HOW SURFERS CAN HELP PROTECT BEACHES FROM OIL SPILLS

How Can Surfers Help Protect Beaches?

The disappointing news about the oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California is a reminder of how fragile our coastal waters are to various disasters. The consequences are significant for a region’s ecology and economy given the importance of clean water for tourism, boating, and water activities including fishing and surfing. This article will focus on oil spills as a primary threat. We’ll examine the privatization of public lands and beach areas as a different type of threat in a future article.

The fossil fuel industry has considerable influence with elected officials in Washington D.C., other capitals around the world, and various states and provinces. Their mission to extract oil is deemed as vital to the economic viability of individual nations, regions and local communities. 

Sunset Oil Rig

An article in the Los Angeles Times on October 6 shared timely information about the scope of offshore oil drilling more than 50 years after California declared an end to new drilling, and more than 35 years after the federal government stopped issuing new leases. The drilling continues because once a lease is issued and permits are granted, they are viable until they are revoked or a well is no longer profitable. 

Both federal and state governments have continued to issue permits that extend the life of offshore rigs by allowing industry operators to repair, modify or upgrade their wells. Current laws also require the government to compensate a drilling operator in the event they are forced to shut down to protect the public. The cost could be enormous. 

Federal records note that offshore oil drilling accounted for about 16% of the 12.2 million barrels of oil produced each day in the U.S. in 2019. Most wells are in the Gulf of Mexico. As of September 2021, there were 512 active oil rigs in the U.S. The number worldwide exceeds 1,500. 

Oil Spill Cleanup

The Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico remains the largest oil spill since 1969. The 133,980,000 gallons dwarfs the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 with 11,000,000 gallons. The most recent spill off Orange County leaked more than 135,000 gallons thus far. It’s still significant given its direct impact on a heavily populated area and protected wetlands habitat. 

So, what can a surfer do to help protect our beaches from more oil spills? Although it’s difficult to offset the worldwide dependence on fossil fuel, here are three positive suggestions. 

First, become more informed about the issues surrounding offshore oil drilling. For example, the West Coast Protection Act was introduced this year in the Senate. The bill would permanently ban oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Wherever you live, try to encourage your political leaders to pass and enforce laws that would help protect your favorite beaches and waterways.

Beach Cleanup

Second, get into the habit of properly discarding trash in and around the beaches you frequent. This form of stewardship may seem like a small contribution but imagine if every surfer and water sports enthusiast in the world shared the same mindset. Fortunately, many do and never underestimate the example we are setting for younger surfers and other beach goers. 

And finally, become affiliated with a nonprofit that’s focused on preserving beach habitat and marine life such as the Surfrider Foundation headquartered in San Clemente, California. Founded in 1984, this nonprofit is a network of 133 chapters mostly in the U.S. with volunteers focused on protecting and enjoying the world’s oceans, waves and beaches. 

Following are 7 other nonprofits you may find interesting. We included two of the largest nonprofits and five smaller groups that are doing important work focused on education. Any of these nonprofits and so many others would welcome your membership and kind support.

The Ocean Conservancy

Oceana

Gulf Coast Preservation Society 

Take 3 (Australia)

Pretoma (Costa Rica)

Beyond the Surface International (Peru) 

I AM WATER (South Africa)

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