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2020 Year in Review: Protecting our Coasts in a Time of Change

The Surfrider Foundation won 68 coastal victories in 2020 as our network showed its innovation and growth. 

This year was unlike any other in the Surfrider Foundation’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of our work - from how we organize chapters, to how we clean beaches, to how we wage campaigns. The pandemic also created new challenges for us to address, including a proliferation of plastic trash in our coastal environment and widespread beach closures this spring due to public health concerns.

Despite these formidable challenges, Surfrider’s network showed its resolve by winning 68 coastal victories to protect our ocean, waves and beaches. These wins included a historic victory in the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Clean Water Act, the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in Congress, and successful defense against the Trump administration’s 5-year offshore drilling proposal. Surfrider also won an impressive 26 victories to address the plastic pollution crisis that is suffocating marine life and invading every part of the ocean.

Yet, somehow our victory count feels insufficient to explain the growth and innovation that occurred over the past 12 months. Whether it was shifting our chapter events to virtual platforms or convening an expert task force to safely reopen beaches across the U.S., Surfrider showed its relevance and adaptability in a post COVID-19 world. Surfrider’s community was also deeply affected by the acts of racial violence that occurred this summer. As an organization, we resolved to better address environmental justice in our work as part of our commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (learn more).

In recognition of the importance of our grassroots network to achieving our mission, Surfrider continued our focus on leadership development. In 2020, we pivoted from our scheduled eight National Chapter & Club Learning and Training Conferences to a virtual platform. This encompassed a series of virtual training in Plastic Pollution, Climate Change, Civic Engagement, Volunteer Engagement and Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion training. Over the course of a two month period, 573 chapter and club leaders participated in these series sessions.

Below is a summary of our 2020 achievements across our environmental focus areas. We extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our chapters, volunteers, supporters and partners who contributed to this success!


Surfrider secured 26 victories to reduce the impacts of plastic pollution on our coastal environment. These included state policy wins in New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Washington state, as well as a major litigation victory to require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address plastic pollution under the Clean Water Act. At the federal level, Surfrider worked with congressional leaders to introduce the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which represents the first comprehensive approach to address the plastic pollution crisis in the U.S. We also advocated for President-elect Biden to take on a new Presidential Plastics Action Plan. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Surfrider responded by developing protocols for solo beach cleanups and supporting our community of Ocean Friendly Restaurants through an extremely difficult period. Despite these challenges, Surfrider’s network removed more than 53,000 pounds of trash through the Better Beach Alliance and supported 672 Ocean Friendly Restaurants in their efforts to serve plastic-free meals. 

Plastic Pollution Outcomes 

  • 6.3 billion plastic items removed from circulation from 13 plastic reduction laws passed this year.
  • 53,843 pounds of trash removed from the coastline through our beach cleanup program.
  • Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program results in 268,400 plastic free meals per day.
  • Over 3 million people educated and activated about plastic pollution and how to be part of the solution.


Surfrider secured 10 victories to protect water quality for beachgoers across the U.S. This included a historic victory in the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the Clean Water Act. The court ruling in the Lahaina, Maui Injection Well lawsuit sets a major nationwide precedent that polluters cannot discharge partially treated sewage into the ocean via groundwater transmission. Surfrider’s network also monitored hundreds of beaches through our Blue Water Task Force, installed Ocean Friendly Gardens, and forged community partnerships to solve local pollution problems. With the onset of the pandemic, Surfrider swiftly assembled scientific information on public health risks of COVID-19 at the beach, which has been used by state agencies, partners and our volunteer network. Finally, we developed protocols to safely reopen our Blue Water Task Force program while protecting volunteer safety and preventing spread of COVID-19. 

Clean Water Outcomes

  • Over 3,500 U.S. beaches monitored for water quality, thanks to successful Surfrider advocacy in support of the federal BEACH Act.
  • 485 sampling sites in recreational waters were monitored by Surfrider volunteers through our 50 chapter-run Blue Water Task Force labs.
  • Defended the Clean Water Act through a historic victory in the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • 20 million gallons of polluted runoff were prevented through the installation of Ocean Friendly Gardens.
  • Over 600 million gallons per day of ocean wastewater discharge were prevented through water recycling and infrastructure improvements.


Surfrider secured 14 victories to protect U.S. shorelines from coastal development and climate change in 2020. This included a historic victory to pass the Great American Outdoors Act and ensure full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of our nation’s most impactful conservation programs. We also permanently protected Trestles, a world-class surfing break in Southern California, through the passage of a state law after 15 years of advocacy. To address the climate crisis that is threatening our coasts and ocean, Surfrider elevated our voice at the federal level. At Coastal Recreation Hill Day, Surfrider organized a delegation of surf and outdoor industry leaders to meet with congressional leaders and the Trump administration to urge strong action to address the climate crisis. Finally, Surfrider released the State of the Beach Report in November, generating national media coverage and compelling states to improve their coastal preservation policies.

Coastal Preservation Outcomes

  • Passed federal legislation to ensure full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) that protects coastal places and enhances recreational access.
  • Protected 1,100 miles of California coastline through ongoing advocacy at the California Coastal Commission.
  • Participated in 24 local and state processes to plan for sea level rise and coastal erosion.
  • The State of the Beach Report influenced coastal states to improve coastal management and planning for sea level rise.
  • Protected 3 Oregon beaches from harmful development.


Surfrider secured 6 victories to protect ocean ecosystems in 2020. Most notably, we stopped the Trump administration’s plans to expand offshore oil drilling to over 90% of U.S. waters. Our successful campaign included educating millions of people about the threat of offshore drilling, organizing thousands of businesses through our ‘Sign the Surfboard’ project, and passing hundreds of community resolutions on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts. Surfrider also secured a major legal victory by stopping seismic airgun surveys for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean. In the Mid-Atlantic, our New York and New Jersey chapters helped defeat the proposed Williams Transco oil pipeline as part of a coalition effort. Finally, Surfrider supported the success of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Oregon, California, Florida, Puerto Rico, Massachusetts, Washington and Hawaii through outreach, advocacy and stewardship.

Ocean Protection Outcomes

  • Stopped offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Arctic proposed in the Trump administration 5-year offshore oil drilling plan.
  • Stopped harmful seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic ocean through successful litigation with coalition partners.
  • Passed a Virginia state offshore drilling ban after years of Surfrider advocacy.
  • Defeated the Williams Transco oil pipeline in New York and New Jersey.
  • Supported over 50 marine protected areas (MPAs) through community outreach, advocacy and stewardship.


Surfrider won 12 victories to protect coastal access in the states of Florida, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Hampshire. Surfrider also provided national leadership to support the safe reopening of beaches by convening an expert panel and releasing the report Beach Access during COVID-19 Guidance before the Memorial Day holiday. Finally, Surfrider reaffirmed our commitment to beach access for all people, especially for communities of color who have historically been denied access to the coast. We published an article Confronting Racial Inequity in Beach Access and our policy advocacy included efforts to enhance coastal access opportunities for inland and low-income communities.     

Beach Access Outcomes

  • Supported the safe reopening of beaches across the U.S. through science and policy leadership and community outreach.
  • Enhanced access for diverse communities in Pacifica, California through the Community Access Partnership program.
  • Protected beach access in Loch Arbour, New Jersey through opposing resident-only parking near the beach.
  • Worked with local, county and state officials in Orange County, CA to develop beach access plan to open beaches during COVID-19.
  • Expanded paddleboard and surf access in Hollywood, Florida.

Want to get involved? Find your nearest Surfrider chapter or club and donate to support Surfrider coastal defenders!