The environmental movement began in the United States during the 1960s, including the first grass-roots efforts to preserve surf breaks and coastlines. It wasn’t until 1972 that the government established the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), which allowed the regulation by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prohibit illegal dumping of pollutants into the oceans. The MPRSA helped to establish marine conservation as a major component of environmentalism in the United States.
From a surfing perspective preserving the oceans began in the 1960s with the Save Our Surf (SOS) organization in Hawaii. As a founder of SOS, John Kelly was the true Hawaiian “waterman” who understood the importance of preserving the natural integrity of the ocean and coastlines. Being a true waterman involves much more than just being a surfer… and includes some or all of all these skills: skilled surfer, fisherman, paddler, swimmer, diver, surfboard design innovator and perhaps one who finds positive and unique ways to broaden their play and effects with the oceans even when not immersed in it.
As one of the pioneers of big-wave surfing, Kelly envisioned an organization whose purpose was to protect and preserve surf spots, and the ocean around the islands of Hawaii. His greatest accomplishment was the creation of SOS as a “grassroots” organization that led other surfers to become aware and unite to protect the threats to our oceans, beaches, reefs, and waves.
Some of the most historically significant ocean preservation organizations from the 1960s through 2010 include:
In the early 1960s, John Kelly with protégé George Downing, formed what many consider to be the first group dedicated to preserving surf spots and the oceans. Centered on Oahu, Save our Surf's grassroots strategy consisted of three simple concepts: respect the intelligence of people; get facts to them; help the people develop and implement an action program. SOS is credited with saving nearly 140 surfing sites and halting numerous environmentally damaging projects from occurring. Perhaps SOS’s greatest contribution of all is setting the precedent for other surfing conservation enthusiasts to follow. Their successes inspired the creation of other ocean-based organizations around the world that are all working toward preserving the oceans, surf spots, and shorelines.
Since 1972 the Ocean Conservancy has been fighting to promote healthy and diverse ocean ecosystems. The nonprofit group, based in Washington D.C., focuses on global warming, fish farming, beach trash cleanups, and marine wildlife protection throughout the United States. The organization focuses on bringing awareness of coastal environmental issues to the public and making volunteering accessible to people located on the East or West coast.
Jacques Cousteau, a French naval officer, began filming educational documentaries in the 1950s that brought attention to environmental damage occurring in the oceans and coastal areas. In 1973, the Cousteau Society was formed and has quickly grown to reach 50,000 members worldwide. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to the protection and improvement of the quality of ocean life for present and future generations. The program’s main goal is to observe the ocean ecosystem and share knowledge with the public concerning the fragility of life on Earth. Using their leading underwater technology, researchers and scientists have published over 100 books and 115 films featuring aspects of underwater ecosystems throughout the oceans.
Aggressively fighting to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society uses direct action to protect marine life. Founded by Paul Watson in 1977, the international nonprofit organization is dedicated to ending the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the oceans to preserve and protect ecosystems and species. Considered by some governments to be “terrorists” because of their aggressive tactics, the program campaigns for the protection of marine life and works toward educating the public about the mass slaughtering of wildlife.
Started by a handful of surfers in Malibu, California in 1984 who wanted to protect their local surf break, the Surfrider Foundation has grown to a environmental organization with over 50,000 members and over 80 all-volunteer chapters in the United States. There are also affiliate Surfrider organizations in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Surfrider’s “strategic initiatives” include preserving and ensuring clean water, healthy beaches, beach access, and coastal special places. Surfers, swimmers, kayakers, and beach enthusiasts all draw together in a grassroots effort to protect the coastal environment that they treasure.
Based in the United Kingdom, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) was formed in 1990 by a local group of surfers who were repeatedly getting ill from sewage polluting their home break, Cornwall. The nonprofit organization campaigns for clean and safe recreational waters focusing on six main areas; sewage, marine litter, climate change, toxic chemicals, shipping, and protecting the recreational wave resource. In 2009, SAS launched the Protect our Waves campaign to increase protection for surf spots in the United Kingdom from environmental damage and negative impacts on wave quality.
In 2001 off the coast of Portugal, on the island of Madeira the government proposed a building plan in the small village of Lugar de Baixo that would destroy a world-class right point break. Will Henry, a photographer and journalist, witnessed the quick damage and destruction of the surf within the first few days of construction. Upon his return to the United States, he began Save the Waves Coalition dedicated to protecting and preserving the coastal environment with an emphasis on surf zones and educating the public about their value. Since its initial battle along the coast of Madeira, Save the Waves has grown to be a worldwide nonprofit organization that relies on the help of volunteers working to protect the coastlines and oceans against damage.
Started by surfers looking to protect ocean, beaches, and coastlines the Surfer’s Environmental Alliance is a grassroots project based organization committed to protecting the cultural and the environmental integrity in the sport of surfing. Based in Northern California and New Jersey, the two chapters run by volunteers and donations, work to protect the natural coastal environment. Their major projects include seeking to put a ban on styro-products, working to prevent offshore drilling off the California Coast, and seeking to protect access to Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, California.
In 1999, a group of nonprofit foundations were unhappily shocked by a study that illustrated extreme lack of support for oceans by nonprofit, environmental organizations. Appalled by the underwhelming concern for the preservation of oceans, these foundations joined forces in 2001 to create Oceana, an international nonprofit organization. Located in the Americas and Europe, Oceana is dedicated to restoring the oceans by identifying environmental problems and solutions. The organization focuses on ocean water, marine life, and climate control.
Greenpeace began in 1971 when a group of volunteers sailed to an area North of Alaska to expose the United States government's underground testing of nuclear materials. Through nonviolent confrontation, Greenpeace is able to draw attention to global environmental problems. Branches are located in 40 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, making participation accessible to most of the world. With 2.8 million supporters worldwide, Greenpeace is able to successfully execute their mission of confronting environment issues and create a strong impact on society.