Surfers Against Sewage is a national charity dedicated to protecting and preserving our beaches and seas.
The charity, which is based in Cornwall, began in the 1990s as a group of surfers who felt the need to join forces in order to tackle the filthy water they were encountering – horror stories included surfing alongside sanitary towels and human poo. Since then, with the dedication and passion of the surfing community, along with the support from others who wanted to improve our seas, the movement has grown into a nationwide charity, with representatives around all around the British coastline, including Brighton.
The extent of their work cannot be understated – according to their website, in 2016 98.5% of England’s bathing waters passed the Bathing Water Directive’s minimum standards, in comparison to the appalling 27% in 1990, when Surfers Against Sewage first began campaigning.
However whilst the team are still dedicated to preventing sewage contaminating our seas, attention has now turned to plastic and the enormous effect it’s having on British seas – every day around 8 million pieces of plastic find their way into our oceans.
Brighton Journal caught up with Andrew Coleman, the Brighton representative for Surfers Against Sewage, to find out what he thinks needs to be done to protect our beach from plastic pollution. Andrew is a keen local surfer who was part of Surfers Against Sewage in it’s very first years in the 1990s, and has recently rejoined the charity.
What was it that initially inspired you to get involved with Surfers Against Sewage, and what was your motivation to rejoin the charity?
Back in the 1990s it was wanting to do something about surfing in barely treated sewage – enough to fill 30 Olympic swimming pools every day from Brighton and Hove alone. Back then, I played a small part in helping to get the Government, Southern Water and the public to wake up to the need for cleaner seas. Although those issues have largely been solved by the activism of SAS and stricter EU laws, I am concerned they may come back after Brexit – the type of people who lobbied for Brexit often don’t believe much in environmental regulation. And the ocean and our beaches face a rising tide of plastic waste and the threats from development removing access to beaches and surfing locations still exist. And having a daughter concentrated my mind on the need to fight for her right for a clean ocean and beaches.
“Each one of those plastic bottles could last 450 years – gradually breaking down into microscopic pieces to be eaten by fish, mammals and birds – and us.”
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the cleanliness of Brighton beach?
Right now, it’s plastic pollution. The Council’s cleaners do their best but the amount of litter left on the beach, particularly single use plastics, is frightening. Each one of those plastic bottles could last 450 years – gradually breaking down into microscopic pieces to be eaten by fish, mammals and birds – and us.
What would you say is the most effective way of encouraging Brighton visitors and locals to keep the beach and sea clean?
It’s a mixture of education, encouragement and enforcement. David Attenborough did our (existing) campaign a favour with Blue Planet, and the Council do try hard, but it would be good to have more signs and messages down there about the impact. Campaigns like #PlasticFreePledge (started by fellow SAS rep Claire Potter) need to be taken up by more cafes and bars (and customers) and bigger discounts for punters taking their own cups. Cafes and events like the marathons need to be licensed more strictly by the Council to reduce waste. We know the Council are thinking about this and we welcome it. I would also like to see a ‘city tax’ of £1 / night in hotels and AirBnBs to help pay for the clean-up. On enforcement, I would like to see the Council increasing the fines for littering and increasing patrols on the beaches – like they do with traffic fines and wardens – and our beaches being monitored for plastic pollution as well as bacteria and viruses in the sea.
Could you tell me a little more about any particularly effective campaigns that yourself and/or Surfers Against Sewage have been involved in around the Brighton area?
We got thousands of signatures on our Message in a Bottle petition that helped Parliament (led by Caroline Lucas) to look at a deposit on plastic bottles and other single use drink bottles. We were also instrumental in persuading the Council to approve two motions to tackle plastic pollution in the city – we expect the results soon. And we are very proud of the work we do organising beach cleans with other community groups like Pier2Pier and the Deans Grab volunteers.
If you’re interested in taking part in any beach cleans to support this amazing cause, see the Pier2Pier website.
If you’d like to learn more about Surfers Against Sewage or want to get involved, click here.