In 1990, Surfrider rallied nearly 300 nature and ocean defenders who, armed with their surf boards, pad- dled down the Adour River in the French Basque country in order to draw attention to the pollution suffered by the shores. The concept for the Keepers of the Coast was born out of this act of citizenship.
From surveillance network to black flags
In 1996, Surfrider set up a coastline surveillance network. This marked the appearance of the first Keepers of the Coast, made up of surfers and association members. It was a simple idea, allowing each citizen to alert Surfrider if they became aware of a beach in danger. In the course of the following years, questionnaires were sent out to Surfrider members to find out more about the state of the beaches and coastlines. In the same year alone, about 250 people responded to these questionnaires. We also started to play a part in the resolution of certain local issues, leading to a first victory in Lostmarc’h (Brittany), where a faulty duct from a sewage treatment plant had caused pollution in the adjoining marshlands and, subsequently, on the beach. Thanks to the volunteers and to Surfrider, the authorities were forced to resolve the problem. In the wake of this event, many more actions were to be organised to fight against pollution and other environmental degradation.
From 1997 onwards, the appearance of the Black Flags aroused a keen interest with the public and the media. These flags became a real symbol for the unhealthiness of the coastlines. They allowed us at the time to draw up a national map of French beaches and to blow the whistle on issues with pollution the public was often unaware of, with the aim of alerting our supporters, local politicians, and the general public. The first Surfrider chapters started to develop (the first was created in 1994). Having real representations in the field became a necessary step as we were confronted with an increase in appeals for help by members, often by means of the Keepers of the Coast programme.
The objectives we had hoped to accomplish with the Black Flags were even exceeded. Thanks to these flags, we managed to attract the attention of the general public to Surfrider’s work, and additionally, we gained credibility and a positive reputation. If debates with water and tourism boards were sometimes stormy, at least this allowed us to point the finger at issues that had previously been ignored. When we stopped the Black Flags, the Keepers of the Coast took over. In order to go beyond simple witness reports, it became necessary to have a formalised programme so that information could be centralised and means of action could be developed. It was then that the Keepers of the Coast programme really began to take shape and gain momentum.
￼￼From reaction to action
Strengthening the Keepers of the Coast Programme – 2007 and Onwards
Due to the increased demand for action in the fight against the threats facing the coastlines, Surfrider decided to further enhance the work of the Keepers. We improved the available logistical and methodological tools, legal and scientific assistance, and media know-how that we can place at the Keepers’ disposal to support them further in their work. The Keepers of the Coast programme goes way beyond the Black Flags, which were limited to taking stock of the condition of coastal waters and to collecting witness reports from the Ocean Community. Besides having representations throughout Europe, the objective is to have a real impact on coastline protection. It is no longer simply a matter of fighting against pollution but also against increasing threats emanating from coastal artificialisation.
Keepers of the Coast at the Forefront of the Battles
Despite sometimes being confronted with battles that may appear lost from the outset, the Keepers still manage to be successful in protecting the environment. They can count on Surfrider Foundation Europe offering them the support and the competencies necessary to redress the balance. We have now acted together and brought home victories for over 20 years.
Keepers of the Coast Today
Since its creation, the Keepers of the Coast programme has achieved no less than 320 victories in Europe and the French overseas departments. Considering the rising number of appeals that we receive every day and the complexity of some of the battles, we need to carry on developing the Keepers of the Coast programme to make it as efficient as possible.