Supporters of Surfrider Foundation, including actors John Slattery and Jennifer Ferrin, professional surfers Quincy Davis and Pat Schmidt, filmmaker Mikey DeTemple, and artist Tony Caramanico, gathered in Montauk for the 4th annual One Ocean fundraising event on Saturday, July 14.
“I feel like every year we’re doing a couple of things better,” Surfrider CEO, Dr. Chad Nelsen told us. “One, the work that we’re doing in the local community – testing the water and getting rid of plastic – has grown in awareness so more people are hearing about it and as a result we’re getting more people to come support us. Hopefully, we’re raising more money to support the great work.”
The sold-out event was held at The Edward Vincent Ecker Sr. County Park in Montauk, a spot Surfrider selected to remind attendees about what the evening’s main focus was: safeguarding clean water and reducing the plastic pollution. In addition to the amazing water views, attendees enjoyed a cocktail hour, gourmet seated dinner, live auction, and a silent auction.
Later this year, Surfrider will host the second of this bi-coastal event in Los Angeles.
“The Surfrider organization is a grassroots organization, so we have 80 chapters around the country, from Florida to Maine and Washington to California,” Dr. Nelsen noted. “So, if we did an event in LA, we felt like we’d be leaving the East Coast without one. We felt like one way to balance it out was to hold an event on both coasts and it’s crazy to do two events!”
Surfrider is addressing local plastic pollution through its Strawless Summer campaign, which was launched earlier this year. “We’ve had amazing success. The basis is that straws are one of the top ten items found on beaches. They’re incredibly harmful to marine life and they’re easily avoidable. They’re single use plastic that we don’t need,” Dr. Nelsen explained. “The goal is to encourage restaurants to give up straws or only give them to people on demand. We started this early on in the summer and it’s taken off like wildfire.”
The campaign was immediately embraced on the East End. “There’s over 50 establishments in Montauk that have already signed on and are getting rid of straws and it’s part of a global movement. Starbucks just announced that they’re getting rid of straws and so it’s great to see it happening at the local level and at the global level,” Dr. Nelsen said. “It’s great to see businesses, whether they’re mom and pop shops or a global business, respond to this plastic pollution problem and taking action to make a difference.”
Tackling the straw problem isn’t the only issue Surfrider is currently focused on. “The other big issue we have out here is water quality. We test over 50 sites – ocean, lakes, and waterways – and there’s actually a fair amount of water pollution, which is alarming to a lot of people and most of it is coming from failing septic systems or storm water runoff. The first step is awareness, understanding the problem, and educating the public – which is happening,” Dr. Nelsen shared. “That’s creating political will for the government to start solving the problem. Now, they’re trying to identify the source of the problem and fix it. I’m actually really encouraged because at first you identify the problem and are like oh god, this is terrible and now we’ve pretty quickly moved to slowly but surely to addressing the sources. There’s no reason why we can’t have clean water out here.”
As for what the rest of the year will bring, the organization is going to stay focused on its Strawless Summer and also keep an eye on a national issue that could cause major problems out here. “We’re going to really focus on the Strawless campaign for the rest of the summer. A number of businesses, like The Surf Lodge, are planning to upgrade their septic systems in the fall once they get past the rush, which is great to see and then the other really big campaign we have is offshore drilling,” he said. “The Trump administration has proposed opening up all of the East Coast and West Coast waters to offshore drilling, including right off Montauk. We’re waiting for a decision in October or November to see what that plan will look like and we’re rallying people all across the country, including right here in New York, to oppose that and contact their congressman. There’s nothing to gain by local communities to see offshoring drilling off of the coast and everything to lose.”
If allowed, Dr. Nelsen said the results would be extremely detrimental. “It would be horrible – there’s so many impacts. Outside a large oil spill, which is pretty much inevitable, there’s small oil spills. There’s been 10,000 small oil spills since the big Gulf oil spill, so it’s chronic,” he explained. “They have to put all types of infrastructure, so it industrializes the coast. People don’t like to see windmills offshore… imagine an oil rig. It’s damaging in every step of the way – not to mention the climate change impact.”
Surfrider Foundation, which was founded in 1984 by a group of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, is a leading nonprofit committed to the protection of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches. It has earned 450 victories in support of protecting our coasts.
“The easiest way to get involved with Surfrider is to join as a member. We have three chapters in New York: Eastern Long Island, Central Long Island, and New York City,” Dr. Nelsen added.
For more information about Surfrider, visit easternli.surfrider.org.