02 • 14 • 2019

Activist Spotlight: Cynthia Welti with the Kaua’i Ocean Friendly Gardens Program

By Surfrider Foundation

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

I joined the Kauai Chapter four years ago when my husband and I moved back to Kauai, after 12 years of being in Seattle. There, I ran a local land conservation group, and as much as I liked the organization, I knew my heart was in the ocean and coasts. I love swimming in the ocean and deeply care about its health and the life it supports. When we returned to Kauai, I talked to a friend about how to best follow my passion. He suggested the Surfrider Foundation, saying how active and well-regarded they are.

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

The Kauai Chapter’s number one issue is marine debris coming onto our shores. Over 80% of it is from derelict fishing gear, and we can’t take a break from hauling it off our beaches and rocky coastal areas. We also face water quality issues, with runoff bringing pathogens into the streams that feed the ocean and deposit sediment on our reefs. Our two biggest areas of focus, marine debris removal and the Blue Water Task Force program, are in response to these issues. Fortunately, we have some wonderful volunteers to help us with both.

What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

I record the data for the chapter's Marine Debris program. We sort, categorize and weigh everything which enables us to explain in detail the scope and nature of this enormous problem. In 2018, we hauled in more than 114,000 pounds of debris. I have also been swimming out to do the water sampling at a Blue Water Task Force site. I am the Ocean Friendly Gardens program coordinator and serve as the Chapter Secretary on the Executive Committee.

What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?

What’s unquestionably most rewarding for me is working with fellow members of the Executive Committee. They are a diverse group of characters, quite willing to speak their mind to each other as to what is best for ocean and beach conservation. And at the same time, we are always there for each other to carry forward our commitments. I am so very proud to be part of this team. 

Another thing I’m really proud of is creating the Ocean Friendly Gardens partnership with Master Gardeners. I started the Ocean Friendly Gardens program here three years ago, and as part of that I found myself talking to people about managing their yards without pesticides. I soon was getting all kinds of gardening questions and I realized I needed help and advice which was not necessarily going to be available from my surf-loving compatriots. I reached out to the Master Gardening program and submitted a successful proposal for collaboration. Now a group of Master Gardeners goes onsite when I do an Ocean Friendly Gardens evaluation to consult with the resident about any growing issues and identify unknown plants. The Master Gardeners earn volunteer hours through their program and provide useful knowledge, which makes them happy. This also has given both programs more recognition, including a local newspaper article. The Master Gardeners are enthusiastic about the partnership and are starting to promote it at their outreach events. Surfrider retains the role of Ocean Friendly Gardens certification and provides the yard signs. The best part for me is that doing a garden evaluation is now so thoroughly enjoyable. We all learn so much and get to see some fantastic yards of many sizes. 

What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?  
We are a highly active group that gets an amazing amount done while always seeming to keep our level of stress low and level of enjoyment high.

Why are you a Surfrider coastal defender?
Oh, there is so much sad environmental news about the ocean and coasts. Through Surfrider, I find a way for a small group of people here locally to make a difference, and to see those kind of efforts and experience replicate throughout the whole network of chapters is very heartening. And then national will come along with an amazing legal win to rock us all!

Please come look us up when you come to Kauai!