03 • 30 • 2021

Activist Spotlight: Alexis Vasquez with the San Diego BWTF

By Surfrider Foundation

Meet Alexis Vasquez with the San Diego Blue Water Task Force. Alexis serves on the San Diego Chapter's Executive Commitee and has dedicated countless hours to providing water quality information to the San Diego Community. Hear from Alexis about her experience volunteering with the Surfrider Foundation below! 

How has your relationship to the ocean and coast shaped your life?

My relationship with the ocean shapes my life in many ways. I have loved the ocean since I was a young girl and as I grew older I knew that spending as much time as possible near it and in the water was something that would provide happiness. Because of this, I live near the water, a lot of the hobbies I have developed are water based, and it is important to make sure I give back to nature what it gives to me. This is why a lot of volunteer work I do is based around environmental preservation.

Tell us about your community, and what you love most about it. 

The community I live in is very friendly. We all have an appreciation for the ocean, that's why we live where we do. It is one of the only places I have ever lived where people will greet and talk to strangers in passing. What I love most about my community is how all my neighbors have become friends and bonded over the nature we live in. We all rally together due to our desire to preserve where we live.

What is your role with the San Diego Blue Water Task Force Program, and why did you get involved?

I have been a volunteer with San Diego Blue Water Task Force program for four years now. I am also the Executive Committee representative for the program. I initially got involved because I was new to San Diego, I wanted to make more friends and do some volunteering. I assumed that people who ran this program would be interested in both science and the ocean, and I was right! This was a foundation for the friendships that I formed with everyone thereafter. At the same time I was able to actively participate in preserving beaches and oceans while completely enjoying myself and the company.

Since I started working with the program I have taken on my different roles. I help with water sampling, processing, and reading of results. I also maintain the labs once in a while. As the EC representative, a lot of my responsibilities are at a big picture level. I am responsible for the operations of all the labs, I make sure they have what they need to stay up and running. I also ensure that protocols are properly being followed, especially during the time of COVID. I had the opportunity to communicate the new protocols put into place by our Headquarter office to all our volunteers. Finally, one of my favorite parts about the work is that I am able to see all the projects that are taking place within our program. There are many people working on different things at any one point in time, I love that I am able to go to all of the meetings and be part of the collaboration. At the end of each month I get to track and reflect on all the progress we made.

What water quality issues affect your community? 

The main water quality issue San Diego faces is stormwater runoff. It does not rain much in southern California compared to other parts of the country, therefore our infrastructure is not as established and prepared for significant rain events. With climate change, this issue has become more noticeable over the years. When there is even slightly more rain than usual, our drainage systems flood and can overflow. This untreated sewage water then flushes directly into the ocean along with trash it picks up on the way there. We have noticed an uptick in people who have gotten sick from recreating in contaminated water, especially after it rains. The most prominent example of this issue is in the Tijuana River Estuary, near the U.S.-Mexico border. When communities in this area have major rain events the sewage treatment plants flood, causing dirty water and trash to wash directly to beaches in San Diego. Many of the beaches in South San Diego county are essentially permanently closed due to the dangers created by these circumstances. These problems are also exacerbated by an expansion of concrete infrastructures.

San Diego is unique in that it has two massive bays and many water outlets and lagoons. We have noticed that due to poor exchange of this water with ocean water, bacteria levels are regularly elevated. Because these areas do not have the same dangers as an open oceans, people love to recreate in these waters. It is dangerous for people and their pets.

You spend so much time protecting our coast and ocean, what is your favorite way to enjoy it? 

My favorite way to enjoy beaches and oceans is by being in the water. This can vary from swimming, snorkeling, and diving to surfing and paddling canoes and kayaks. I have also learned to fish and dive for lobster.The best part about all of these activities is that I am able to see the wildlife. I didn't expect to see so many different types of fish and plants underwater here in San Diego, especially at night time when even more animals come out to hunt. It is also very likely that you will find me sitting on the beach enjoying the weather. 

What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience thus far?

The highlight of my experience with Surfrider so far is seeing how much we can accomplish together. To think that most of us are volunteers who also have full time jobs is inspiring. I think it is beautiful that we all care about the environment so much we spend our free time fighting to preserve it and keep it pristine. There is so much we can accomplish when we work together, we are permanently altering the path society is taking to create a safer world for future generations.

Why is being involved in the Surfrider Foundation important to you?

Being involved with Surfrider Foundation is important to me because it provides me the opportunity to take action and protect the things I care about. It is an easy way to take an idea and implement it in real life. When I see a problem and have an idea to fix it, I have the chance to say something and find support from other volunteers to accomplish the end goal. I spend so much time at beaches and in the ocean that I want it protected for not only the rest of my lifetime, but for many future generations of ocean lovers.

What advice do you have for aspiring activists and volunteers? 

My advice for activists and volunteers is to harness the power of teamwork. None of what Surfrider accomplishes would happen if a group of like minded people did not come together to socialize, discuss their ideologies, and take action. Growing a network in this way is empowering for any individual.