Surfers Against Sewage are on a mission to clean up our seas and ensure we treat our marine environment with the respect it deserves.

Surfers Against Sewage are on a mission to clean up our seas and ensure we treat our marine environment with the respect it deserves.

Surfers understand better than most that the ocean is a phenomenal gift entrusted to mankind; but they often see firsthand how sewage outflows, marine waste and pollution damage our precious marine environment. Surfers Against Sewage campaign to raise awareness of the need to keep our seas and beaches clean, and remind us of our responsibility to protect the ocean. We spoke to chief executive Hugo Tagholm to hear more about their important work and what they’ve got planned in their role as charity partners of Somersault Festival in North Devon this July.

How did Surfers Against Sewage get going?
Surfers Against Sewage was set up in 1990 by a group of Cornish surfers and beach lovers in the picturesque north coast villages of St Agnes and Porthtowan. The then single-issue campaigning organisation was set up in response to the continuous sewage discharges of the time, and swiftly created a national movement calling for improved water quality UK-wide. SAS has been a very successful catalyst, pressing on new legislation and driving forward expectations of corporate responsibility towards the environment. In 2014 SAS is a fully-fledged environmental charity, campaigning on a wide range of environmental issues to protect waves, oceans and beaches for everyone.

How do you hope it will have an impact?
Water quality remains a core campaign with the alarming and escalating return of raw sewage pollution from the UK’s network of 31,000 sewer overflows. The recent sewage spill at Godrevy, Cornwall was a shocking example of this – cancelled surf competition, beaches closed and swimmers getting sick. SAS is the only organisation providing free real-time water quality information through our Sewage Alert Service – this is there to protect surfers and beach users from sewage spills. Ultimately we want to see sewage free bathing waters and surf spots of course, but there are many steps to take to achieve this.

Marine litter is another huge area for SAS in 2014. With the amount of marine litter pollution doubling at UK beaches in just the last fifteen years, the marine litter crisis alone shows the need for increased action to protect our shores. Did you know that over 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds die annually through ingestion of and entanglement in marine litter? Surfers Against Sewage will be publishing a Marine Litter Report in October 2014, mapping out a 5-year action plan to 2020 to reduce UK beach litter by at least 50%. We take action at every level on the issue, lobbying government & industry, and importantly engaging around 7,500 community volunteers annually to tackle the issue directly through beach cleans. A litter free coastline and ocean might be a big call, but it would be the dream result.

How can people get involved/show support?
Joining Surfers Against Sewage is one of the best ways you can support the campaigns. SAS represents a powerful collective of surfer, swimmers, board riders, sailors, beach lovers and environmentalists. As a member you’ll be adding your voice to the campaign and be the first to know about our activities and initiatives nationwide. Every membership subscription really counts. Or, you can join us at a community beach clean or campaign demo, or sign one of our petitions. Last year we delivered over 55,000 signatures of support to 10 Downing Street calling for better protection of our surf spots!

What have been the major inspirations?
SAS has always been run by people who love and use the sea, quite often surfers. And our members aren’t just passive observers of the ocean and its amazing flora and fauna, they are more often than not immersed in the ocean, sharing these unique coastal spaces with the wildlife. This is what exposes us all to the environmental issues and motivates us to take action. We are inspired by waves, oceans and beaches! Mother Ocean herself! And Jacques Cousteau of course…

What have you got planned for Somersault and what goals do you have for your time at the festival?
We have an amazing programme planned at Somersault, with some truly inspiring speakers. We will be joined by big wave surfer Andrew Cotton, surf explorer Sam Bleakley, artist Andy Hughes and various other special guests. We’ll be screening environmental surf films, holding marine litter workshops and getting people involved with the campaigns. Check out the full programme or just come say hi!

What’s the future for SAS?
SAS’s approach to marine conservation issues has always been unique and powerful. We have a big role to play in the ongoing campaigns and solutions to protect the UK’s precious waves, ocean and beaches. The marine litter crisis is perhaps the biggest area of focus for the next five years, where we hope we can have a big impact through campaigning, collaboration and action to create real change. Join us!

Find out more about Surfers Against Sewage or check out what they’re up to – and all the other goings on – at Somersault Festival, Thursday July 17 – Monday 21 at Castle Hill, North Devon.