Surfriders dedicated to keeping Brevard coastal waters clean and healthy
All along the Brevard coast you can find surfers enjoying a day at the beach and on the waves year round. But for members of the Space Coast chapter of the national Surfriders Foundation, there is much more than that.
When they’re not surfing, members of the local chapter are busy with community improvement projects like monthly beach cleanups and cleaning up the berms of their adopted section of highway A1A at Sebastian Inlet.
But there’s more than just picking up litter.
According to Alec Buchness, a former chairman, the chapter is active with the Florida Blue Water Task Force. Twice a month Surfrider volunteers collect data from water monitoring sites along the beaches and the Indian River Lagoon.
They measure bacteria levels in the water. The work is done in partnership with the Marine Resource Council, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition.
“Some sites are consistently bad,” Buchness says, “others are good.”
In particular, sites in the Indian River Lagoon score poorly.
“Bacteria counts along the beaches tend to be lower,” he explains.
He points to the monitoring site at Sebastian Inlet as a good water quality example. They monitor about a half dozen sites for a year, then move on to new locations.
By far the chapter’s main focus is on the beach environment. Chairman Jay Whelan says the public is invited to pick up litter along Brevard beaches the fourth Saturday of each month. Locations are published on the chapter’s Facebook page.
“We provide all the materials to pick up trash,” says Whelan, “and that includes water for the volunteers.”
Local business and civic groups often participate in the cleanups, some from as far away as Orlando. They typically get a turnout of 10-20 volunteers, and sometimes as many as 50.
The Surfriders are also mindful of how groundwater discharge pollutes waterways, particularly in the lagoon. They support the planting of ocean friendly gardens, which use native plants that require little or no fertilizer, and therefore reduce contaminated runoff into the water. Chapter volunteers get their hands dirty working with local landscaping companies and property owners to do the planting work.
On a yearly basis, the Surfriders are involved planting sea oats along the shore. The plantings have been along the shoreline in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Preserve and south Brevard beaches. They recently joined with Cocoa Beach to plant sea oats as part of the city’s efforts to expand the dune line.
The biggest problem that the group addresses, according to Buchness, is the “proliferation of plastics. It is one of our biggest challenges.”
Plastics along the beach, Buchness says, “are at their worst when the winds are out of the east” off the ocean, with tides washing up plastics in the sargassum along the high tide line.
Whelan says the group is trying to reduce plastics in the environment by working with restaurants to make them ocean friendly. According to Whelan, restaurants are encouraged “to reduce plastics and Styrofoam containers, eliminate plastic straws and plastic bottles.” So far only about five Brevard restaurants have committed to the program.
The Surfriders’ biggest fundraising event is its annual Ocean Reef Beach Festival at Pelican Park in Satellite Beach. The group pitches canopies and sells T-shirts and other merchandise. There is also a raffle.
No article about Surfriders would be complete without recommendations from the enthusiasts about the best places to surf in Brevard. Here are some tips from Whelan: On the north end of the county, the pier at Cocoa Beach always attracts a large crowd of surfers. In central Brevard, they recommend Hightower Beach in Satellite Beach. On the south end, it’s Sebastian Inlet State Park. All of Brevard is good for surfing. They recommend these locations because they offer parking, restrooms and good waves.
Fred Mays is a freelance writer and photographer who resides in Satellite Beach. He is a retired television journalist, and active on media issues with the Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition. His blog is www.floridaunplugged.net.