By: Julieta Hernandez Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Don’t mess with Texas beaches, is the mantra of the Surfrider Foundation, a movement where local surfer activists are able to find their voices. After witnessing the mass plastic pollution plaguing the ocean’s ecosystem, the grassroots organization started bringing attention to the cause through perseverance and direct action.
With a clear vision for the future of our ocean conditions, the Surfrider Foundation has been growing its chapter in the Coastal Bend area since 2005. They aim to create a more sustainable atmosphere and healthier ocean life. Cliff Schlabach, Chair and Neil McQueen, Vice Chair lead the local movement.
“(As surfers) we’ve seen a lot of things. We’re actually, literally immersed in the environment,” McQueen says.“That fires us up to want to make change and to change the environment.” The foundation focuses on multiple programs to encourage efforts for a cleaner coast, including its yearly Leo Garza Surf Camp for the Disabled, storm drain cleanups, and beach cleanup programs. The introduction of the Ocean Friendly Restaurant program is one of the newer building blocks the Surfrider Foundation has laid since the inception
of its South Texas chapter.
“If you’re using less waste when eating, you’ll have less waste on the beaches,” explains Holly Thomas, Outreach Coordinator of the local Surfrider team. This is how the foundation introduces the Ocean Friendly Restaurant program, which aims to “focus on one restaurant, one customer at a time.” This plan calls attention to how restaurant products, such as Styrofoam cups and plastic straws, have begun drastically affecting marine stability.
To be certified as an Ocean Friendly Restaurant, establishments must fulfill a certain number of criteria to reduce their environmental impact. Participating restaurants can meet these standards by using bio-degradable to-go boxes, not giving out a straw unless requested, and switching to more efficient energy and water systems. In turn, reducing waste levels can result in better-cost efficiency for restaurants involved
in the program.
“We’re directly on the coast here,” says Christie Irps, Coordinator of the program. “What we’re eating, all the products that we’re using: the plastic bags, the straws, the Styrofoam to-go boxes … it’s so close, everything ends up right out in the water.”
The greatest appeal of introducing restaurants to minimal waste products is the creation of demand for said products. Eventually these alternative products will become less expensive and more mainstream, smoothing the way for restaurants to transition to a less wasteful business model.
With a goal of 10 to 15 networks within the first year, the first restaurant in Corpus Christi, as well as Texas, to fully commit to the program is the Texas State Aquarium’s Pepsi Shoreline Grill. This establishment not only follows the recommended criteria but also all 10 of the potential criteria.
Members and potential members of the South Texas Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation continue to join in brainstorming new ways to push for ocean protective services. The group meets the last Monday of every month from 6-8pm at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi.