04 • 14 • 2020

Kai Craig with the Long Beach Chapter’s Ocean Friendly Gardens Program

By Surfrider Foundation

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?  
Back in 2017, my wife and I attended a city-sponsored workshop on plastic pollution. We met some of the Surfrider folks and when they found out I was involved with sustainable landscaping, they invited me to come on as their Ocean Friendly Gardens Program Coordinator. Initially, I was drawn to the opportunity to do something for the community as a small business owner. Since then, I've joined the executive committee and found it has given me much more back in the form of friendship, camaraderie, get togethers and pizza!

Q: What are some local issues that affect water quality in your community?   
Here in Long Beach, really the #1 issue for water quality is the breakwater that reduces circulation off the Long Beach coastline and holds pollution in near-shore waters. We have both the Los Angeles River and the San Gabriel River delivering urban runoff from millions of people, right here off our coast. So it's really important that we look at how we can reduce pollution from everything we do on land to protect our marine environment. 

Q: How is your Chapter responding to those issues? 
Our chapter has been in a decades-long fight to get the breakwater reconfigured to allow waves to reach the beach or at least more circulation with ocean currents, which the city and Army Corps of Engineers are currently evaluating. We've successfully worked with the City Council to implement a foam and plastic straw ban. We hold three beach cleanups a month, which is great for creating awareness and bringing in more members. We're ramping up our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program and are working on getting Long Beach recognized as a historical Point of Interest for its role in surfing history. As the OFG coordinator, I am focused on tackling the urban runoff problem.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?  
I'm really proud of the relationship I've forged with the Long Beach Water Department. They've been really open to our input. As a local landscape designer and contractor, I've been working on converting thirsty, polluting lawns to drought tolerant, chemical free landscapes for the last 10 years. Since joining Surfrider, I worked with the Water Department to include a stormwater component in their rebate program. As a result, we now have hundreds of yards being upgraded to include raingardens and bioswales to capture and clean rainwater. Last year, we put together a series of garden design templates that will be used to bring Ocean Friendly Gardens to 50-60 homes in a disadvantaged community. The local Conservation Corps will be building them for these homeowners. This project has been the way I've been able to have the biggest impact and it is really a good feeling.

Q: Why is being involved in the Surfrider Foundation important to you? 
I grew up on the Big Island of Hawai'i so I have that islander mentality which sees the coast as part of our responsibility to care for. I majored in Conservation and Resource Studies at UC Berkeley with a curriculum I designed, called the Cultural Ecology of Coastal Areas. I've worked in the Watershed Protection Division at the City of Los Angeles. My landscape design/ build studio aims to change our relationship to the land and sea. Now that I've hooked up with the Surfrider Foundation, I feel like I've found my people. We're all focused on the same thing, and as an organization we have more support to fulfill our mission of clean oceans!

Q: How can we all pitch in to help protect clean water and healthy beaches? 
If you live anywhere on this planet, you are a coastal citizen. Everything you do has a literal downstream consequence. Think twice before hosing down the driveway or the sidewalk. Think twice before using fertilizer or herbicides. Pick up your pet waste. The Surfrider slogan is right, we are the United States AND Oceans of America. Just change your mentality and the right actions should follow. Of course, that should lead you to start an Ocean Friendly Garden or volunteer for one!

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?
We're getting some much needed rain here in Southern California and we've begun social distancing in response to the COVID-19 virus. It's a moment to reflect and rest and think about our own health and the health of the planet. They're one and the same.