When a small group of Malibu surfers had their local beach threatened by pollution in 1984, they formed the Surfrider Foundation in protest. Today, the organisation maintains over 50,000 members tackling problems worldwide.
Describing themselves as ‘everyday people who passionately protect our playground’, Surfrider’s non-profit environmental work aims to preserve the world’s oceans and beaches as not only forms of sacred natural beauty but also our sources water and food. The organisation’s five main campaigns tackle plastic pollution, which takes up most of their work, ocean protection, clean water, coastal preservation and beach access on local, regional and national scales. Surfrider’s interactive website lets you explore all of their active campaigns across the USA, claiming 513 ‘victories’ since 2006 including bag fee legislation in New York, passing the Clean Oceans Act in Florida and, monumentally, banning plastic bags state-wide in California. The powerful success of their work as well as their giving, down-to-earth vibe can also be felt through the website’s breakdown of every $1 donation they receive, promising 87 cents of which goes directly to support our coasts.
I first heard about Surfrider whilst visiting a friend in Sydney who, inspired by her environmental geography course, was volunteering for the organisation’s Ocean Friendly campaign. Surfrider tells us that an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic now reside in our ocean. As one way of tackling this plastic pollution the Ocean Friendly programme encourages restaurants and cafes to make more sustainable choices, and become certified as ‘ocean friendly’ in return. The requirements consist of no Styrofoam, proper recycling practices, only reusable tableware, no plastic bags offered and straws only provided upon request, with the additional choice of no plastic bottles, discounts for reusable cups, regular vegetarian/vegan food, only seafood which is certified as sustainable and water conservation and energy efficiency efforts. The idea is that, thanks to the increasing awareness and demand for environmental sustainability, customers will want to seek out Ocean Friendly restaurants and businesses will therefore want to prove themselves as one. Being Ocean Friendly means getting listed, promoted and supported by Surfrider and their partners, and the literal stamp of approval these restaurants get with Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly logo on display visibly praises them as part this conversation and awareness. Volunteers like my friend scope out local restaurants to see who might be interested in making these small changes and become certified, or even if any are already eligible without realising.
Whilst we only had slow success in our few short attempts around a Sydney suburb, and whilst plastic straws are only the very tip of the (literal) iceberg that is ocean plastic pollution, such campaigns and gentle encouragements towards sustainability can only edge us in the right direction. Whether as customers prioritising Ocean Friendly restaurants or as businesses striving for this certification, we can all contribute our piece (by not contributing our pieces of plastic) ‘one restaurant, one customer at a time’.
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