Activist Spotlight
October 11 2016

Meet Emelia DeForce, passionate Surfrider coastal defender!

by Emelia DeForce

Meet Emelia DeForce, passionate Surfrider coastal defender, who has dedicated countless hours to supporting the Surfrider Foundation’s mission to protect our oceans, waves and beaches.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?

I was passionate about continuing work on marine plastic pollution when I moved to Southern California for a job in late 2014.  Prior to my journey West, I was living on the East Coast, in Woods Hole, MA, and had worked for five years on plastic pollution in the open ocean.  After a tip from a close friend and Surfrider member, Liz Brolaski, I inquired with the Rise Above Plastics (RAP) chapter in San Diego and attended a monthly meeting, and I was hooked!

Q: What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?

The local issues I focus on, from Oceanside, CA and South to the Mexican Border, are surrounding the over-use and abuse of plastic.  I have found that it will take some education and a little change on the part of a consumer to make an impact on what ends up in the ocean.  I care because I’ve sailed on research vessels with Sea Education Association (SEA) to both the Atlantic and Pacific so called “garbage patches” during my work as a microbiologist to better understand the role that microbes play in colonizing plastic at sea.  The mess we’ve made is real and it is thousands of miles from land.  Because water is where it’s at for me, I’ve made it a goal to tell the story and instill change on behalf of our ocean, waves, and beaches.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

I’ve worked with a progressive group of RAPtivists on starting a program to reduce plastic waste in restaurants called Ocean Friendly Restaurants.  We’ve signed up close to a hundred restaurants and we’re still going! I’ve also worked on Single Use Plastic Bag and Polystyrene Ordinances in the San Diego County area including Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, and Oceanside, CA.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?

There are two.  The first city council meeting I attended in Encinitas, and a visit to the Mayor’s office in Oceanside.  One of the highly respected and very influential surfrider volunteers, Roger Kube, asked if I’d go up to the podium during the city council meeting and speak for three minutes on why I felt Encinitas should pass a bag ordinance.  Whew, was I nervous!  I have no idea what I said (nor do I want to know!) but the city council voted to pass the ordinance that night and I was elated!  Months later, I was working with Michael Torti, a very well spoken, and educated volunteer.  We were in Oceanside getting support for a single use plastic bag ordinance during a meeting with Mayor Jim Wood.  We quickly gained his support and he insisted that we finish off the meeting by sitting in his chair with our feet propped up on his desk fully outfitted with a gavel in hand for a photo opportunity.  I promptly turned bright red and thought, “holy cats, should I really be doing this?”  Greatest photo opp ever!

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider? 

It sounds cheesy but, you CAN make a difference.  Surfrider is a tremendous network of talented and knowledgeable people, someone within the organization has an answer and can help.  If there is a will, there is a way.  I also try to remind myself from time to time that this is something that I have volunteered to do, don’t let it stress you out!

Q: Will you complete the following sentence: I am Surfrider because...

I am Surfrider because I’ve had incredible and humbling opportunities to travel to remote places on earth because of my career as a scientist.  It’s my duty to share the knowledge with the people and Surfrider has allowed me to do so!