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Activist Spotlight: Amanda Di Perna With the Florida International University Club

Q: What is your current role with the Surfrider Foundation?
I am currently the Outreach Director of the Florida International University (FIU) Surfrider Foundation Club.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?
As soon as I heard my university was starting a Surfrider club in Spring 2021, I was on board! I have always felt a strong connection to the ocean and an inclination to protect it, and I wanted to help cultivate a community of people that felt the same within FIU. Surfrider’s mission and core values completely align with my passions, and I instantly felt a sense of belonging in the organization.


Q: What are some environmental issues that are affecting your local community?
My local community is suffering from several environmental issues. An issue that particularly grinds my gears is plastic pollution. Miami’s beaches are incredibly popular and attract millions of tourists each year; unfortunately, their popularity also draws in a lot of waste, especially single-use plastic items.

Additionally, being at sea-level puts Miami at a high risk of sea level rise. As climate change continues to intensify storms, Miami becomes more and more vulnerable. Eventually, the lowest lying areas in Miami will become uninhabitable.

Our waters also experience high levels of pollution, and no-swim advisories are becoming increasingly frequent in Miami. Stormwater runoff and sewage spills leads to the presence of harmful bacteria which puts people at risk of getting ill.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?
As the Outreach Director of my club, I have coordinated many coastal cleanups across my community. I enjoy introducing FIU students to new coastal areas in Miami and educating them about plastic pollution. I have also participated in the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program and joined forces with the Miami Chapter in their SEAS (Swim, Explore, Act, Surf) program. Lastly, I participated in the 2023 Coastal Recreation Hill Day.


Q: Are there any specific project(s) that you have worked on which benefited your community? If so, can you tell us about that?
I had the pleasure of working with the Surfrider Foundation Miami Chapter on their SEAS (Swim, Explore, Act, Surf) program. This three-part program serves inner-city populations through 16 weeks of swimming lessons, followed by surfing lessons, and education of our marine ecosystem. I helped create the environmental education session of the SEAS beach day. After spending the morning learning to surf, we had a blast learning about how to become coastal defenders through an educational talk, beach cleanup, and upcycling craft.

The SEAS program is dear to my heart because my passion for the ocean was born from my own experience learning how to swim. My father never learned how to swim, and he refused for me to have the same fate. As soon as I moved to Miami when I was 5 years old, my parents placed me into swimming lessons so I can fully enjoy what Miami has to offer. I love that the SEAS program can provide members of my community with the valuable skill of swimming, and I hope it ignites within them the same passion for the water as swimming lessons ignited in me.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?
The 2023 Coastal Recreation Hill Day stands out amongst my many amazing Surfrider experiences. I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. for the first time along with over 150 Surfrider staff, activists, ambassadors, and students. Through this experience, I was given the chance to share my story and inform my legislators of why their action to support our oceans, coasts, and clean water is needed. The best part was getting to meet Surfrider members from across the United States and realizing that even though we come from various places and backgrounds, we are unified by our love for the ocean.

I am beyond grateful for the invitation to visit the White House for a conversation on the critical issues of climate change and coastal water quality with the Deputy National Climate Advisor, Mary Frances Repko. I used my voice to represent the youth and speak on the plastic pollution crisis.


Q: Do you have any personal experiences or campaigns/issues that you're passionate about where the social justice and environmental movements have intersected?
Environmental issues are social justice issues as well. Minority communities are often the most vulnerable to the increasing effects of climate change. Additionally, the plastic pollution crisis is associated with several adverse health effects that tend to hit members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities the hardest.

Through education about these environmental issues, I strive to cultivate a sense of awareness within my community. If we join forces to defend against these issues, we can ensure not one person is left vulnerable to them.

Q: What can Surfrider do to foster an inclusive and welcoming experience? Do you have any examples from your experience where this is successfully happening?
Surfrider is all about promoting the message that the ocean, waves, and beaches belong to all of us. Surfrider provides a voice to the youth and members of the BIPOC community which is crucial. Surfrider also practices gender inclusivity at its events and strives to create a safe space for everyone.

I respect Surfrider’s commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI), which are principles that are incredibly important to my university. FIU cultivates experiences that reflect the multicultural nature of South Florida and our global society, which we carry with us through our Surfrider Foundation FIU club events. Our events are always filled with beautiful people from around the globe who all share a love for the ocean and a desire to protect it. Being able to hear diverse perspectives regarding ocean conservation substantially expands my knowledge and makes me a better activist.

However, I do not witness the same level of diversity present at Surfrider events that I have attended at the state and national level, and this needs to be improved. By making the ocean and beaches more accessible to everyone, whether through teaching others how to swim and surf, or ensuring there is free parking at coastal cleanups, we can attract more people to Surfrider’s mission and ensure there are more faces present at our events.

Amanda Di Perna with the Florida International University Surfrider Student Club at a park cleanup

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?
You do NOT have to be a surfer to join Surfrider! Anyone that cares about the ocean belongs in Surfrider. Even if you are someone that does not care about the ocean, you should still join us, because maybe we can change your mind.

Also, anyone can be an activist, no matter your age or experience. Your story deserves to be heard, and finding your voice helps inspire others to protect our ocean, coasts, and waterways.

Q: Why is being a part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community important to you?
Being a part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community is important to me because I am surrounded by others that not only share the same passions and interests as me, but inspire me every day to become a better version of myself. The drive of this community is admirable and not a day goes by where I am not amazed by what the people of Surfrider accomplish. By being part of Surfrider, I know I am part of a group of people that are changing the world for the better, and this warms my heart.

Q: Anything else?
My passion for the ocean started from learning how to swim, but today it is so much more than that. In high school, I windsurfed competitively and spent nearly every day out on the beautiful Biscayne Bay. I am also PADI Open Water certified and love all things water sports - from snorkeling to paddle boarding to kayaking. Spending so much time in the ocean also shed light to the threats that are posed to it. I am currently studying marine biology at university and plan to dedicate my career to conserving the ocean and the life within it.

Amanda Di Perna with the Florida International University Surfrider Student Club Scuba diving