08 • 04 • 2019
Activist Spotlight: Matthias Keller with the Ohau Chapter
Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?
I first got involved with the Surfrider Foundation Oahu chapter while I was attending the University of Hawaii Manoa campus back in 2010. It was my sophomore year and I was looking for an outlet in which I could give back to something which has given me so much, the ocean. I was lucky enough to meet Stuart Coleman, the regional coordinator, who guided me and my friends in leading a very active club at UH.
What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?
Oahu sits beneath the North Pacific gyre, part of a global network of ocean currents which circulate our globe. Because of its currents, the gyre accumulates masses of rubbish from around the globe thus giving it the popular name, The North Pacific Garbage Patch. Because of the dominating winds in Hawaii, the Eastern Trade winds, microplastics plague our eastern facing shores. These are small, colorful, specs of plastic products which could have been out at sea for decades. Fishing gear in mass also washes up on our beaches. Nets, fish traps, and buoys, will appear on any beach when the winds are onshore.
What Surfrider projects have you worked on?
I have been fortunate enough to work with a host of inspiring individuals throughout my near decade, on and off, of volunteering. The first project I had was being chair of the Surfrider Club at UH for three years. While I held that position, I had the opportunity to help another student, and soon-to-be Oahu Chapter Coordinator, Doorae Shin, carry out her goal of banning polystyrene foam at UH. After graduating, I was able to work closely with my friends at the Oahu Chapter doing a little bit of everything, but mostly having fun protecting what we love! The Oahu Chapter nominated me to be Beach Cleanup Coordinator in 2015, and despite my many leave of absences and injuries, there were countless cleanups where we led with the help of friends.
What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?
The highlight of my Surfrider experience was in 2017 when Rafael Bergstrom and I lead a group of 2nd and 3rd grade students from two different elementary schools in an educational beach cleanup. It was amazing to see the excitement, understanding, and passion these kids had as they got their own sand sifters and started collecting microplastics from one of the more remote beaches on the island. Children are eager to learn and have so many questions regarding why things are the way they are on our beaches. My goal is to educate this younger generation, to make sure that they know that trash and plastics on our beaches is NOT NORMAL. It wasn’t always like this, and it can get back to the way it used to be if we change our everyday habits.
What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?
We could clean up beaches for the rest of our lives and make no progress. Cleaning beaches is just a short term fix to a much bigger problem. Surfrider and its volunteers work hard at the legislative level to pass laws which reduce the output of waste that makes its way to our ocean and beaches. Our volunteers that work closely with our government, senators, and legislators are the real heroes. Put it this way, it’s smarter to turn off the faucet if the tub is overflowing with water then to get rags to constantly dry up the mess. Law intimidates me though, so I’ll stick to the sand and sunscreen!
Why are you a Surfrider coastal defender?
I have had some hard times in my life and the ocean has always been there for me, as a sanctuary, a home. I want to keep it that way for others, and to give back to it what it's given to me. Whether or not you live by the ocean, we all depend on it for life. Without a healthy ocean, this world would collapse.