I awakened amongst rabbit warrens in the dunes of a Cornish beach on the morning marking 2 weeks since the journey began, and as if to celebrate the bakery bins of the first village I came to offered up my first Cornish pasties in Cornwall. I almost whizzed past The Bike Barn and it’s a good thing I went back for a closer look as I spent most of the day there tinkering and finally fitting mudguards off an old German tandem, thanks to the kindly owners of the joint. Back on the road I had the idea to link up with a charity I read about in an inspiring publication entitled The Surfer’s Path , a gem of a magazine amongst a sea of glossy advertising that recently published it’s last issue. By chance I was just a few miles away from the Surfers Against Sewage office, and made it there in time for an impromptu interview with Dom Ferris, their Campaigns and Education Manager. Here ’tis!
Me: Could you tell us how, when and why SAS began?
DF: SAS was born in Cornwall in 1990. Literally it was a group of local surfers who were sick of getting sick every time they went surfing. They’d had enough. We’ve expanded over the last 24 years into 2014 where we now are a group of environmentalists and beachlovers who look to protect the UK’s oceans, waves and beaches for everyone to enjoy safely and sustainably.
Me: Wow. I’m very lucky in that I’m from pristine parts of Australia where we can go surfing and bodyboarding and not even have to think about this kind of thing. So could you tell me what the situation is like in Europe for surfers, anyone enjoying the beach and the oceans themselves?
DF: The sad fact is that no oceans are pristine right now, however pristine they may look. We’re all struggling hugely with the marine litter problem, marine litter crisis. Marine plastics are increasing year on year; in the UK there are now more than 2000 pieces of marine litter for every kilometre of our coastline. So every step you take along our coastline you’re encountering marine litter. And that’s the same for the entire world.
Me: When you say ‘marine litter’ does that refer to any man-made object?
DF: Yeah. Anything that shouldn’t be in the ocean-man made object- but unfortunately..the vast majority, nearly 70% is plastic.
Me: Ok. Could you tell me some of SAS’ achievements to date?
DF: Well like I say we started in 1990 with the express aim of getting real quality sewage treatment around the country, ’cause up until that point we’d been discharging raw, untreated human effluent into our oceans, be it a great surf beach or bathing beach. So we apply pressure to the water industry, the government and say ‘ look at the beauty of these environments, look at the value of them to coastal communities. You need to do more.’ Off the back of that we’ve now got, at bathing waters around the UK, what’s called ‘tertiary treatment’ which means the sewage is treated to a safe level. We’ve still got some battles on that front because the sewage system isn’t big enough, doesn’t have enough capacity. And when it rains we’re struggling with sewage discharges, what they call ’emergencies’ but these ’emergencies’ are happening way too often.
Me: How many members does SAS have?
DF: We fluctuate around the 10 000 mark, which is fantastic really for a small charity. We’ve got a fantastic number of followers on our social media and it builds year on year. We’re increasing every year.
Me: Is that worldwide?
DF: There are members worldwide but again we are a UK only agency; we’ve got enough issues to deal with in the UK. We’ve got loads of great partners around the world that we work with such as Surfrider Australia, Surfrider Europe, Surfrider USA and many other organisations we work with who are doing similar work to us.
Me: If there’s someone reading this who wants to do something and get involved?
DF: …There are really simple things, like you can do yourself a mini beach clean…you know, walk along your local beach, you want to make a difference, picking up 3,4,5 items of marine litter will make a difference. If you want to organise your own community beach clean, go on to http://www.sas.org.uk/ and you can follow some simple steps there. And once you’re on our website, learn more about our marine litter and sewage campaigns. Because [through] every single one of them we offer people sustainable, achievable solutions. We offer them ways to get involved, to help us. Because we’re a small charity and rely on the UK’s many, many beach lovers.
Me: Great. Anything you’d like to add?
DF: Yeah-good luck on your trip mate!
For further reading see the SAS website and http://www.unep.org/regionalseas/marinelitter/publications/