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Activist Spotlight: Grace Schamber With The Northwest Straits Chapter

Q: What is your current role with the Surfrider Foundation?
I am currently the Blue Water Task Force Coordinator for the Northwest Straits Chapter. I am hoping to soon be a member of the Seattle Chapter as well!

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?
I got involved with the Surfrider Foundation during my sophomore year of high school because I am an avid open water swimmer. During the pandemic, I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to swim outside in Bellingham Bay but became increasingly concerned about water quality, especially in the winter. I was initially drawn to the Blue Water Task Force program because it allowed me to monitor the water quality of the beach that I swim at year-round and then share that data with my community.


Q: What are some environmental issues that are affecting your local community?
Living in the rainy Pacific Northwest, polluted stormwater runoff and outdated wastewater infrastructure are two of the main threats to water quality. The threat of climate change, increased precipitation and sea level rise heighten these existing concerns. Specifically in Bellingham and Seattle, combined sewer overflows sometimes result in raw sewage entering local waterways. In November of 2021, unprecedented levels of precipitation closed schools in Bellingham for a week due to flooding.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?
In addition to beach cleanups and the Blue Water Task Force program, I participated in Coastal Recreation Hill Day last March. As part of the Washington state delegation, I met with seven congressional offices and advocated for funding for the BEACH Act and increased accountability for single-use plastic producers and  support for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Additionally, I helped to make appeals for increased investment in wastewater infrastructure and coastal resilience projects.


Q: Are there any specific project(s) that you have worked on which benefited your community? If so, can you tell us about that?
For the past two summers, I volunteered to sample water and record wrack data at Squalicum Beach and Larrabee State Park for the Department of Ecology’s BEACH program. This effort helped to identify high levels of enterococcus at Larrabee’s boat launch as a result of racoons defecating upstream near the camping grounds. With this knowledge, chicken wire was used to prevent raccoons from entering the stream and bacteria levels returned to normal in the area where many people enjoy swimming and paddling!

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?
My favorite Surfrider experience was attending Coastal Recreation Hill Day! I enjoyed connecting with different volunteers both from Washington state and around the country. The opportunity to learn from others about the issues they are passionate about while advocating for Surfrider chapters across the country was truly inspiring.


Q: Do you have any personal experiences or campaigns/issues that you're passionate about where the social justice and environmental movements have intersected? If so, can you tell us about them?
In high school, I was selected to represent the student voice as a member of the Bellingham Public School District’s Sustainability Advisory Committee. Over a period of two years, I engaged in critical conversations with staff, faculty and community members to examine how our community values sustainability in the ways students learn, the methods through which they are taught, and the maintenance and design of school buildings. We explored how frontline communities bear the brunt of climate change and are the most vulnerable to its negative impacts. This effort involved seeking diverse community input and incorporating many different perspectives both from populations that are the most at-risk and from those that are less likely to be impacted by climate catastrophes. Through these discussions, I helped to draft and refine a climate action plan for our district that outlines our commitment and intention to integrate sustainability into every aspect of public education.

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?
Through partnering with local organizations, businesses and community events, Surfrider works hard to create spaces that are accessible to everyone. This is evident in the large volunteer turnout at beach cleanups and in the dedicated Executive Committee of the Northwest Straits Chapter. Surfrider can continue to increase representation of underserved minority communities in its programs by seeking leaders with diverse experiences and can elevate the voices of young people through expanded student chapter networks.


Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?
When I talk about Surfrider, I always stress the importance of taking ownership over the shared areas where we learn, play and live. To continue to enjoy the world’s ocean, waves and beaches, we have to first acknowledge that they are threatened by climate change and human actions (whether intentional or not). Surfrider plays an important role in educating communities on local and global environmental issues and providing opportunities for people to create positive change in the places they value.

Q: Why is being a part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community important to you?
Being part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community is incredibly important to me because it is easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the climate crisis unfolding globally. Sometimes I feel like a burden on the environment, but working with others to advocate for change reminds me that every person can actually be an asset and advocate for the beaches and coasts that they value. Becoming involved in a network of many sustainability-minded and environmentally-conscious volunteers reminds me that our environmental situation (regardless of what I read in the news) is in fact not hopeless, but rather it is full of dedication, ambition and resilience.