100 active Surfrider campaigns being carried out around the country at any given time, is that true?

True! Campaigns define us as an organization and they are managed at the local, regional and national level. They are how we protect our special coastal places, ensure our ocean is healthy and wild, keep pollution out of the water and make sure every beach is clean and accessible for all to enjoy. Each and every campaign has a defined beginning, middle and end. When we “win” a campaign we celebrate the achievement as a Coastal Victory and each year we keep a tally of those victories.

What’s a Coastal Victory?

We define a Coastal Victory as a decision made in favor of the coastal environment that results in a positive conservation outcome, improves coastal access, or does both. Every day, government bodies make decisions that impact the coastal resources we use and cherish. We've had over 600 campaigns become Coastal Victories since 2006. By this standard, we had our most successful year ever with 82 victories in 2018, smashing our previous record of 61 campaign wins from 2016. Surfrider’s vision is to influence these decisions to achieve 100% protection of the coasts.

What is the current state of activism for our ocean, waves and beaches?

There are more people involved in coastal conservation and more coastal conservation organizations than ever before. And awareness of issues like plastic pollution are probably at their highest they’ve ever been, so there is a reason for optimism. But the scale of the activist conservation movement isn’t at the scale of the problems. So we’re trying to build that movement so it’s up to scale with the problems. Because if it is, we can solve all these problems.

What is the inspiration behind the Surfrider Foundation’s new United States and Oceans of America campaign?

It’s an effort to draw awareness to America’s oceans that span nearly 4.5 million square miles. For as large as the United States is in terms of land, most people don’t realize that the United States is actually more ocean than land. That’s why we hope to remind folks that the oceans are as much a part of this country as its mountains and forests, and we have a responsibility to protect them. This campaign is a rallying cry to come around the shared values that we have.

How can people get involved?

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization and our achievements would not be possible without the financial support of members, donors, foundations and corporate partners. I encourage individuals to find their local chapter, attend a chapter meeting or local volunteer activity. Another way to keep in touch is to sign up for our Making Waves email newsletter, check out our website, or follow us on social media, @Surfrider on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.