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04 • 28 • 2020

Natalie Gonder and Christine Roberson Fighting for Clean Water on Maui

Natalie and Christine have both been making waves with the Maui Chapter to help maximize the impact of the chapter's clean water programs and campaigns. They have both played critical roles in the chapter's Blue Water Task Force program and in generating community support and involvement in the Lahaina Injection Well Campaign and Lawsuit. Surfrider members and clean water advocates across the country are celebrating with Natalie, Christine and the entire Maui Chapter crew after the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold Clean Water Act protections as part of this legal case.

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

Natalie: I got involved with the Surfrider Foundation and the Blue Water Task force in 2017. I joined Surfrider Maui because I love the ocean so much and knew I wanted to show my love in a bigger way. I wanted to be a voice for the ocean (and all of nature). I knew I wanted to bring more fulfilling work into my life, and the Surfrider team here on Maui welcomed me with open arms.

Christine: I started volunteering in 2018 and got involved specifically to help with fundraising, and then realized opportunities to assist with and support the operations of many initiatives.

photo: Natalie Gonder (left) and Christine Roberson (right) pose together at Surfrider Maui's 4th Annual Ocean Guardian Awards Gala.

What are some local issues that affect water quality in your community?   

Christine & Natalie: Two big issues we face that affect water quality here in Maui are wastewater injection wells using groundwater to ferry pollutants straight into the ocean and onto our reefs and stormwater runoff after rain.

How is your chapter responding to those issues? 

Christine & Natalie: Our chapter has been working for a decade to get the county to stop using unpermitted injection wells. We’ve collaborated with some incredibly dedicated and hard working people at the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, West Maui Preservation Society, Sierra Club, and EarthJustice to sue the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility over the use of injection wells, since the wastewater damages the reef, pollutes the water and is a violation of the Clean Water Act.  We’ve even taken this legal challenge all the way to the Supreme Court!

We’ve also been working with our partners to get our entire community informed and engaged in the Lahaina Injection Well Lawsuit. There have been hours upon hours of testimony submitted to try to convince the County of Maui to settle the case and to work together on solutions.  We have been educating the public on when and how to show up for the hearings, and we are getting the youth involved at public hearings. Getting the support of local business owners and ocean friendly restaurants has been an ongoing process as well. 

What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?

Christine and Natalie: We are both so thrilled to learn while we are literally working on these questions, that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of our oceans, beaches, and waves and upheld the integrity of the Clean Water Act. This is a huge win for the health of the oceans and reefs here on Maui and for waterways across the country.

So many people put countless volunteer hours into fighting for the integrity of the Clean Water Act to be upheld.  We are both so proud to have been part of this effort. Being able to help support, even in small ways, has made us really appreciate our community. Within our chapter, seeing our team of volunteers grow to an active thriving group with volunteers coming in and taking on huge projects and new initiatives.  ‘Teamwork makes the dream work’ really applies here. Now, we will be working closely with Maui County to ensure that things start to change around here and new innovations are taken seriously so we can develop long-term solutions for our reefs and clean water. 

Christine: The highlights for me are seeing the fruits of teamwork in action.  Additionally, helping Professor Donna Brown and her incredible team on Blue Water Task Force has been fun and rewarding.  I’ve enjoyed helping to expand the program and the volunteer base, and those fundraising efforts where I started out volunteering in the first place enabled us to upgrade our whole water testing program to glass reusable equipment!  I’m really grateful to our volunteer team who get out there to make Blue Water Task Force happen by taking water samples every month since the program started in 2017.

I love the data side of things, and appreciate the support from Surfrider Foundation nationally with great tools to record and monitor our results every month.  Not only is this valuable for us locally, it’s amazing to get to look at water quality results from other chapters in Hawaii and across the country.

photo: Natalie collects a water sample

Natalie: The highlight of my Surfrider experience has been becoming the Student Club Chairwoman in November 2019. I knew I wanted to work with the youth when I moved back to Maui in 2017, and this was the perfect opportunity to do just that.  Since then I have established the first club ever on Maui - Shoutout to Carden Academy of Maui! I have been inspired and amazing by the youth in my community. They remind me why I do this and inspire me to do more. 

Why is being involved in the Surfrider Foundation important to you? 

Natalie: Being involved with Surfrider is important to me because it makes me feel less crazy and alone in my attempt to “do the right thing”. Most of the people behind each chapter are volunteers and I love that! I love having a community of dedicated people all over the world on the same mission as me. It’s not about the money, it’s not about the recognition. It’s about protecting what we love and putting it into action. It’s about kuleana (One’s personal sense of responsibility). We are a voice for a better and brighter future, and I am so proud to be a part of that. 

Christine: Kahekili beach was one of the places I learned to dive. It was a great spot for beautiful reefs at accessible depths.  That’s where nutrients in polluted wastewater from the Lahaina injections wells are destroying the reef by causing too much algae to grow.  Watching it go from a vibrant, healthy reef replete with life, to blanketed in algae without a fish or octopus around has been heartbreaking.

The ocean has provided me with a source of not just recreational enjoyment but also physical nourishment as my favorite place to get some exercise.  “Protect What You Love” is a concept that resonates with me deeply.

When I was learning to freedive, picking up trash was an excellent motivator to dive a little deeper and a little longer.  Any time I saw litter or fishing line to collect, it was easy for me to increase my breath hold to get that trash. As I ventured with my dive buddies farther offshore and into deeper waters, and we still found ourselves cleaning up trash even in remote areas, I felt compelled to get more involved and do more to give back and help protect the ocean.

photo: Christine Freediving

How can we all pitch in to help protect clean water and healthy beaches? 

Natalie: The easiest way we can all pitch in is to bring more awareness to our everyday lives and choices we make. Minimizing our consumption is key. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Carry reusable utensils, bottles, and bags with you when traveling anywhere. I like to keep a kit in my car at all times. The less trash we create, the cleaner our planet will be. Be mindful of the harsh chemicals you are using and where they go. Our daily actions affect the planet whether you are aware of it or not. 

To learn how to help protect the water near you (oceans, lakes, rivers…) go to surfrider.org for more information and to find a local chapter in your area to get involved with. Getting involved with legislation and submitting testimony is always a good idea. We have voices and it’s important we use them and show up when we can. Start your own little group of friends with similar interests. 

Christine: These days we’re working on our efforts while staying at home, and we can all make a difference by taking a few minutes to submit testimony to our county or city council when a clean water or plastic pollution issue comes up.  Making your voice heard locally matters.

 photos: Natalie joins the Maui Chapter to paddle-out in support of clean water at Lahaina