This is part four of Stiv Wilson's tour to better understand how plastic ends up in the ocean. Read the previous installments here, here, and here.
I met Jim Moriarty, CEO of The Surfrider Foundation, at Surfrider HQ in San Clemente, California. The Surfrider Foundation is a partner to The 5 Gyres Project and has been integral in the fight against plastic pollution. “Our Rise Above Plastics program got its start with activists in the field,” says Moriarty, remembering the beginnings of Surfrider's engagement in plastics issues. "This woman named Ximena Waissbluth from Monterey Bay came to me saying she wanted to travel around the country educating people on the perils of plastic and that she wanted Surfrider to fund it. She wasn't the salesman or pitch type, but I was convinced and really inspired by her passion." Well, his investment worked. Waissbluth came to Portland, Oregon, several years ago with her plastic presentation and scared the crap out of me, personally. It is her, specifically, that got me involved in the issue in the first place.
At its core, this is how Surfrider works: It's a grassroots organization that supports activists engaging locally all over the world. Because of the ubiquity of plastic on beaches worldwide, interest in plastic issues has spread organically throughout the chapter network. The San Diego Chapter's Scott Harrison was one of the very first Surfriders to work on the issue. It was because of his resoluteness that maritime plastic pollution came to the forefront of Surfrider National's attention. By 2008, Surfrider added their Rise Above Plastics campaign to their national programs. Then, with the branding acumen of Director of Marketing, Matt McClain, the program was packaged for a larger audience and Surfrider began to build a war chest of information, photo assets, Powerpoint presentations, and outreach materials for chapter activists to use when engaging in local campaigns. Currently, the next phase of the Rise Above Plastics program is being revamped for an even larger, more tech savvy audience.
As one of many Surfrider activists, the foundation has been the vehicle by which my Portland Chapter has infiltrated Portland's political elite and brought our Ban The Bag campaign to the forefront of Portland politics, making key partnerships with the mayor’s office to solve the problem. We expect a victory on our Ban The Bag campaign early this summer (fingers crossed).
Surfrider, with more than 50,000 members who are core ocean users worldwide, has been an invaluable ally for creating awareness about the horrors of maritime plastic and has funded activists such as myself to work on the issue (Surfrider gave me a matching grant to sail to the North Atlantic Gyre, earlier this year).
For Moriarty, like any good grassroots organizer, fighting plastic pollution is something that starts at home, “A year ago, my daughter would be ridiculed for bringing reusable containers for her lunch, now all her friends are doing it.” Ever observant of the physical places he fights to protect, Moriarty, an avid surfer, has been witness to the alarming rate by which plastic has infiltrated his home beaches. Check the video below to see his commentary on how one of the greatest surfbreaks in North America is becoming synthetic.
Stiv Wilson is a freelance writer/photographer and the communications director for the 5gyres.org Project. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Next up in the series is artist and writer Dianna Cohen, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition.