This year marks 40 years of action by the Surfrider Foundation to protect our ocean, waves, and beaches for all people through a powerful activist network. Although the challenges to our coastlines have evolved since 1984, we can look back at remarkable success for many of the places we love most – achievements that we will be celebrating throughout 2024.
For the time being though, we want to share with you Surfrider’s ambitious priorities for the year ahead to address plastic pollution in our ocean, climate change impacts along our coasts, contaminated water on our beaches, and threats to ocean habitat off our shores.
Our beaches are one of our favorite places to play. Unfortunately, and far too often, poor water quality on our coasts puts public health at risk. Our wastewater infrastructure is aging and many counties and cities do not have adequate resources to monitor water quality and notify the public when the water is contaminated. Surfrider is working to make sure every beach in the U.S. is safe to swim, surf, and play through its programs and advocacy efforts that advance wastewater infrastructure upgrades, improve monitoring, and find solutions to contamination sources.
Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force, the world’s most comprehensive volunteer-run ocean water quality monitoring program, will continue to expand in 2024, adding more testing sites and labs to its network. Currently, the Blue Water Task Force is operating in 14 states and Puerto Rico to help keep you and your family safe when visiting the beach and to address water contamination issues at the source.
This year, at the federal level, Surfrider’s network is advocating for a historic investment in the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act, or BEACH Act, programs. The policy equips the EPA with grants for states, territories, tribes, and local governments to protect beachgoers from contaminated water. Surfrider not only helped pass the BEACH Act more than 20 years ago, but we’ve also helped sustain it ever since through our advocacy efforts. Funding has remained at close to $10 million for the past two decades, and this year Surfrider is asking for $15 million to increase support for testing and public notifications at more locations throughout the U.S.
At the state level, in 2024 Surfrider will advocate for legislation that will improve beach water quality testing and public notification in Hawaii, Florida, and the Great Lakes.
On the U.S.-Mexico border in south San Diego County, Surfrider will continue to pressure state and federal leadership to invest in the comprehensive solutions necessary to address the ongoing sewage crisis there. Through our Clean Border Water Now campaign, Surfrider will be working every day, on the ground, to hold agencies accountable for the constant barrage of sewage that impacts more than 20 miles of U.S. and Mexico coastline in the border region.
Additionally, in 2024 Surfrider will be growing the Ocean Friendly Gardens program, a nature-based solution to help curb the impacts of climate change. Through the program, Surfrider chapters collaborate with community partners to reclaim underutilized spaces to reduce stormwater runoff, capture carbon, and provide wildlife habitat while empowering residents to green their communities.
Cities and states across the country have been making great strides to reduce single-use plastic pollution, but the problem persists and our coasts and ocean bear the brunt of its impacts. Fortunately, Surfrider is leading the way to pass more laws at the local, state, and federal levels to eliminate single-use plastics. In 2024, our network is working on 13 priority campaigns in nine states.
In New York, Surfrider will be working on an extended producer responsibility bill that reduces the amount of toxic chemicals and packaging used in products, increases recycling and reuse, and shifts the financial burden of dealing with end-of-life single-use plastic products from local governments and taxpayers back to manufacturers. In New Hampshire, Surfrider is leading a “Skip the Stuff” campaign to reduce single-use foodware waste generated in restaurants. In Washington, Surfrider is working to reduce the amount of waste entering our ocean by improving and expanding access to recycling infrastructure through the state’s Recycling And Packaging Act.
At the federal level, in 2024 Surfrider will be a strong advocate for the Plastic Pellet Free Waters Act, which would prohibit the discharge of plastic pellets and other pre-production plastic materials in our waterways. Current law allows plastic producers to discharge trillions of small pre-production plastic pellets, or “nurdles,” directly into waters with little to no enforcement. Surfrider will also continue its work with the Department of the Interior to reduce plastic-waste in National Parks.
At the international scale, the Surfrider Foundation is uniquely positioned to work with our Surfrider affiliates in Senegal, Europe, Australia, and Canada to collectively demand a strong Global Plastics Treaty that protects our ocean from plastic pollution. We will advocate the U.S. government to commit to a strong, binding Global Plastics Treaty and join 175 countries around the world to address the entire life-cycle of plastics.
For 40 years, Surfrider has been the on-the-ground leader in cleaning our beaches with a network of inspired volunteers. In 2024, we will continue these efforts through more than 1,000 cleanups with 30,000 volunteers, with the goal to remove 200,000 pounds of trash from our U.S. coastlines. Data from our beach cleanups will continue to inform our local, state, and national advocacy efforts.
We are also excited to continue to expand our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program to include more businesses in more parts of the country. We seek to have more than 800 enrolled restaurants by year end that serve 145,000 single-use plastic-free meals a day. This year, we will be launching a new Ocean Friendly Hotels program to reduce single-use plastic waste in the hospitality industry. Our goal is to have a minimum of 15 participating hotels in 2024, reducing the use of more than 500,000 water bottles and 752,000 mini-plastic toiletry bottles.
Coasts and Climate
Our nation’s beaches are disappearing at an alarming rate due to chronic erosion, sea level rise, and changing weather patterns. In California, it is expected that 50-70% of beaches are at risk of disappearing by 2100. Sea level rise could reach seven feet by the end of the century and climate change-fueled storms are increasing in intensity. These impacts are increasingly wreaking havoc on our coastlines, impacting everything from sandcastles to our national security.
It is critical that we ramp up our efforts to adapt our coasts and mitigate the impacts of climate change through nature-based solutions. Efforts such as protecting the intact coastlines that remain, climate-smart planning on our coasts, and restoring dunes, wetlands, and mangroves are key steps we must take.
In 2024, Surfrider will be launching its Climate Action Program as a first line of defense against a changing climate on our coasts. Through the program, more than 1,500 volunteers will plant over 25,000 native plants along coastal dunes and wetlands in Hawaii, California, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Maine. This work will include the restoration of mangroves in Puerto Rico and Florida, which are a blue carbon ecosystem that captures more atmospheric carbon than any other ecosystem on the planet and locks it away for millennia when left undisturbed.
This year, the City of Ventura in Southern California will break ground on Phase II of the Surfers’ Point managed retreat project. This globally significant coastal adaptation project is a result of multiple decades of Surfrider’s activism and expertise. The project will replace an eroding parking lot and bike path with natural dunes and native vegetation to improve the resilience of Ventura’s iconic coastline. We will also be exploring similar opportunities to ensure accessible, thriving beaches in Oregon, Hawaii, and elsewhere in Southern California.
Meanwhile, we will continue our advocacy efforts to pass state and local laws that improve coastal resilience to climate change. In Florida, we will be working to pass state policy that encourages mangrove restoration as a nature-based solution. In Cannon Beach, home to Oregon’s iconic Haystack Rock, Surfrider will be working on local policy that improves shoreline management, plans for sea level rise, and prioritizes nature-based solutions over seawalls and other armoring.
Our ocean is the wildest place on Earth and holds the keys to our ability to adapt to a changing climate. Unfortunately, the overtake of marine resources, offshore gas, oil and mineral extraction, and climate change pose enormous threats to the vitality of our marine habitats. That is why Surfrider is leading efforts to establish and steward marine protected areas (MPAs) and ban oil and gas drilling off our coasts.
To help protect California’s marine resources and wildlife, Surfrider is excited to work with the Northern Chumash Tribal Council and other partners in 2024 to establish Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, the country’s first tribal-led sanctuary nomination. The protected area, proposed to encompass 5,617 square miles of marine ecosystems, will include habitat for migrating whales, sea lions, and seals, towering kelp forests, and culturally significant Chumash sites along 134 miles of coastline. Our chapter volunteers will also continue to steward California’s 852 square-mile MPA network through beach cleanups, water quality monitoring, and restoration. Surfrider will continue similar efforts in Oregon to conserve its network of MPAs.
We will also help lead other National Marine Sanctuary campaigns in the U.S. including the designation of Hudson Canyon National Marine Sanctuary. The proposed 2,900 square mile MPA is home to one of the largest submarine canyons in the world and over 100 marine species. Surfrider will also be working in 2024 to improve the conservation and management of Florida Keys, Olympic Coast, Channel Islands, and Northeast Canyon and Seamounts National Marine Sanctuaries.
On Puerto Rico’s northwest coast, Surfrider is leading the way to establish two new marine reserves. In 2024, we will put the finishing touches on plans to designate community-driven MPAs in Bahía de Aguadilla and Vega Baja y Manati to safeguard coral reefs, locally endangered brown pelican habitat, an abundance of marine wildlife, and world-class surf. We will also continue to support the stewardship of Tres Palmas, Cueva del Indio, and Isla Verde marine reserves.
While these proactive marine conservation campaigns are critical to our success in protecting our ocean, we will continue to push for bans on offshore drilling for all coasts. We will advocate in Washington, D.C., for federal bills that ban new offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico. We will also strongly advocate for no new leases in the next administration’s five-year offshore drilling plan.
In commitment to keep our beaches accessible for all to enjoy in 2024, Surfrider will be monitoring beach access issues and activate our network where needed. We will continue our campaign to preserve the long-standing Lighthouse Beach access trail in Coos Bay, Oregon, and we will be working to end the practice of closing the beach in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, to the public on summer Sunday mornings. We will also continue our efforts to ensure the protection of wildlife, coastline, and beach access in Boca Chica, Texas, in response to Space X's Starship Super Heavy rocket launch program at the Boca Chica Launch Site.
While overcoming the challenges facing our ocean, waves, and beaches may seem daunting, we are undeterred in Surfrider's 40th year of protecting what we love. From coral reefs to sandy beaches, carbon-storing wetlands to kelp forests, beach pathways to surf spots, Surfrider and its network of tens of thousands of volunteers will be working every day in 2024 to protect, defend, and steward our coasts.
Thank you for your support of the Surfrider Foundation and your dedication to our ocean, waves, and beaches. If you haven’t contributed to our efforts yet this year, please consider becoming a friend of the ocean by donating today.