Q: What originally drew you to the field of ocean-oriented conservation and restoration? Was there a particular event or realization that set you on your path?
A: I’ve always been environmentally conscious in the sense of the “3 R’s”: reducing, reusing and recycling. This consciousness has been increased by surfing and spending time at beaches, as well as the experience of having kids. I would say the particular events that set me on this path were the first beach cleanups I participated in, which opened my eyes to the scale of the plastic problem in our oceans. Especially remote cleanups, those taking place in far-our areas that appear untouched from afar. For example, Nootka Island, the Broken Islands, and Rugged Point – there are so many bottles, as well as lots of fishing debris and dock debris that wash up in these remote areas. There isn’t really anywhere that remains unaffected by ocean plastics.
Q: What academic field are you in and how does it translate to your environmental activism? What career goals are ahead of you?
A: I am a registered accountant and spent 17 years working for the CRA, and still work with them occasionally. From there, I started volunteering with Surfrider, and now I’m working toward a Bachelor of Science in the UVic Earth and Ocean Science department. I’m hoping after that to attain a master’s degree in ocean science.
During my time with Surfrider I took note of the widespread effects of the Hanjin Seattle cargo spill in 2017. Surfrider was able to draw from its volunteer networks to address the spill, but the impacts were really widespread because the currents brought the debris all over the west coast. I still notice Styrofoam that (because of its unique colour) is recognizably from the Hanjin spill on Vancouver Island beaches. This really got me interested in the physics of how ocean currents distribute debris and oil from marine disasters – the better we understand the flows of currents, the better we can predict where the impacts from these disasters will be concentrated, and the better we can respond. I’m also interested in studying ocean acidification, because there needs to be a lot more study to understand how the impacts of acidification are distributed.
Q: Surfrider is involved in quite diverse initiatives: beach cleanups, water testing, shotgun wad monitoring, and anti-plastics campaigning at the level of businesses and local governments. It’s particularly interesting that the organization is active at both ends of the plastic waste cycle: reducing use, and cleaning up aftermath. Are there any plans for expansion of existing initiatives, or any other intervention points in the works?
A: We’re interested in expanding campaigns to deal with storm water filtration and treatment, and implementing wash stations at local beaches. There definitely could be more infrastructure in place to prevent harmful runoff from entering the ocean, and in promoting safety at the individual level through better hygiene infrastructure. We’re also hoping to build on our campaigns to reduce single-use plastics at the municipal level.
Q: What has been your favourite experience working with Surfrider VI? What moments have been most impactful, or what achievements have been most fulfilling?
A: I really enjoy tabling, where we get to meet people and introduce them to Surfrider’s activities. The most impactful moment for me recently was during the Hanjin spill response, when we were able to quickly rally a huge number of volunteers from various local chapters across the island and the lower mainland to quickly and efficiently mount a disaster response. The most fulfilling experiences for me have been working with children. In the 2016-2017 school year I ran a program at Elizabeth Buckley School where we did monthly beach cleanups along a 200-metre stretch of the Dallas road shoreline, and I was also involved in a program called the Sea Rangers that involved youth from the Hillside neighborhood area. I think what was most fulfilling about these experiences was the youth’s reaction to the issue of marine plastics. The Elizabeth Buckley students wrote to city council about the issue, and also conducted a play about marine debris. It was great to see the impact on young people and inspiring to know that the younger generation is so aware and involved.
Q: Where is there the most room for improvement in Surfrider’s activities? Are there any initiatives that would benefit from more volunteers and resources?
A: We could definitely use more volunteers – not necessarily for beach cleanups, as we usually have a huge turnout. We’ve actually been unable to run cleanups during COVID-19 because it’s hard to manage safety protocols in an environment with 100+ volunteers working in a confined area. We could use volunteers who are interested in tabling and communication work such as writing to council. We’d also love to see more long-term volunteers. There are monthly meetings over Google Meet for anyone interested.