Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?
I had been a public school teacher for over 17 years and was currently taking a break. I knew that teaching kids contributed positively to society, and I had already personally volunteered to teach 5th graders to be citizen scientists in a county-sponsored water quality testing program for over a decade, but I still felt like I could be doing more. I wondered, is there something more specific I can do for my community? I was following the Lonely Whale Foundation’s Strawless in Seattle campaign in September 2017. After being inspired by it and Seattle’s long push to end single-use plastics, I began visiting my local restaurants and started Strawless Olympia. I rented the local theater for a showing of the documentaries ‘Straws’ and ‘Plastic Paradise’ and assembled a panel of experts for a discussion and questions following. Everyone who came thought it was a success, but I still felt like I didn’t reach enough people and I wanted to do more than straws. I thought back to one of the Lonely Whale events that I had attended in which they partnered with the Surfrider Olympia Chapter for a beach cleanup. I looked them up and felt like it matched what I wanted to accomplish. So, by the end of 2017, I joined my local Surfrider chapter and became the Ocean Friendly Restaurants Program Coordinator.
Q: What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?
Our downtown sits at the southern end of the Puget Sound. It is a waterfront town with a boardwalk and public spaces to the water. While I notice issues with plastic pollution like many communities, we have started to focus more on cigarette butts. I have taken over coordination of the Hold On To Your Butts program and the city now has purchased 6 cigarette butt canisters for the downtown (shout out to Dan Maclean and the Huntington Beach chapter who gets them for us!) The downtown Clean Team, who empties and maintains the canisters, tell us that the canisters are helping in certain areas, but that littered cigarettes are still a big problem. On our last downtown cleanup, 15 volunteers picked up 7,718 butts in just an hour. Since cigarette butts are still the number one item found on beach cleanups around the world, we definitely want to stop as many as we can from entering the Puget Sound and eventually the Salish Sea.
Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?
Since I started the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program for our chapter, I have registered nine restaurants in and around downtown Olympia. Besides the Hold On To Your Butts program, I also volunteer with our Blue Water Task Force and I help organize and run our beach cleanups both at our two spots in Westport, WA and downtown Olympia. The chapter also didn’t have a Rise Above Plastics program, so I started that too. I visit schools, student environmental conferences, teacher workshops and community centers to present the issues of plastic pollution; which suits me well because I love teaching.
Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?
What I like most so far has been the networking and connections I’ve made being not just a volunteer, but a Surfrider Foundation volunteer. Since I started our @OlySurfrider Instagram and started tabling at as many community events as I can, I’ve made all sorts of cool connections that I’m not sure I would have been able to make otherwise. Local businesses and community members have reached out to us through Instagram, for example, and help educate and share our events by regramming our posts, as well as showing up to volunteer. Once we received a $250 donation from a local business because of something I posted! Through the @OlySurfrider Instagram, I’ve also connected with environmental organizations around the world being able to comment, chat, share and learn new things. Because of these connections, I’ve met other environmentalists on my travels. For example, I had the opportunity to represent Surfrider at a huge beach cleanup in Mexico! I also like being a part of the legislative and policy side of what Surfrider does. Last year I attended and spoke with our state representatives here at our state capital about the Reusable Bag Bill, which sadly didn’t pass. We’ll be bringing it to the legislature again this session and this time Washington State will have it be a win for the oceans!
Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?
I tell people that volunteering for Surfrider is powerful. There is something for everyone in the Surfrider programs! However much time you can spare will be worth it, not only to you, but to your community and to future generations.
Q: Why are you a Surfrider coastal defender (or why is being a Surfrider coastal defender important to you)?
I’ve been obsessed with dolphins since kindergarten. So, if anything, we have to keep our oceans healthy so we can save the dolphins! I am not a surfer, but I love the ocean and the creatures in it. My favorite vacations have been the ones where I participated in citizen science in the ocean. Swimming with and helping scientist, Denise Herzing, of The Wild Dolphin Project, to research Atlantic Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas was a highlight in my life. I also helped to research whale sharks in Mexico with Angela Smith of Shark Team One. The oceans are magical. Life without them would be no life at all. #protectwhatyoulove
Q: Anything else?
I’m going to get a little personal here, I haven’t shared this before, but I struggle with depression and anxiety and I have a hard time sometimes getting out the door. Having a purpose that's bigger than myself, having a community who now counts on me to show up has been really empowering. I needed an outlet for my environmental passions and Surfrider came along just when I needed it most. I still have bad days (especially with this current administration!) but I do feel more energized than ever that I am needed and I can make a difference.