Protecting the ocean with the NGO Surfrider Foundation Europe


Summer is just around the corner, so naturally, lots of us are thinking about going to the beach and swimming in the sea! We always seem to associate the beach with the sea, sunshine and sunbathing, but never with pollution and plastic waste. And yet these days, it's difficult to find a beach that's pristine and plastic-free...

That's why we wanted to tell you more about Surfrider Foundation Europe. Not just because we work with them, but because it's the leading NGO dedicated to protecting the ocean and those who use it. Raphaëlle Genoud is responsible for partnerships with companies, and she kindly agreed to answer our questions.

Lamazuna and Surfrider have an enemy in common: plastic waste! We're not just talking about plastic bottles. It could also be things like those small plastic sachets used to hold tissues, and which can end up everywhere... We tell you more about the connection between Surfrider and Lamazuna. But let's start by learning more about Surfrider Europe!

Could you tell us a little about yourself? What made you want to join the Surfrider Foundation, and what are your responsibilities?

My name is Raphaëlle Genoud, I'm 31 years old, and I'm responsible for partnerships between Surfrider Foundation Europe and companies.

I was 27 years old when I decided to join the Foundation and leave my job in Paris. I was working as a production assistant in the film industry, and I hadn't really felt fulfilled in my job for a while.

The defining moment that prompted me to make my decision was the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015. I was working in the neighbourhood where the shooting took place and I said to myself: "now is the time to make a change in your life, to give your life more meaning, to make choices that matter." I knew I had fundraising skills, as this was something that I'd already done in previous positions and through working with charities. I decided I wanted to put these skills to use within an environmental NGO, and that's how my adventure at Surfrider Foundation Europe in Biarritz began…

My current job revolves around two roles. I raise funds for the Foundation, and it's this private funding, in particular, that finances the NGO and its projects. I'm also involved in industrial lobbying, where we try to influence companies and encourage them to introduce "good practices" that serve our cause, i.e. protecting the oceans.

Raphaëlle, responsable partenariats, Surfrider Europe
Logo Surfrider Europe

For those who aren't familiar with Surfrider Foundation Europe, can you tell us about how the Foundation was born? It has something to do with surfers, doesn't it?

Yes! As the name suggests, the Surfrider Foundation was originally founded by surfers, in 1984, on the Californian coast. Surfrider Foundation Europe was created in 1990. The Surfrider network now has branches all over the world, including Australia, Japan, Morocco, Brazil, Argentina and Canada. It started off as a small group of volunteers who were sick of seeing their playground polluted by marine litter. This determination to clean the ocean is at the heart of the DNA of Surfrider Europe.

Over the years, Surfrider Europe has grown. Now it doesn't just represent the surfing community, but all ocean lovers. This is reflected in the mission of Surfrider Europe, which is "protecting, safeguarding and enhancing the oceans and the entire population that benefits from them." Surfrider Europe continues the fight against marine litter, but is also involved in other areas.

Bouteille en plastique sur la plage

Surfrider Europe works in three key areas. Could you tell us briefly about the challenges involved in each of them?

Marine litter

The fight against marine litter is anchored in the DNA of Surfrider Foundation Europe, because that's where it all began… There is an obvious link between this and the fight against plastic pollution, since 80% of waste found on coastlines comes from plastic.

Our objective is to achieve zero pollution from marine litter, which can have disastrous consequences for the marine environment. It can cause mammals to choke to death, suffocate the oceans, and it presents threats to humankind. For Surfrider Europe, "the best waste is the waste that isn't produced". So, to attain this objective, we intend to act at the source in order to provide an effective and long-lasting solution to fight this catastrophe. This involves:

- Understanding where waste comes from: we look at wastewater from the very source and evaluate how much waste enters the oceans from rivers, so we can find effective solutions to reduce it.

- Raising awareness and educating people in order to change behaviours. One of the ways we do this is through our Ocean Initiatives programme, with clean-up operations at beaches, lakes and rivers.

- Putting pressure on public authorities at a local, national or even European level, by leading campaigns against single-use plastics, with both qualitative and quantitative objectives and ambitions.

In addition to fighting plastic pollution, Surfrider Europe also wants to put a stop to single-use plastics by giving priority to reusable materials or avoiding plastic packaging altogether. Surfrider Europe focuses firstly on reducing plastic production, then on reusing plastic, and finally, as a last resort, on recycling plastic.

Coastal development and climate change

When we talk about this key area, it's important to remember that the ocean is an integral part of the global climate system. It is essential for life on Earth, and a source of food and oxygen – particularly thanks to its role as a carbon sink. It regulates the climate and is home to a multitude of ecosystems that are heavily threatened by human activities. For Surfrider Foundation Europe, from a long-term point of view, a healthy ocean goes hand in hand with a protected climate. To defend the interests of our oceans, the organization carries out in-depth work and gets actively involved in international conventions.

The positions taken by Surfrider Foundation Europe include:

- Generally opposed to fossil fuels, keen to promote renewable energies, calling on a moratorium on offshore oil exploitation.

- Wants a revision of maritime transport regulations, so that this sector can manage ecological issues, particularly with regard to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

- Finally, Surfrider Foundation Europe encourages authorities, businesses and individuals to work together to ensure that development projects will not be harmful to coastlines or local heritage, and will address future ecological issues, such as erosion or coastal flooding.

Illustration déchets aquatiques sous l'océan
Vagues Surfrider protection océans

Water quality and users' health

Surfrider Europe also focuses on preserving water quality, particularly in areas where there are nautical activities, by monitoring and analysing different criteria:

- Chemical criteria, which we hope to incorporate into tests analysing bathing water quality (this is not the case at present). Chemical pollution is caused by the release of chemicals from both industrial and domestic sources. It can result from the use of pesticides, detergents or heavy metals, and represents a considerable risk to human and marine life.

- Bacteriological criteria: for many years, Surfrider Europe has developed laboratory research in the treatment of bathing water. By conducting analyses both regularly and locally, the quality of water can be monitored with precision. All the results of this research contribute to Surfrider Europe's goal to make this information more accessible to users and standardized across Europe.

- We are also carrying out more local projects, and this includes monitoring the invasive alga called Ostreopsis ovata, in the Mediterranean. This alga can have adverse effects on human health and biodiversity. There's also the "Ocean Friendly Gardens" project, which aims to create rain gardens that will bring vegetation back to heavily concreted areas along coastlines, thus helping to reduce soil sealing and allowing for better filtering of water.

Planche de surf

For each key area, the NGO has four levers for action: education and awareness, political advocacy, scientific and legal expertise, and finally, taking action on the ground. The Surfrider Foundation Europe team is therefore a multidisciplinary team.

Can you tell us about the people who work for Surfrider Foundation Europe on a daily basis? What are their positions and roles?

At present, there are around 45 employees working for Surfrider Europe, based in offices across the continent. The head office is in Biarritz, but we also have regional offices in Marseille, Bordeaux, San Sebastián and Hamburg, as well as Paris and Brussels. The last two tend to focus on lobbying and influencing.

These employees are divided into different teams:

· The "corporate relations and lobbying" team. Made up of legal experts and lobbyists, this team focuses on influencing legislation at a local, national and European level, and is also involved in lobbying the private sector, so it can help companies to adopt "good practices" that will protect the ocean. The team also acts as an advocate and defends the positions of the NGO with regard to its three key areas of action.

· The "European network and local actions" team. This team develops on-the-ground initiatives and is in charge of leading different projects in different areas. This includes, for example, the Ocean Initiatives programme, the Coastal Defenders network and the volunteer network. It also coordinates regional offices (Marseille, San Sebastián and Bordeaux) and operations to educate and raise awareness about environmental issues among the public and academic communities.

The "Expertise" team. As its name suggests, this team is made up of experts. Scientific experts gather data, conduct research and produce content related to the three key areas of action of Surfrider Europe. Educational experts create and develop teaching tools and resources, which are available physically or online, such as the Ocean Campus project.

We also have three support departments:

The administrative and financial department.

The communications department: community management, online and project communication, press relations, graphic design and events.

The development / fundraising department, which I belong to, and whose main mission is to finance and support the social mission and projects of the NGO by working with different stakeholders: individuals, the public sector and the private sector.

Ocean Initiative

In addition to our employees, there's also the Board of Directors, made up of eleven administrators; our ambassadors (leading figures who support the actions of the NGO); sponsors and members; financial and operational partners; supporters and volunteers. All these people make up the Surfrider Europe community!

Bénévole Surfrider Europe

© seeandgather

There are many different people, with many different roles, at Surfrider Europe. Volunteers are among those who are essential to its functioning.

For those who are interested, what are the requirements to become a volunteer at the NGO?

It's absolutely true – and we can't say it often enough – that the strength of Surfrider Europe is its community, and particularly its volunteers! The NGO was originally created by volunteers, and enjoys a presence throughout Europe, where it carries out many actions on the ground. There are currently 1,800 volunteers in 46 branches, in 12 European countries.

To be a Surfrider volunteer, you don't need to have any specific skills in order to help us. The only condition is that you should be motivated, dynamic and positive!

When you work as a volunteer for Surfrider Europe, you join one of the 46 local branches run by volunteers who are able to carry out this role, regardless of their educational or professional background. Working as a volunteer involves:

Talking to people and raising awareness: representing Surfrider Europe at sports or cultural events, holding a stand at exhibitions, etc., or giving out information while increasing public awareness about environmental issues.

Educating others about environmental issues: giving talks at schools and helping teachers to improve learning and understanding by using Surfrider resources.

Taking part in demonstrations: showing support for Surfrider and everything it stands for by participating in demonstrations against projects that threaten the coastal environment.

We regularly post ads for short-term volunteer positions that require specific skills, such as scientific research and documentation, legal monitoring, communication, translation, etc.

If you want to join a branch or see these offers, you can click here:

Could you give us three figures that will give us a better understanding of what Surfrider Foundation Europe is fighting for, and which will encourage us to change our consumption habits or the way we live?

4,027,435: that's how many cigarette ends we collected from beaches, lakes and rivers in Europe, in 2019, within the framework of the Ocean Initiatives programme! If you were to line them all up, end to end, you'd have 400 times the height of the Eiffel Tower! When you bear in mind that a single cigarette end can pollute about 500 litres of water, you should think twice before you toss it on the ground!

A 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030: this is one of the recommendations from experts at the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), in order to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement. If we don't manage to do this, we will pass the tipping points for climate breakdown. So think about having a staycation, rather than flying to the other side of the world for your holiday!

2021: by this year, it will no longer be possible, throughout the European Union, to have a plastic straw in your cocktail, or a plastic cup or stirrer in your office. And that is very good news!

mégots plages surfrider Europe
shampoing solide Lamazuna

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex and the 7th continent, has existed for many years.

In your opinion, what are the key (and sometimes very simple) actions that people can take to help preserve our oceans?

There are some very simple things that we can put into place every day to reduce waste at the source. As I've said before, and it's also the opinion of Surfrider Europe, "the best waste is the waste that isn't produced!"

For example, instead of using plastic bottles, use a stainless steel drinking bottle. Switch to solid shampoos and soaps. Refuse plastic straws when you order a cocktail at the bar. Buy loose produce when you can and bring your own containers to stores when you do your shopping, etc. You'll find lots of tips to help you reduce waste every day on our Ocean's Zero app.

But it's not just individuals who have to change their habits and behaviour. It's also up to companies and institutions to set an example when it comes to reducing their plastic footprint. And that's exactly what Lamazuna is doing.

According to one of your recent articles, "homemade is good for the ocean". Could you tell us about an item that's easy to make at home and has a positive impact on the ocean?

It's not just plastic pollution that's damaging to our oceans. Many regular cleaning products contain chemicals that can be harmful to aquatic life – and to human health.

Surfrider Europe has put several DIY tutorials on its Ocean Campus website. Personally, I make my own floor cleaner by following a simple recipe that uses just three ingredients: white vinegar, tea tree essential oil and mint essential oil!

Lamazuna donates €1 to Surfrider Europe for every set of Mochi-Mochis it sells.

Could you tell our readers about the importance of partnerships such as the one between Lamazuna and Surfrider Foundation Europe?

At Surfrider Europe, we've always worked with the private sector, which accounts for one third of the financing we receive. But we also consider that the "transition écologique" – the transition to a greener world – will not happen unless we help companies to develop more eco-friendly practices. Raising awareness doesn't just mean educating the public; it also means educating partners and customers.

At Surfrider Europe, we are happy to open a dialogue with anyone, but we won't accept financing from everyone. Some sectors are blacklisted, and we refuse to establish partnerships with them, because their business activities go against our social mission. This includes the hydrocarbon industry, the biggest producers of single-use plastic, and companies that sell weapons, pornography or tobacco.

We believe that the influence we have on companies is just as important as the money they give us to fund our social mission and projects. That's why financial partnerships with really committed companies, such as Lamazuna, matter so much. And when we receive donations from sales of a product, that product must be beyond reproach! Which is the case, of course, for the Mochi-Mochi fabric handkerchiefs!

Mochi-mochis dromois Lamazuna

Why do you feel it was important that our two entities work together?

Lamazuna is a very important partner for our NGO as it's completely in line with our social mission especially the fight against marine litter and our number 1 enemy: single-use plastic!

Just like Surfrider Europe, Lamazuna encourages people to go zero waste. It sells products that are ideal for anyone who wants to live a zero-waste lifestyle, such as solid cosmetics that remove the need for bottles or other containers, and drinking bottles that can be reused over and over again, so you never need to use plastic bottles. Lamazuna also helps to protect water quality and human health by avoiding the use of chemicals. Plus its products are made in France, which keeps their transport carbon footprint down.

It's very important for us to build partnerships that are consistent with what we stand for. Our NGO and partner companies must share the same values, so that our partnerships make sense to the public and the Surfrider Europe community. Over the years, we have become an increasingly prominent voice in public consultations, both in France and on the European stage. In order for Surfrider Europe to maintain its legitimacy, we must always choose our partners carefully.

Raphaëlle, you're familiar with Lamazuna.

In your opinion, which Lamazuna product has the biggest positive impact on the ocean, and why?

For me, the Lamazuna product that has the greatest positive impact on the ocean is the bamboo Oriculi, as it can be reused countless times and isn't made from plastic. [Lamazuna has recently introduced a bioplastic Oriculi, made in France (the bamboo version is made in China).] And while we're on the subject of cotton buds/Q-tips, those that are made with plastic stems have been banned in France since January 1st, 2020. By 2021, they shall be banned throughout the EU. These are two wonderful victories, and Surfrider Europe's lobbying team worked incredibly hard to help make this happen.

Cotton buds (Q-tips) are among the items most often collected on beaches, lakes and rivers in Europe. In 2019, according to the Surfrider figures, some 88,327 cotton buds were collected. If you lined them up, they'd cover the length of 60 football pitches!

There are two reasons behind these catastrophic figures. Firstly, cotton buds are extremely light, so they're easily carried to the coasts by wind and water. And secondly, many people throw their used cotton buds in the toilet. (Yes, really!). Because they're too fine to be filtered by sewage treatment plants, they pass easily through the gratings and end up in the marine environment.

So next time you think you've picked up a lollipop stick on the beach, it's much more likely to be the stem of a plastic cotton bud!

Oriculi en bambou Lamazuna

Finally, what if we could see into the future?

What state do you think the ocean will be in, ten years from now?

If I'm optimistic, I'd like to think that in 10 years from now:

NO MORE PLASTIC will end up in the oceans. This means that we'll have stopped waste at the source, so a minimum amount of plastic is produced. I don't believe that it's possible to clean up our oceans without acting at the source of the problem. This will involve a joint effort by companies, institutions and individuals.

NO POLLUTION, either chemical or bacteriological, will enter the marine environment. There must be no more oil slicks during the next decade. I find it absolutely shocking that even now, in 2020, this kind of catastrophe can still occur.

And finally, ocean levels will have stopped rising. For this to happen, all countries that ratified the Paris Agreement must meet their commitment to maintaining global warming below 1.5°C and therefore limiting greenhouse gases.

I hope that in 10 years from now, our children will be able to enjoy a clean ocean, just like previous generations did!

Read our interview with Malaury Morin from Blutopia