Healthy Oceans Blog

Q&A with Pete Stauffer

Pete Stauffer, Environmental Director for Surfrider Foundation, developed a deep connection with the natural world at an early age. As an avid surfer, paddler and beachgoer, his connection to the ocean and its natural bounty motivates him to spend his time learning about, exploring and protecting the natural environment.

Tell about your background and what sparked your passion for environmental work
I serve as the Environmental Director for Surfrider Foundation and have been on staff here for about 10 years, 15 if you include my time as a volunteer and chapter leader and I’ve been an ocean advocate, beach enthusiast and passionate surfer and paddler for much longer than that. My academic background is in environmental policy and marine science – I’ve always loved going to the beach, surfing, swimming and watching wildlife.

What is Surfrider Foundation’s mission?
Surfrider is a grassroots environmental organization that is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches. We have 84 chapters and 50 youth clubs across the country that work on a range of campaigns and programs to help protect our coastal resources. Our membership is heavily comprised of coastal recreational users, so people that surf, swim, go to the beach, dive and have a real passion for the coast. My role along with all other Surfrider staff is engaging our chapters, members and other recreational [ocean] users in decisions that affect the coast and the ocean.

Describe Surfrider’s short and long-term goals for coastal protection.
Long-term, we’re looking for lasting stewardship of our coastal and ocean marine ecosystems. Another goal is to develop a powerful constituency of chapters and empowered coastal recreational communities acting as stewards and advocates to defend our coastlines and enhance awareness and appreciation across the country for our coasts and oceans.

For the shorter-term, at any given time Surfrider is engaged in about 90 active local, state and national campaigns to try to protect our coasts and oceans. We are constantly fighting battles across the country, but we also are doing ongoing stewardship work that includes thousands of beach clean ups every year, water quality testing labs all around the country, stewardship events and educational activities.

One of our goals is to see the successful implementation of the National Ocean Policy, not just advocating for funding and support in congress, but actually supporting implementation on the ground at the regional and community level.

What do you love most about the ocean?
I love to spend time on the beach and in the ocean. I love to surf and paddle, for me it’s just a great escape. It always puts things into perspective for me and, being lucky enough to work in the ocean conservation realm, spending time in the ocean inspires me and motivates me to do as well as I can in that line of work.

Do you have a favorite beach, coastline, or patch of ocean? Will you share why you are drawn to it?
I have to say that the Oregon Coast is an area that I really love because it has a wild feel. It’s less developed than other parts of the country, there are impressive headwinds and rocky shoreline and river mouths. There is incredible abundant wildlife, salmon runs and a whole variety of recreational opportunities from hiking and beach-going to surfing, paddling and fishing.

What are your favorite pastimes?
I’ve always enjoyed volunteering and participating in both clean up events and grassroots advocacy. Volunteering is actually how I got my start with Surfrider as a chapter leader. I enjoy being active local politics in addition to recreational stuff like hiking, camping, surfing and paddling.

In your opinion, what is the greatest threat to our oceans?
Climate change, because the scale of the problem is so large and it impacts the ocean in so many different ways, whether it’s ocean acidification, which is disruptive to the basic health of our ocean ecosystem, or sea level rise and increased storm activity that threatens our beaches and natural shorelines. It’s an issue that we need to come up with solutions that are both at the global level, but also at the regional and local levels too. I think there are opportunities to embrace adaptation strategies to help up adapt to and mitigate some of the changes that are already taking place. It’s important to engage people in the broader movement and to transition away from fossil fuels and support renewables.

In that same vein, could you touch on the biggest challenges we face in restoring and protecting our oceans and coasts?
We need to continue to build greater awareness across the country and around the world about the importance of our oceans and coastlines. They are important in so many different ways to our communities, economy, for recreation and quality of life. We need to engage people to be stronger champions for ocean and coastal protection and that’s a big part of what Surfrider is about. We are trying to better mobilize. We have more than 100 million people in the U.S. that will visit the beach each year and all of those people that visit the ocean should be more engaged in being champions for its protection.

What motivates you as a leader in the environmental world?
My personal passion for the ocean. I’ve had the opportunity to visit many different coastlines around the country and around the world and you can really see places where the coast and ocean have been well managed and protected – not just for environmental benefit, but for community, economic and social benefit. You also see in other places where poor choices have been made, whether it’s in shoreline development, extraction or industrial uses that maybe aren’t so compatible with ocean stewardship. I think for me it’s having that personal connection to the ocean as a recreation user and also someone who has seen the value of a healthy coast and ocean to coastal communities in terms of jobs, economic development and quality of life.

What advice do you have for people starting their careers in the environmental field?
Volunteering is great on so many levels. It gives you experience that can be very helpful, it helps you learn about the issues and helps you build relationships. For me, I got involved as a volunteer with Surfrider and that was obviously a huge turning point in my life. There are many different organizations out there that offer opportunities to volunteer at all different levels from beach clean ups to advocating at your local city council meeting or running an education program.

Open mic! Is there any parting wisdom you would like to leave us with?
It’s important for everyone who cares about the ocean to get involved and find a way to make a difference, whether it’s volunteering or reaching out to elected officials – these things really make a difference.