UN Goal: Life below Water Preserve Ecosystems

Beach clean-ups are just one method through which Surfrider Foundation Europe aims to create awareness for the planet and the ocean ecosystem.
Beach clean-ups are just one method through which Surfrider Foundation Europe aims to create awareness for the planet and the ocean ecosystem. | Photo (detail): © Surfrider Foundation Europe

Humans cannot live without clean oceans. Yet huge amounts of rubbish and pollution end up in the oceans every day. Antidia Citores and Sofiane Hadine from the Surfrider Foundation Europe want to motivate people to become active themselves and protect their surrounding waters.

By Katja Wiesbrock Donovan, 1014

Oceans, seas and marine resources should be conserved and used in a sustainable way. What do you observe at the Surfrider Foundation Europe with regard to this objective and why do you see a need for action? How does the Surfrider Foundation Europe work?

Antidia Citores: The state of oceans, seas and marine resources is alarming in every aspect. Acidification, coastal erosion, climate change, rising water levels, etc. not only harm life under water. They also harm us humans as we depend on fish and other resources that oceans provide. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICCP) warns in its October 2020 report that global warming poses great risks to marine biodiversity, fisheries, ocean ecosystems and the vital functions and services they provide. The EU Commission is determined that comprehensive action is needed. This is our reality and reason to fight.

The Surfrider Foundation Europe was created in 1990 by a group of surfers who wanted to protect their playground. Now, it has grown to 13,000 members across Europe, but with grassroots activism to protect our oceans and coasts still at the core of the organisation.
At the Surfrider Foundation Europe, we offer several levers of action. First, we provide scientific and legal expertise through collected data. What is happening in the oceans and what are the impacts? Second, we raise awareness through dissemination of information and education. And third, we advocate for change on the European political stage. Our actions target three main issues: water quality, marine litter (plastics) and climate change. We involve and work with all social actors: citizens as voters and consumers, local authorities as decision-makers and companies, the private sector, as producers of goods, services and wealth, but also as employers. We advise and encourage best practices.

With our 43 local volunteer chapters throughout Europe, located in 11 different European countries, we extend our reach well beyond our headquarters in Biarritz and remain true to our founding mission based on grassroots activism. One of our programmes is the Ocean Initiatives that tackles aquatic waste through education, participatory science, and lobbying by organising beach clean-ups.

With your Ocean Initiatives, you provide a platform to mobilise citizens to become “part of the solution”. Can you describe how a typical beach clean-up is conducted – from organising the event to the actual gathering and cleaning to filing the reports?

Sofiane Hadine: We organise the clean-up action on beaches, lakes, rivers and sea beds with support from Surfrider Foundation Europe. The local organiser first goes to our website and answers a series of questions such as date, place, and time of the clean-up. He or she also selects the desired collection material. After this registration, Surfrider Foundation Europe will send the collection material to the organiser's home.

We then provide the local organiser with an Organiser's Guide, a document guiding him or her from A to Z through the process of organising his or her clean-up action, and with an Awareness Sheet, which is a two-sided document with instructions that he or she will be able to follow on the day of the clean-up.

On the day of the collection, the event will be divided into three phases that meet three objectives:
First - collection time - curing objective: It is time to protect what we love. Volunteers arm themselves with bags and gloves and collect as much waste as possible.
Second - awareness time - awareness objective: Reading the Awareness Sheet, the organiser will then pass on a message to the participants. This is the most important part, because collecting waste just for the sake of collecting is useless. What is essential is to change our behaviours. This change is achieved through sensitisation.
Third - the quantification time, which is optional - scientific objective: The organiser and the participants quantify and qualify the waste they have collected.

Each year, Surfrider Foundation Europe compiles all the data collected by the volunteers to create the Environmental Balance Sheet - a comprehensive document that provides an overview of the state of pollution on Europe's beaches, lakes and rivers. This data is crucial: It is the foundation of the work we do every day to protect the oceans.

In an ideal world, what do you think should be done more to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources?

Antidia Citores: The ocean is essential for life on earth: A source of oxygen and food, it regulates the climate and shelters a multitude of ecosystems that are highly threatened by our human activities.

In an ideal world, there would no longer be a need for programmes such as the Ocean Initiatives. Our societies would, for example, have made the transition from single-use to reusable products, which would dramatically reduce the pollution of the oceans and seas with plastic. We need to be patient though, because plastic stays in the oceans and seas for decades and even centuries. However, we need to start preventing the production of waste and harmful substances in the first place. Prevention should gain priority. We should live in a way that is sustainable and preserves our oceans, seas and marine resources.

This interview was produced and first published by1014 in New York City.