Swell Folks: Lilly Woodbury of Surfrider Pacific Rim

Photos by Nicole Holman

If you’ve been on a Tofino beach, you’ve seen the work of Surfrider Foundation, or rather, you haven’t seen their work. From removing literal tons of trash from the coast, to educational campaigns, Surfrider’s influence is one aimed at keeping a light human touch on the coast, or as their mission statement puts it: The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. The main offices in California and a network of chapters numbering a few dozen strong and based all around North America’s coastlines. In Tofino and Ucluelet, Lilly Woodbury is the Chapter Manager of Surfrider Pacific Rim, and helps lead local initiatives. We sat down with her to hear about what they get up to around here, and what they’re doing to reduce garbage during COVID-19.

How did you get started with the Surfrider Foundation?

I had just graduated University. There were only a few of us, you know crew volunteers. We just hit the ground running and really built it out from having no initiative to having 8 to 9 initiatives. Now we have tons of victories under our belt.

The cleanups you have done are kind of legendary.

[Laughter] Oh yeah, we do some pretty remote cleanups, and that’s where you get the most bang for your buck. That’s where most of the debris is. Local places are sweet…as local people are always keeping them clean, but when you go into remote places like Barkley Sound, all of the fishing and aquaculture gear is getting washed up there. We get some pretty big hauls. Last summer we did the Broken Group Islands for eight days. In that period, it was like two semi-trucks of debris. It’s definitely wild.

I like that your messaging isn’t too preachy. It seems more focused on action instead of guilt.

This is why we try to take an intersectional approach to it. We used to really advocate to get rid of single use plastics, you know, put the emphasis on the consumer. And that’s a popular narrative. But not everyone has the same advantages or privileges. If you don’t have a lot of food, you’re not going to turn down the cheapest foods, and they’re packaged in plastic. So that’s why we we’re trying to tap more into the systemic side of everything, to create institutional change and regulatory change. It’s not reality to put it solely onto consumers and put it on the individuals to make the change. We’re always working towards like local policy change in acting bylaws but trying to even take it a step further and really work with the province in federal government on policy recommendations. We are finishing a project right now with the University of Victoria’s environmental law centre. They are creating a report for us on recycled content standards so it’s going to create that impetus to get recycling into a greater degree.

Seems like pretty big goals.

We can become bigger and become like a leading national voice on plastic pollution and climate change, because they’re pretty much pieces of the same puzzle.

So tell us about the new packaging program, and how COVID ties into it.

As we start to open up the coast, you know a big focus is continuing to embrace the refill and reuse revolution. I think a lot of people have become really scared during this pandemic of risk of transmission because of reusing reusable vessels. But we debunk the fear. Check it out here. Plastics aren’t inherently safer, so we really want people to continue to use sanitized reusable vessels, and and not use single use plastics. The other thing we are promoting the #5minutebeachcleanup. In the end, our goal is to create an Ocean Friendly Corridor between Tofino and Ucluelet by 2022 that is free from single-use plastic takeaway packaging while implementing a localized circular economy by diverting waste from landfill, keeping materials in use, and regenerating the breathtaking ecosystems we’re woven into.

To learn more about Surfrider, visit their website here.

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