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150 Water Conservation Victories and Counting

Reinventing the Outdoors contest: Surfrider Foundation's Alexis Henry explains how to save our planet, one coastline at a time.

UPDATED! Launched on Monday April 4, GOOD and the 2011 Ford Explorer will be devoting six weeks to the Reinventing the Outdoors Contest, which showcases amazing organizations like this one that are redefining the way we live, work, and play outside. Check in every day for a new story about the people, celebrities, and programs behind each organization. Help your favorite group win the $50,000 grand prize by voting for them starting Monday, May 16 through Friday, May 20.

Alexis Henry grew up in Huntington Beach, California, with the ocean as her backyard swimming pool, and did beach cleanups with the Surfrider Foundation in high school to protect the coast she so loves. After a brief foray into the entertainment biz after college, she’s been Communications Manager of the Surfrider Foundation for the past three years.

GOOD: Why should we care about coastal conservation?
Alexis Henry: From food to biodiversity to affordable recreation to providing people with jobs in tourism and fishing in coastal communities to educating children about environmental issues, oceans provide us with so much. And if we don’t care enough to protect them, healthy oceans won’t be around in the future.

G: What are the biggest threats to healthy oceans?
AH: Over 80% of the debris in the ocean is land-based. And it’s devastating to see the pollution and realize it’s all man-made. Oil is washing up on the shores and people are coming out of the ocean with rashes and eye infections. I’ve seen sea turtles with six-pack plastic rings that have grown into them, and a dead albatross that starved to death because its stomach was filled with bottle caps and plastic. It’s all preventable, as long as we each do our part. People need to care.

G: What are the biggest achievements of the organization?
AH: In 1991, we filed a lawsuit against two pulp mills in Humboldt County, CA that had over 40,000 violations against the Clean Water Act. We won the lawsuit, and it put the Surfrider Foundation on the map. Now, over just the past five years, we’ve achieved more than 150 victories, from opening seven new beaches in New Jersey to surfing to stopping a toll road from being built through a state park in Southern California that would have affected Trestles, a world-class surf break to blocking gold mining off the coast of Washington to preserving an Oregon beach from development. And it’s all due to the grassroots efforts of our 60,000 members, from campaigning to rallies to letter writing.

G: What would you use the contest money for if you won?
AH: All 100 chapters are volunteer-based, and they’re run with the help of our ten roaming field coordinators as well as our national headquarters. The field coordinators assist in everything from planning a campaign for clean water to reaching out to local media to drafting letters to legislators to providing legal and scientific advice. If we won, we could hire two more field staffers for the Texas and the Mid-Atlantic regions.

G: What do you have planned for the coming year?
AH: Our primary focus for 2011 is our Rise Above Plastics (RAP) campaign. You see plastic bags floating by all the time in the ocean. They don’t break down, and sea creatures are eating plastic particles—then we end up consuming that plastic in the fish we eat. So we’re working on advocacy, trying to get plastic bag bans at local, county, and state levels, such as our current campaign to ban the bag in Oregon and Hawaii. We’re also focusing on education, speaking at community meetings and going into schools to teach about the effects of plastic on our oceans and our environment. In October, we’ll have an event called RAPtober to raise awareness about plastics.

G: Are there any easy lifestyle changes people can make that would affect the ocean in a big way?
AH: Turn off the faucet when you’re showering, do full loads of laundry so you don’t waste water, opt for reusable mugs and bags, or if you do use single-use plastic bags, make sure to recycle them. Since everything drains to the ocean, don’t dump things like paint or oil or trash in the storm drains. There are so many simple, commonsense things that we can all do that effect coastal quality.

Images from Surfrider Foundation

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