Surfrider’s Brilliant ‘United States and Oceans of America’ Frames Environmentalism as Patriotism

The elections are over. Hopefully you got your sticker.

And whether your candidate won or lost, there is good news at the end of another week of tumult in America. First, the campaign ads will cease. The second bit of good news: 2018 saw a record turnout for a midterm elections. And now, we should have about a month before the 2020 election cycle begins.

The Surfrider Foundation has taken a bold step with it’s new campaign, framing the health of America’s oceans as a patriotic issue during an age of heightened political activity in America. Photo: Courtesy of Surfrider Foundation

And after so much negative rhetoric, it’s nice to see that the Surfrider Foundation has produced a campaign that is as positive as it is American.

It’s called the United States and Oceans of America and it makes a strong connection between the health of our waterways and American values.

America has 4.5 million square miles of ocean when you look at the EEZ or Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 200 nautical miles offshore. That means we have 23 percent more national waters than we do land. These natural resources are a tremendous point of pride for those who use it. But they’re a significant economic resource, as well. The Surfrider Foundation points to the 2.2 million jobs created by coastal recreation and tourism that contribute $115 billion to the national economy each year.

“The strategy is actually trying to do two things,” Surfrider CEO Chad Nelsen tells ASN. “First, re-frame the ocean as part of America. America has more ocean than land but Americans don’t necessarily feel accountable for the health of the ocean. Second, we want to re-frame ocean and coastal conservation as part of our patriotic responsibility. If you love America you should not only care about our land but also the ocean. Frankly, we could do better at both but we want to start at a common place – our shared love of country.”

The Surfrider Foundation and other ocean-minded organizations are tackling the problems all of America is facing. With plastic particles found in such high concentration in our seas, pollution at recreational beaches costing the U.S. economy more than $2.2 billion last year, and the current administration opening 90 percent of our coastline to potential oil drilling, we face a daunting future that will affect everyone no matter what their party affiliation.

The campaign features a lot of high-profile folks who have long been Surfrider supporters – headlining musicians like Eddie Vedder and Jack Johnson, with notable surfers Lisa Andersen, Carissa Moore, Greg Long, and Kai Lenny.

While those are all figures from the outdoor space, they’ve additionally enlisted Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins, activist/model Carolyn Murphy and speechwriter Dr. Clarence Jones (who co-wrote Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech). It’s symbolized by an American flag with stripes portrayed as waves.

Lisa Anderson is just one of the notable pro surfers flying the flag for this campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Surfrider Foundation

It’s impressive, but that’s not the brilliance of this campaign.

The health of the oceans is an environmental issue, which is generally a priority for the political left. But, traditionally, environmentalism was a non-partisan issue. Teddy Roosevelt was known as a champion of preserving land into the parks and national monuments we have today. Richard Nixon created the EPA. They were both republicans.

The United States and Oceans campaign essentially makes the health of our oceans a patriotism issue.

“Our oceans are a great shared commons that provide food, jobs, economic opportunity, recreation, and fun regardless of your party affiliation,” says Nelsen. “It’s a place where people come together and tend to put our partisans beliefs aside.

“For example, you rarely know (or care) if the family on the beach next to you or the surfer in the line up shares your political beliefs. Instead you are sharing a great day at the beach or trading waves. We all share a love for the ocean and starting with common values is always a good place to start resolving differences.”

“This land is your land. This ocean is your ocean,” claims the new campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Morgan Maassen/Surfrider Foundation

“Of course, it gets more difficult when it comes down to specific issues and trade-offs, whether it’s offshore drilling or National Ocean Policy,” continues Nelsen. “But I believe if we can get all Americans to love and respect the ocean and consider it a part of their civic responsibility, it will be easier to get past the partisan ideologies and focus on all the benefits our oceans provide.”

And the goosebump-inducing video by creative directors Roberto Fernandez and Paco Conde, of the Los Angeles-based branding agency Activista (who are committed to cultural change) and narrated by action sports personality Sal Masekela, is definitely worth a watch. It portrays a sense of national pride, emotionally urging us to take steps in our life to reduce the impacts on the ocean and environment overall.

The video and campaign in general appeal to our sense of patriotism, directly quoting from Woody Guthrie’s 1940 folk song “This Land Is Your Land,” with compelling imagery to make us value the great lands of America and make a logical transition to protecting the seas of America.

G Love (left) and Jack Johnson celebrating the United States and Oceans of America campaign at the recent Sea.Hear.Now festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Photo: Courtesy of Surfrider Foundation

“This is an optimistic campaign,” admits Nelsen. “These are challenging times in America but the ocean represents something special and I believe most Americans feel that way, and this is a call to join us to make sure that we keep our ocean, waves and beaches healthy today and for the future.”

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