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Activist Spotlight: Karen Driscoll with the Depoe Bay, Oregon BWTF

Karen Driscoll has dedicated countless hours volunteering for Surfrider Foundation’s Newport Chapter in Oregon. Karen takes her passion for the ocean and coasts to the classroom with the Depoe Bay’s Blue Water Task Force Program, which makes science fun and accessible for youth in Lincoln County, Oregon. Since the program began in 2010, Karen has taught approximately 75 students how to process water samples in the lab, read the results and undestand what they mean. 

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

I retired from my Oregon Health and Science University, Pathology, Transfusion Service and Clinical Laboratory Scientist position on August 1, 2015. That same day I was enrolled in a symposium series at which Charlie Plybon, Surfrider Foundation’s Oregon Policy Manager, spoke. He was scintillating with his message about the ocean and left his email. I grew up in New England, and while I never surfed, I did love the ocean. Charlie introduced me to Surfrider which encouraged me in these past 5 years to learn, to educate and to be involved in the many collaborative organizations which promote the ocean’s wellness.

What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?  What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

Newport, Oregon is a small, end-destination resort town for those living in the Willamette Valley. Oddly enough it is also a vacation destination for many others across the Pacific, Europe and Asia. Newport is a moderate fishing and crabbing community. And Oregon, since electing Governor Tom McCall, has been an environmentally-conscious state.

Blue Water Task Force testing attracted me immediately. I have been a collector of samples for the past 5 years. The state only tests beaches during the summer and relies on Surfrider’s results for the remainder of the year. Nye Beach Pipe Outfall is often positive and indicative of various contamination and sewer problems east of Highway 101. Surfrider works with the City of Newport with diagnosis and correction strategies. 

Occasionally on the commercial docks there is an oil spill. This year, we had a huge win for offshore oil drilling with the Oregon Legislature Bill placing a permanent moratorium on offshore oil and gas leasing and infrastructure in Oregon’s coastal waters. 

Surfrider and SOLVE (another non-profit group called “Sustaining Oregon’s Legacy by Volunteering”) join forces for statewide beach clean ups. This is just one little town with many ocean-related projects, there are many more.

What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?

The absolute highlight of my Surfrider experience is the Neighbors For Kids / Blue Water Task Force monthly water quality sampling time. Neighbors for Kids is a facility in Depoe Bay with after school and summer care for children. These are very special children, and there is an exceptional staff who provide everything from music, surf school, computers, art, and yes, Blue Water Task Force water testing. For the BWTF program, adult volunteers collect the samples and the children, ages 6-13, do the actual testing. This testing uses sterile techniques with gloves, goggles and standard lab protocols. Imagine opening a sterile pipette, pipetting exactly 10 ml to prepare sample dilutions, mixing reagents, transferring to mixing containers, reading the results under UV lights, mathematically adjusting for dilutions to report colony forming units of enterococcus bacteria with these students - this is remarkable!

As a sidebar, 5 of these kids and I totally articulated a sea lion skeleton which today resides in their science room…that would be >200 bones !

What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?

What do I tell others about Surfrider? It can be the springboard for each and everyone to participate in the care of our ocean - from as little as leaving no trace while visiting the ocean shore to actively cleaning up that space, committing to citizen science activities, and joining those organizations which speak to our hearts.

Why are you a Surfrider coastal defender?  

I am a Surfrider Coastal Defender because Charlie Plybon introduced me to Surfrider, its goals, policies and people. Charlie and Surfrider have in turn taught me, tolerated my learning curve and given me the opportunity to use my love of the ocean to encourage others. “Love” is actually not enough. The ocean needs local citizens, businesses and organizations to partner on stewardship and education activities centered on water quality monitoring to help protect this special place we call the OCEAN.

Click here to see the Depoe Bay Blue Water Task Force's water quality results, and click here to read more about the Depoe Bay BWTF Program, whose incredible work was highlighted in the 2018 Clean Water Annual Report.