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30 years of Coastal Defenders started with Just 1 Thing

It all starts with a first step. In 1990, a first thought followed by a decison to act brought Surfrider Europe to where it is today. The fight for the protection of the ocean took root in one action, then became the DNA of the organization. This is the second part of a series dedicated to the 30 years of Surfrider Foundation Europe, let’s look back at the actions of the Surfrider Coastal Defenders, which began with a small group in 1992.

Flashback to 1992: it all started with the first group of Coastal Defenders.

28 years ago, the Surfrider Coastal Defenders program, as it is known today, was born out of a group of people’s concern for protecting their coasts. It all started with:

One group of defenders: “The Keepers of the Coast”. 

→ One creation year: 1992.

One first national action in 1997: the Black Flag project.

One key objective: to protect the coastline a black flag would be placed on a dirty beach, acting as a lever to encourage the municipalities to prioritize clean water. 

One victory: With the first action having been a great success, the Keepers then began to develop their expertise by performing research to propose solutions to governments rather than only reporting on polluted areas.

One result: The black flag project was the first time that governments were forced to answer for the lack of action on water pollution and explain why a beach could have a blue flag, a sign by the municipality indicating good quality, and a black flag for pollution. 

Gilles Asenjo, president of Surfrider Europe, explains the context of the creation of the Black Flags: “The door was closed. With the black flags, we kicked the door open. Once the door is open, we can reach people directly. We are present in the meeting room and we have the attention of decison makers. That’s our revolution. Before this first action, we were hitting a wall. Now we are taken seriously and when we speak, people listen. We are always growing and adapting. Our job isn’t advocacy, it’s improvement. Moreover, from the start of the Black Flags, we had one line on the offense and eight on promoting solutions.”

Three defining battles of Surfrider Coastal Defenders:

        1. The fight against dumping at sea: the dredging of the port of Capbreton, France.

In 1994, the dredging of the port of Capbreton was planned by the municipality to restore a depth of 1.5 meters of draft in the enclosure of the port and stop silt from returning to the beaches, port, and the lake of Hossegor. Suction by a sludge-sucking dredger was then considered, routed through pipes installed along the seafront, before being discharged onto the shore. 

To protect the coast from this threat of pollution, Surfrider Europe got involved. Keepers of the Coast denounced the pollution risks and the gross lack in realism in the project. When the current reverses, nothing can be done to prevent the return of pollution. The attack on the environment was also a concern, recalling that the sea is not a garbage can. In the end, Surfrider Europe advocated strongly for alternative solutions but regrets that, in this case, these solutions have not been the subject of serious study. The Capbreton fight was the first of this scale for the NGO and provided a significant learning opportunity to hone its expertise.  

        2. The management of shipwrecks: the example of ERIKA.

In 1999, ERIKA, an oil tanker flying the Maltese flags – chartered by Total – was loaded with 30,000 tonnes of fuel oil. It left Dunkirk, in direction of Livorno in Italy via Ouessant. During the night, due to rough seas the ship breaks in two 70 km off the coast of Brittany. The next day, the rear part of the ERIKA sank as the French Navy attempted to tow it to the shallows in order to limit its pollution impact (20,000 tonnes of fuel oil in the bunkers). The resulting oil slicks spread and the inhabitants of southern Finistère and Morbihan are the first to be affected with fuel arrivals on the coasts in the form of plates or cakes. Loire-Atlantique receives most of the pollution which gradually descends to the Basque Country. A total of 34,000 sea and coastal birds are affected. 

In response to this environmental disaster, Surfrider Europe organized beach clean-ups along the coast, st up demonstrations and launched a vast communication campaign against the Total group and oil pollution. 13 years later, in September 2012, the Court of Cassation sentenced Total with compensatory damages and acknowledged the “ecological damage” caused. Although not plaintiff in this case, Surfrider Europe considers this case as a huge victory in the fight against oil spills. 

        3. The fight against the development of the coast: the example of the Mölle wave in Sweden. 

The development of the coastline enhances the effects of erosion. Therefore, Surfrider Coastal Defenders are committed to fighting against any project threatening the natural balance of the coast. 

In 2012, the Coastal Defenders claimed a victory in Sweden to preserve the waves in Mölle. The action aimed to save a surf spot well known to Swedish people and to ensure that recreational use is respected. A project to extend the wall of the marina, dated 2008, threatened the spot. This then sparked widespread concern followed by a large surf community mobilization. The abandonment of the project, through the work of our Surfrider Sweden chapter, in 2012 signed the recognition of the high value of these waves. 

Since 2008, Coastal Defenders has earned 81 coastal victories and 17 losses. Today the program has 11 in-progress actions. The fight stronger than ever and we are nearing several more new victories. This year the Surfrider Porto branch took another step forward in its fight against the project to extend the port of Leixões. After being received by the deputies the day before, the Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure ruled in favor of the Coastal Defenders position and took the decision to suspend the works pending an environmental impact study. conducted. 

To achieve our goal of 100% Coastal Protection we need your support. It starts with one pollution report, a call to action, a commitment to protect a place that is dear to you. It is you, as a person, who can make the difference today.