07 • 10 • 2022

Activist Spotlight: Rebecca O’Brien With the New Hampshire Chapter

By Surfrider Foundation

Q: What is your current role with the Surfrider Foundation?

I am the Volunteer Coordinator with Surfrider's New Hampshire (NH) Chapter.

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

I became involved eight years ago when the NH Chapter was involved in the Zero Waste Movement here in Portsmouth, NH, encouraging the town to Ban the Bag. Since then, I have served as Rise Above Plastics Coordinator, Secretary for the Chapter, Chair and now, Volunteer Coordinator; I'm a real Surfrider fan! For me, it’s all about the people, the mission, the friendships and the collective love for the sea and the joyful community of passionate activists ready to protect it. 

Q: What are some environmental issues that are affecting your local community?

Our community is looking at resiliency measures when it comes to coastal flooding and how to address aging septic and local wastewater infrastructure. It has been interesting to learn about water testing with the chapter’s Blue Water Task Force program our Vice Chair Chris Grippo has started, testing for concentrations of fecal bacteria, which threaten ecosystems, public health and those visiting our beaches and swimming in our waters. As part of this program, we are also interested in funding source tracking and maybe someday, microplastics. We continue to monitor access and parking restrictions surrounding local and public beach access points, which is an environmental justice issue for me and others. And, lastly, as for regulating single-use plastics, we made progress in Portsmouth in 2019 by passing a city-wide foam foodware ban. The Surfrider Foundation has been instrumental in building a statewide coalition dedicated to advancing plastics mitigation, but there’s more work to do.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

2013-2016 – Working with Portsmouth City Council on a Bag Ban and statewide advocacy to provide clarity on enabling legislation and language to allow cities and towns across NH to regulate specific solid waste items

2018-2020 – Monitoring Public Beach Access in Rye, NH

2018-2020 – As Chair, started quarterly guest-speaker push at monthly Chapter Meetings and launched the first Annual Spooked Kook Surf Comp & Clean Up Event

2019 – Advocating for the Portsmouth City-Wide Foam Ban

2020 – Recreational Hill Day

2020 – Water Quality Tester

2021 – Assuring Portsmouth City-Wide Foam Ban was not delayed or diluted

2021 – Coordinator Second Annual Spooked Kook Surf Comp & Clean Up Event

2022 – Recreational Hill Day

2022 – Water Quality Tester

Many beach cleanups, fundraisers, regional and national conferences along the way to learn how to be an advocate for our beaches, waves and ocean, and to support campaigns and community education!

Q: Are there any specific projects that you have worked on which benefited your community?

As a chapter, we have been running a marathon, not a sprint, in our efforts to regulate single-use items in Portsmouth and then at the state level. This constant and persistent education and fight to mitigate single-use plastics in our community has made a difference. The Surfrider Foundation was one of the first in the area to raise the consciousness of this environmental catastrophe and has always offered fact-based solutions. Now, tying the production and distribution of this product to the climate crisis has provided even more reason for our local decision-makers and state legislators to take a hard look at the problem and make a change.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?

Through our monthly beach cleanup program, I have had the opportunity to make so many connections and friends, and it has always felt impactful to do something hands-on. Through this community outreach work, we’ve had the opportunity to build other programs within the chapter and ensure a physical presence for the Surfrider Foundation on the Seacoast.

Q: What can Surfrider do to foster an inclusive and welcoming experience?

Ensuring there are multiple ways to engage with the chapter – online and virtual – as well as various types of programs and campaigns occurring, ensures a diverse group of voices.

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

The education and fact-based solutions provided by Surfrider around ocean conversation and protection is unlike any other organization. That, coupled with the leadership and activist training, makes for a very impactful volunteer experience.

Q: Why is being a part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community important to you?

It’s where I live, work and play. Ocean conversation is vital to the health of this community.