Today is International Water Day, an annual day marked by the UN to promote the value and sustainable management of water around the world; it’s also an opportunity to raise awareness for important water-related campaigns. We had a chat with Andy Cummins, Campaigns Director for our friends Surfers Against Sewage, about their Protect Our Waves campaign and why waves matter for all of us.
How did you get involved with SAS?
I’ve been surfing for 20 years now, 20 years ago the coastline was in a terrible state. As a 15 year old kid I didn’t really care about the environment, because before I started surfing the environment was a football field and a youth club. But with surfing the environment widened to include the beach and the sea, and I’d get ill and sick from going in the water. Surfers Against Sewage was an organisation that could represent me as a 15 year old kid and make my voice heard down the corridors of power.
We’ve watched the Killing Waves film, what was it like to be part of that?
It was one of our more enjoyable filming experiences mainly because we got a mixture of everything, there was a lot of detail on the day to day work that we do, we were lucky enough to have Carlos Carneiro ( film director) attend one of our reps events where 20 odd really passionate volunteers from around the country were present. We make sure that they are best equipped with representing SAS all over the UK, and we also got some great waves as well!
You’ve marked out London as one of your “brown spots”. Do you think that because a lot of people live in cities they feel disconnect to the impact that they have on nature, and if people aren’t surfers, why should they care that the Thames is a brown spot?
Its iconic to the city, historically it was seen as a dumping ground and a mode of transport to take pollution away from the city to the coast and that’s obviously had an impact an we’ve seen that reverse slowly but surely.
In the city there is less of a sense of community and less of a sense of ownership, but it doesn’t have to be that way, small changes can make a big difference. If we look at places like New York, it’s one of the highest murder capitals in the US. There was a campaign run for zero tolerance on broken windows and graffiti. Rather than concentrating on preventing murders, they tackled the other end of the spectrum, and looked at knocking out anti-social behaviour, and we can see the benefits working from the bottom up, rather than the top down. It’s that principle that can work for the environment as well. If we all work to tackle the little problems, change our own behaviour, then then those benefits can permeate on a massive scale.
Tell us more about the Protect Our Waves Campaign.
This campaign goes beyond surfing, it’s about ensuring that the environment is improved with the reduction of marine litter, and we need some sort of legal framework that can actually tackle the problem long term because it’s getting worse year after year and we haven’t got a coherent strategy from government to successfully tackle that.
Under POW we are also looking to reduce the amount of sewage overflow that discharges into our rivers and seas. Thames Water have been found guilty by the European Court of Justice for abusing their combined sewer overflow network- what that basically means is millions of gallons of raw sewage are flowing into the river. Examples of the health risks that are associated with that are e-coli and Hepatitis A , so it’s very important that this practice is brought to an end.
What the POW campaign looks to really focus on as well, is promoting waves as a valuable resource. We have national parks that we can understand the value of, we can walk up Snowdonia, look around and be in awe of its beauty. If you turn up to the beach on the right day- the waves can be just as phenomenal. They are incredibly to the country, surfing brings around 16 million to Cornwall alone, and facilitates 1600 jobs all year round, and its relatively small region with about half a million people living here with limited industry, so that’s incredibly important. We see that it touches all the different corners of the country as well. Surprisingly there is a healthy surf scene in London, because it is so central, and surfers can escape to any coast healthy event when the surf’s good at any time.
What can people do to get involved and make a difference?
Sign the POW petition! We are aiming for a 100,000 signatures, and we need another 80,000 this year. Then, we’ll take it to Downing Street and call for a political debate into the value of waves, the environment and restricting those sewage discharges and marine litter. When we have that debate we can then look at reforming current legislation to ensure that the valuable surf spots and the environment are protected for this generation and for future generations to come.