Today is Giving Tuesday, a global generosity movement designed to encourage people to do good wherever they are. In 2019 Highwave committed to 1% for the Planet, which means we give 1% of every sale, to organizations that help protect Earth's resources. Earlier in the week we reached out to one of our local nonprofit partners, Heal the Ocean. Read on to find out what these pollution-fighting pioneers are up to now and how we can help them in their crusade for clean water.
Hi, and thanks so much for speaking with us today. As you know, we are huge fans of Heal the Ocean. For folks that may not know about you, tell us about what your organization does and how you came together in the first place.
Heal the Ocean is a local, Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization that focuses on eliminating sources of ocean pollution in Santa Barbara County. Heal the Ocean focuses on wastewater infrastructure – sewers and septic systems – as well as ocean dumping practices that have contributed to ocean pollution. We focus on Santa Barbara County, but our methods are now serving as a model for other coastal communities across the country.
Heal the Ocean was formed in August 1998 in Santa Barbara, California, in response to the closing of local beaches due to bacteria. More specifically, the surfers of Rincon Point – one of the world’s celebrated point breaks-- asked for help in ridding the ocean water from septic pollution, which was leaching into the ocean from 72 houses on Rincon Point.
Out of this need, Heal the Ocean began as a citizens’ action group, which was formed following an emotional editorial piece published on August 8, 1998, in the Santa Barbara News-Press, written by long-time ocean advocate and explorer Hillary Hauser. As a result of this editorial, “Another Day at the Beach?” a public demonstration took place on the steps of the Santa Barbara County Administration Building, with people protesting a dirty ocean, unsafe for swimming, surfing, or riding waves.
On August 27, 1998, Hillary Hauser co-founded Heal the Ocean with local attorney Jeff Young, and the two founders created a Five-Point mission to combat ocean pollution, and that Mission has stayed the same for over 20 years. Hillary Hauser has continued since 1998 as Heal the Ocean’s Executive Director.
How does Heal the Ocean differ from other environmental groups?
Heal the Ocean differs from other environmental groups because 1) We focus on wastewater infrastructure as a major source of ocean pollution; 2) We raise funds to fix the problem, rather than initiating lawsuits; 3) We collaborate with city, county, regional, and state governments on all the necessary steps for needed for upgrade of infrastructure as a direct way of removing pollution sources from the ocean; 4) “Outside the Box” is an overused term, but in the case of Styrofoam pollution of the ocean, that is exactly what we did: we had no roadmap to follow. Instead we acted on our strong feelings that to prohibit use of Styrofoam was not enough – we had to recycle it. We did our own research to find out there are such things as Densifiers that convert Styrofoam to a semi-liquid form, to be made into new blocks for the manufacture of new, usable products like mirror & picture frames, crown molding and other construction items. After we got the cost for a typical Densifier, and figured out how “densified” Styrofoam could be moved on its way, we then called our local trash hauler/recycler with information that made it easy for them to get involved. We are working to bring this program to other cities in California. As stated above, Heal the Ocean has assembled institutional knowledge that we share with officials at the city, county, regional, and state levels.
What would you count as your biggest win to date?
Among Heal the Ocean’s biggest successes is the removal of septic systems at Rincon, which was completed in 2013 after years of legal battles, as well as raising funds to help the homeowners abandon their septic systems. Surfers today enjoy a clean ocean at Rincon, as well as 7-miles of connecting beaches, all the way to Summerland, where septic systems have also been removed. The project, officially called the South Coast Beaches Communities Septic to Sewer Project, has earned Heal the Ocean awards and accolades from City, County, Regional, and State governments. Heal the Ocean continues its work on septic system pollution as well as the upgrade of wastewater to recycled water as a way of ensuring Santa Barbara County’s South Coast Beaches are cleaner and safer for surfers and swimmers.
That’s an incredible accomplishment! Which issue(s) are you currently working on?
- Removing septic systems from areas of septic pollution in Santa Barbara County
- Collaborating with State Lands Commission on capping leaking oil wells in Summerland
- Partnering with MarBorg Industries on a pilot project for Styrofoam repurposing in Santa Barbara
- Advocating for immediate action on sea level rise caused by climate change
- Producing reliable research to increase recycled water production in Santa Barbara County and the state
What challenges do you face in reaching your goals?
Heal the Ocean is singular among environmental agencies because we focus on finding the funds to fix pollution sources – namely, wastewater infrastructure, which we find to be the biggest source of ocean pollution problems. So there are always challenges to locating those funds, but we’ve learned how to hire consultants to help us. Luckily, we have learned to work with local, regional and state agencies to get through bureaucratic time-consuming steps such as CEQA or EIR review. Our approach has always been to help rather than complain. By collaborating with government agencies, we can provide research, data, and expertise that can be used to develop solutions. In our 21-year history Heal the Ocean has assembled historical background and institutional knowledge on many issues facing the City of Santa Barbara, as well as the County, and unincorporated areas within the County. With a turnover of government officials, we are able to educate the incoming officials about the issues and to help them develop a strategy for solving problems.
What drives you personally to do this work? Do you ever think about giving up the fight?
Love of the Ocean. Giving up the fight? Never! As populations grow, and with sea levels rising due to climate change, there will always be a need for action – the type of which Heal the Ocean excels in. We started this organization in 1998 after surfers and swimmers became sick due to septic pollution and came to the current HTO Founder, Hillary Hauser, for help. From there, it was a matter of finding the right questions to ask, then asking them, and then doing something once we had the answers. The Rincon septic-to-sewer project took us 15 years to finish, and in that time, we learned a lot of about the required steps, the agencies involved, how to work with homeowners and the public, and other such matters. Our hope is to provide a model for all coastal communities – what we are doing in Santa Barbara can be done elsewhere, and we are often called upon for advice. Our wish is to make this work permanent by passing on the model to others.
How can we teach the next generation to be better stewards of our planet?
By example. Through our work, and through adjutant programs like beach cleanups, our hope is that young people see that such work can be successful. Our public education programs – through print and talking to schools – emphasize the importance of working in our own back yards. Acting locally is most definitely a means of helping globally. Heal the Ocean encourages volunteering, and we take signup sheets to all public events we participate in. Our beach cleanups raise awareness of plastic and garbage pollution, and our doggy bag program shows how important it is to clean up after our pets. We emphasize buying environmentally friendly products as well. Providing experiences that combine awareness, education, and action creates connections that instill a passion for the environment.
You can learn more about Heal the Ocean, and give directly to them here.