Activist Spotlight
July 17 2017

Activist Spotlight: Benjamin Kay with West LA/ Malibu Chapter

Meet Benjamin Kay, scientist and a life and environmental sciences teacher at Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College, and Surfrider volunteer with the West LA/ Malibu Chapter!

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

I partnered up with the organization in 2007 to better engage my students in the battle against single-use plastic bags. Surfrider collaborated with some of my environmentally minded students involved in a research and civic action program called Team Marine at Santa Monica High School. Together, along with several other non-profits, we marched and testified until we were blue in the face urging our city council to ban the plastic bag - an ordinance that passed in 2008, but would be placed on hold until 2011 in order for the city to complete an environmental impact report. My students and I became more integrally involved with Surfrider in 2008, when we adopted and tested three local beach sites for fecal indicator bacteria each week. This “Teach and Test” program of Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force was a gateway to further involvements with the local chapter – from beach cleanups to lobbying on Ocean Day in Sacramento to identifying restaurants as ocean friendly. 

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

Due to the near absence of environmental and sustainability education in K-12 schools, many students and subsequently adults, appear to have grown severely disconnected from nature, to the point that many dispose of plastic waste improperly or litter, which occurs in addition to the general overconsumption of single-use products. The end result is rampant neglect of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, evidenced by plastic’s vast accumulation, its synthetic chemicals biomagnifying up food chains, and its unfiltered flow from streets to sea via storm drain transport, especially during the wet season. Watersheds and the ocean have become platforms for undigested refuse, and each generation has a shifting baseline for what pristine beaches actually look like. In addition to waning environmental literacy, polluted runoff, habitat loss, sea level rise, and overfishing are other issues that demand our immediate attention locally.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

I've worked on Surfrider's Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) through teaching and testing with the West LA / Malibu Chapter, Rise Above Plastics, Riders on the Storm, Stoke Share, Ocean Friendly Restaurants, and local and statewide campaigns. 

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

After working for about two years, my Santa Monica High School students placed 2nd in the LA County Science Fair for their work in ocean water quality testing and spreading awareness through BWTF. Student smiles beamed ear to ear. Another fond memory includes filming “Urban Runoff” in partnership with Surfrider and Green Observers, a video that has circulated widely through multimedia.  

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

Getting involved is an excellent way to pop out of our 'me' bubbles and reconnect to nature and other humans. As we do so, we deepen our understanding of and bonds with nature, we fall in love with her, and we steadfastly seek to protect and repair her.

Q: Why are you a Surfrider coastal defender (or why is being a Surfrider coastal defender important to you)? 

I’ve dedicated my life to bolstering sustainability efforts locally and beyond through my classroom teaching. Surfrider is a perfect platform and outlet for my students and me to engage in a wide variety of programs. Through collaboration and teamwork, there has been much synergy leading to tremendous progress such as California banning the bag and over 100 polystyrene ordinances moving into effect across the state.  Being a coastal defender ultimately enriches my life by giving me a higher sense of purpose (conserve today to preserve for tomorrow) in all that I do professionally and otherwise.

Q: Anything else?

I’m very glad that Surfrider Foundation focuses not only on the protection of our ocean, waves and beaches, but also addresses the effects and mitigation of climate change, undoubtedly the most important and critical issue of our time. May we make this world a better place, not just for humanity, but for entire ecosystems. 

To get involved, find your nearest chapter at or support our coastal defenders at!