Pictured Above: Last year’s Surfrider beach cleanup at 67 Steps Beach in Greenport. Another cleanup there is scheduled for Feb. 25. |. Chris Hamilton photo (@northforkfisherman) for the Surfrider Foundation.

The Eastern Long Island Chapter of the international Surfrider Foundation has long been a hotbed of ocean-friendly policy coming out of the far eastern reaches of the South Fork, but the chapter, which covers the waterfront from Moriches to Montauk, is steadily making inroads westward and onto the North Fork.

The Surfrider Foundation, which started in 1984, works around the world to reduce the use of plastic, preserve beach access and fight for clean water, protecting shorelines from climate change and protecting ecosystems within the ocean.

“We’re the first responders of coastal coåmmunities,” said the local chapter leader, Liz Sans, a surf instructor and lifeguard who is also an active member of the Southampton Village Ocean Rescue, via Zoom at the January chapter meeting at the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company in Peconic.

The local chapter, which started in 1999, has a solid base of volunteers in East Hampton Town, where they’ve worked to introduce successful legislation to ban helium balloons, plastic bags and straws, which make their way into ocean waters, said Chapter Coordinator Jenna Schwerzmann, who led the chapter meeting. 

“We’ve historically been more active on the South Fork because we have so many members and volunteers there, but all water bodies are connected and we need to work on the same issues,” she said.

At a women’s surf social organized in 2022 by the Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter. | Surfrider Foundation photo

Surfrider is known for its beach cleanups, in part because they make use of an app called Marine Debris Tracker, which helps gather information about the most prevalent beach trash in the area, to help decide which policy proposals will be most effective at reducing pollution. 

As part of their push to include the North Fork, the chapter is holding a Beach Cleanup at 67 Steps Beach on the Long Island Sound in Greenport on Saturday, Feb. 25 from noon to 2 p.m., with a rain date of the following Saturday, March 4. Register to participate here.

The chapter is also holding an inaugural Zoom meeting for its Rise Above Plastic committee on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 5 p.m. The committee will be involved with efforts from encouraging local restaurants to be certified as Ocean Friendly Restaurants or participate in a program known as “Skip the Stuff,” encouraging restaurants to not include plastic cutlery or condiments or napkins in takeout offers by default.

The New York City Council passed a “Skip the Stuff” bill in mid-January, and the Eastern Long Island is watching that legislation closely to see if a similar program could work here.

“It means restaurants wouldn’t automatically provide accessories with takeout offers,” said Ms. Schwerzmann. “They will still be available, by request. I see it as a win-win. We’re not asking for a total ban. Customers can still get the accessories, but they would have to ask for them.”

Restaurant-based campaigns against plastics were just getting off the ground before the pandemic, but Covid forced a major shift toward takeout orders and single-use serving containers. 

At a 2022 Ocean Friendly Garden workshop at the Methodist Lane bioswale in East Hampton. | Surfrider Foundation photo

“Now people are more conscious of the hygienics of things, and even if you put out reusable options customers still want more disposables because they think it’s more safe,” said Ms. Schwerzmann. “We have some work to do in undoing all those things and getting reusables back.”

She said the restaurants Rosie’s in Amagansett, La Fin Kitchen and The Dock in Montauk and Bruce & Son in Greenport are currently certified Ocean Friendly Restaurants, and others are interested in returning to the program.

“We want to get more volunteers involved now before the restaurants are too busy to talk to us in the summer,” said Ms. Schwerzmann.

Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force also has a very active volunteer base that takes regular water samples for fecal bacteria at places where people often recreate on the water. Through a partnership with the Peconic Baykeeper, they’ve added 11 North Fork locations between Riverhead and Southold and now track water pollution at a total of 80 sites. That data is available online at bwtf.surfrider.org.

The chapter is planning this spring to offer a North Fork Core volunteer training session, though a date has not yet been set. For more information, contact Volunteer Coordinator Patrice Foronjy at volunteercoordinator@easternli.surfrider.org.

More details on all the chapter’s work, and on how to become a member, is at easternli.surfrider.org.

— BHY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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