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Noozhawk is teaming up with local nonprofits to encourage you to take part in this international day of giving, which takes place on November 28th, 2023.
The holiday season is not just about receiving, but also about giving to those in need. Our Good for Santa Barbara Nonprofit Section provides all the resources you need to donate this Giving Tuesday!
In this interview, Noozhawk spoke with Jasmin Tupy, Operations Manager at Heal the Ocean, to learn more about how the nonprofit is dedicated t0 providing wastewater infrastructure improvement and the prevention of ocean pollution.
Heal the Ocean
Question: What is the name and mission of your nonprofit?
Answer: Heal the Ocean (HTO), a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Santa Barbara, is dedicated to wastewater infrastructure improvement and the prevention of ocean pollution. The organization’s programs include capping leaking oil wells, removing derelict boats that wash ashore, cleaning up abandoned homeless encampments in environmentally sensitive areas, fostering collaborative Styrofoam recycling initiatives, providing dog waste bags for the city and county, and more. We are focused on Santa Barbara County, but our methods are now serving as a model for other coastal communities across the country.
Q: How long has your nonprofit been in service, and who are its founders?
A: HTO was formed in August 1998 in Santa Barbara, California, in response to the closing of local beaches due to bacterial contamination. It was founded by Hillary Hauser, a journalist who covered marine topics – both internationally and in Santa Barbara – for over 40 years, and Jeff Young, a practicing attorney in Santa Barbara who once owned an oyster farm that was forced out of business due to pollution in the late 1980s.
HTO is a citizens’ action group that began with Hauser’s newspaper editorial, published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on August 9, 1998, titled “Another Day at the Beach?” The article, which sharply criticized water quality regulators, sparked a tremendous outpouring of emotional support and calls for action within the community. In response, a public demonstration was held at the Santa Barbara County administration building on August 27, 1998, in support of clean waters and clean beaches, and this community outcry gave rise to HTO.
Q: What was the inspiration behind your nonprofit?
A: When Rincon Point Beach, a world-renowned surfing destination in Santa Barbara County, was closed to the public, surfers reached out to Hillary for help with publicizing a campaign to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors about the polluted water. Getting into the issue, Hillary and Jeff Young took on the business of tracking the source of the pollution – which were the septic systems in use at Rincon Point. With Jeff’s advice, HTO enlisted a DNA lab to sample the Rincon Lagoon – and this way, HTO was the first environmental organization in the country to conduct DNA testing in the environment to identify the origins of contamination.
This DNA study overrode the arguing and bickering of bureaucrats and public health officials about the sources of pollution at Rincon. The DNA tests showed that 20% of the fecal bacteria in the lagoon was human. Following the DNA study, HTO then raised funds for sewer engineering studies, not only for Rincon but also for the neighboring communities up the coast. The project, known as the South Coast Beach Communities Septic-to-Sewer project, took 15 years to complete and ultimately eliminated septic systems from 7 miles of the Santa Barbara south coast, including the Rincon. HTO received numerous commendations for this work.
Q: What types of fundraisers and/or programs does your nonprofit run?
A: HTO is currently engaged in several critical initiatives aimed at addressing environmental issues in our community. These initiatives include:
● Collaborating with State Lands Commission on capping and monitoring leaking oil wells in Summerland
● Leading a geological study of the Summerland oil field geology to determine the best method and approach for abandoning leaking wellheads
● Partnering with MarBorg Industries in an on-going project for Styrofoam repurposing in Santa Barbara to divert Styrofoam from the landfill
● Clearing out homeless encampments and documenting them using GIS mapping
● Aligning with state and federal funding sources to increase recycled water production in Santa Barbara County and the state
● Protecting groundwater resources from septic systems and other pollutants
● Producing updates on Sea Level Rise (SLR); making input on SLR planning documents initiating a “Scope the Coast” project to create a GIS map that will examine how rising seas can push long-buried toxins to the surface of the coast
● Providing dog waste bags at County and City Parks, beaches, and trails to promote cleanliness and protect the environment from the negative impacts of pet waste
These initiatives represent our ongoing commitment to promoting environmental sustainability and addressing critical environmental challenges in our community
As for fundraisers, HTO has an annual “Imaginary” Event, which requires no expenditures on venues or catering services. In this way, 95% of the money we raise goes directly to fund programs. HTO fundraises throughout the year with direct appeals, E-letters, newsletters, and more!
Q: How do people get involved/volunteer for your nonprofit?
A: HTO continues its successful program of facilitating large beach cleanups on the Santa Barbara coastline. We also encourage groups or individuals to lead independent beach and watershed cleanups while we provide cleanup equipment (reusable gloves, sturdy horse feed bags – instead of plastic – for the gathering of beach trash, and free HTO volunteer T-shirts). These efforts result in beach cleaning about once per month. We encourage everyone to follow @healtheoceansb on Instagram and Facebook for volunteer opportunities and local updates.
Q: What makes your nonprofit different from others?
A: “What you seek to change, find the money to do it.” That is HTO’s motto, which means that instead of complaining and demanding change, we raise the funds to pay for it – engineering studies, geological studies and other necessary road maps – then partner with local, county and regional agencies to initiate projects. It is a formula widely hailed by Santa Barbara County and state agencies.
This approach has led to significant accomplishments, such as the removal of 7 miles of septic tanks along the Santa Barbara south coastline, and our effective lobbying for the passage of state legislation has, in one instance, raised $14 million for the California State Lands Commission to begin capping the leaking oil wells off the Summerland coast. Our fundraising pays for a county-wide Styrofoam recycling program that continues to be successfully diverted over 40,000lbs of Styrofoam from entering the Tajiguas Landfill and the environment.
We have also produced funds to hire a first-rate geologic team to do the first geologic study done off Summerland coastline since 1907. We established a dog bag dispenser sponsorship program, where businesses and individuals “buy” a dispenser, with advertising produced by HTO – all of which pays for the dog bags stocked in the dispensers by county and city parks departments. Our goal is to facilitate genuine and lasting positive transformations in our local community.
Q: What is one best kept secret or fun fact about your nonprofit that not everyone knows?
A: When HTO was founded, we thought we had to be like the Monkey Wrench Gang in the Edward Abbey book. We snuck into wastewater plants and took samples to test for viruses – to the point that one of the sanitary districts wrote the HTO Board of Directors that “…if your Executive Director is caught on our premises again, we will take action.” We also scuba dove near sewer outfalls and filmed them.
One of the better stunts we did was climb over fences at the Tajiguas Landfill while regulators were discussing landfill expansion on the pristine Gaviota coast. We made a truly awful (corny!) film and aired it on local television. County officials came back with a response basically laughing at us saying “look at their collection receptacle, it’s a mayonnaise jar.” Eventually, these public officials started working together, and memories of those days have created good laughs between us.
Q: Can you share one or two stories of individuals whose lives have been changed because of your organization?
A: Andrew Velikanje, a formerly homeless individual was “discovered” by Heal the Ocean – and he now works on our homeless camp cleanup campaign through his business, EarthComb. Andrew was discovered by HTO during our cleanup of one of his camps. At that instant, he turned around to help us with the cleanup. With the support of HTO, Andrew was able to obtain his business license, and he now employs homeless individuals to assist in cleaning up abandoned camps. EarthComb, under Andrew’s leadership, has successfully removed 112,600 pounds of litter from local areas, including East Beach, Rincon Beach, Montecito, and more.
In addition, there isn’t a resident in one of the homes along the 7 miles of south Santa Barbara coastline that doesn’t thank us every day for the fact they no longer have sewage backup into their homes because of failing septic systems. Now hooked to municipal sewer service, they can take showers, do the dishes, have guests, etc., without worrying about the weather outside flooding their overloaded leach fields and backing the wastewater into their homes.
Q: How does the work of your nonprofit get communicated to the public?
A: HTO effectively communicates its work to the public through a variety of channels and strategies. These strategies include maintaining an informative website (healtheocean.org) and a dynamic social media presence (Instagram: @healtheoceansb), distributing regular email newsletters, issuing press releases, hosting public events and educational programs, and collaborating with other environmental organizations and government agencies to amplify their reach.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your nonprofit that has not been mentioned above?
A: As surfers, swimmers, divers, boaters, beachgoers, and all-around ocean lovers, HTO and its team of supporters believe we can no longer misuse the ocean. When things are not right in the ocean, it is in each and every one of our natures to do something about it. We are focused on Santa Barbara County, but our methods now serve as a model for other coastal communities across the country. The ocean connects us all and it’s simple: the ocean can no longer be used as a dump.
Click here to support Heal the Ocean’s mission to prevent ocean pollution.
Check out Noozhawk’s Guide to Giving for a full list of nonprofits to donate to this giving season.
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