Saving the planet, blue or green, is no easy task under the best of circumstances. Knowing first-hand how challenging this work can be, I’m always inspired by activists who manage to stay focused on and committed to a job that can bring down the staunchest among us. And since Save Our Shores Executive Director Laura Kasa is regularly quoted in reference to positive environmental measures from plastic waste to coastal cleanup, I spotted an opportunity for some welcome advice.
So I’ll start with a reader question: how many people would you guess are employed by Save our Shores? This highly visible organization so active in organizing Santa Cruz Coastal Cleanup Days, tabling at every local environmental event and tirelessly initiating protective legislation must require a huge staff to be so effective right? At least I thought so until I checked out their web site.
There are a total of six SOS staff members (seven if you count Denali, the office mascot and dog). This compelling detail brings to mind Margaret Mead’s often-referenced quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
So how does this inspiring leader stays motivated, focused and even sane in the face of persistent ocean adversity? Read on to learn more
EB: What initially drew to you Save Our Shores?
LK: I was working on the East Coast in the nonprofit field and while I was gaining great experience, I was not feeling passionate about the work. I got my graduate degree in Environmental Policy and I kept feeling like I should be using my skills to protect what I love. When I came across SOS, I found a 30 year organization that had such a great history, I knew it would be a great opportunity to help with local coastal protection.
EB: What are some recent initiatives your organization has spearheaded?
LK: It’s been probably the most successful advocacy year we’ve had at SOS this year, so thank you for asking. Our biggest win was probably the styrofoam ban in Salinas. This was an issue that was brought up 3 years ago and it took a lot of grassroots work to get it finally passed here in this inland city – the largest in Monterey County.
We also were the lead group to work with the County of Santa Cruz to craft the single use bag ordinance and get it passed last month. I also worked directly with the mayor of Capitola to expand the styrofoam ban beyond just restaurant take out containers, to retail stores selling any type of styrofoam disposable products. This is the first ban of it’s kind that I know of.
We worked with the City of Santa Cruz to ban the purchase of single use plastic water bottles in any City offices. This is a first in any area we have been working in. We also got the City of Half Moon Bay to ban styrofoam in May after 2 years of trying to make that happen. And we got the City of Marina to ban styrofoam this month after working with them for over a year to make it a priority. We’re working with the City of Monterey on a single use bag ban. They are voting on Tuesday. So lots of progress this year – of course more to go – but it’s been a great year for gaining some traction on these issues.
EB: That one organization can accomplish so much within a year is nothing short of amazing. But it’s got to be challenging to stay passionate about a cause when there are so many factors working against you. How do you stay motivated?
LK: The passion is within me and something that continues to drive me. The opposition may be tiring, but it’s also what motivates me. When I see that the big plastics industry has tons of money and influence to get to our government officials to protect their industry at the expense of our environment, I am moved to work even harder, with our little budget and small staff, to make our voice heard.
What is inspiring is that with the data that we’ve collected on the trash we’ve prevented from going into our ocean, we have real power that can actually fight the arguments of the plastics industry. Seeing us turn around the attitude in Salinas to bring out 22 people to speak in support of a styrofoam ban and convincing the council to vote 6-1 to approve, those are the wins that are so inspirational, and make me believe that anything is possible. If an inland city with some very real problems, can even take the time to do the right thing, and ban a toxic product, there is definitely hope.
EB: What is your favorite thing about your work?
LK: It’s my dream job so pretty much I love almost everything about my job – but I’d have to say it’s the people I work with. To actually look forward to going in to the office every day because I am surrounded by such equally passionate people is something to truly be grateful for. This includes the SOS staff and all of the wonderful volunteers, who don’t even get paid to help protect the ocean but do it anyway, in their free time, and always with a smile on their face – now that’s inspiration!
EB: What is your biggest job-related challenge?
LK: This is an easy one to answer. The fact that our whole mission is to protect the ocean – the ocean that provides us with the air we breathe to sustain life itself – you would think there would be unlimited funding to support our efforts. Yet when I came to SOS, there was hardly any funding left. I spent those first two years grant writing like crazy.
And we have been able to raise money every year, but with the downturn in the economy the past three years, our grants have been cut back considerably. In fact the state just cut $100,000 from us for next year, that’s 20 percent of our budget. Just when the state is saying they may close some of our local beaches, which means SOS will need to be out there doing more cleanup work, they are cutting our funding and forcing us to look to the community for support so we don’t have to cut any of our programs.
We’re calling it the California Challenge and we’re trying to raise $100,000 a year for the next three years from the community because we are determined to keep our programs going strong. So in answer to your question, my biggest job-related challenge is this California Challenge.
EB: What key initiatives or legislation are you hoping to see enacted in the next 12 months?
LK: Our dream is that all jurisdictions surrounding the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary ban plastic bags and Styrofoam. I’m looking forward to seeing Monterey, Carmel and Pacific Grove all banning plastic bags in the next year and I’m really hoping Sand City, the only coastal town in Monterey County holding out, will ban Styrofoam. I’d love to see the State ban Styrofoam next year as we worked very hard on this bill this year and it fell very short.
EB: What can local ocean lovers do to support you?
LK: We coordinate 10,000 volunteers but we can always use more volunteers for our Dockwalker events and beach and river cleanups. We just started an Adopt-A-Levee program and we’d love to get more people involved in keeping the San Lorenzo clean. If people don’t have the time to come out and help protect the ocean, their tax-deductible donation goes a very long way in helping us continue our cleanup and education programs.
Donations can easily be made at www.saveourshores/donate. Even just texting “SOS” to 20222 will send us $5 toward our programs and imagine if every ocean loving person did that – what good shape the ocean would be in!