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This week at POW Canada we’ve launched our summer campaign We Are Nature, and in it we’ve introduced one of our core brand pillars: protected nature. But what do we mean when we bring up such a broad topic that covers a massive range of issues and potential solutions?

Put simply, we as humans need to think about how we view our relationship with nature. We’re not separate from the natural world, we are part of it; its ecosystems and its balance. If we can re-establish this connection, we can begin to work with nature in the fight for climate, not against it. By protecting, restoring and living in partnership with nature, we can pull carbon from the atmosphere, adapt to changing climates and improve the resilience of human and non-human species alike.

In Canada, a country with 3 coasts and 20% of the world’s freshwater reserves, protecting water may be the best place to start. Our national identity is shaped by our glaciers, rivers, and lakes (not to mention the longest coastline in the world at over 243,000km). Keeping our waterways healthy is critical to the sustainability of our ecosystems, our biodiversity and our well-being.

Patagonia is certainly no stranger to environmental activism, and protecting water has always been at the core of that. Whether it’s protecting their local surf break in Ventura from real estate development, advocating for the removal of dams on Washington’s Snake River to protect salmon spawning grounds or supporting the Tsleil-Waututh nation in their fight against Trans Mountain Pipeline tanker ships polluting the inlet they call home. The conservation of waterways is a consistent element in Patagonia’s corporate ethos.

To maximize their impact, Patagonia has developed a program called Patagonia Action Works - an online portal that connects users to local environmental groups taking action in their communities. It’s through this portal that we found Surfrider’s June beach cleanup event, at Vancouver’s popular and beautiful Kitsilano beach. So down to the beach we went on June 10th to meet with volunteers, participants and Brian Andrews, Chair of Surfrider Vancouver. Because, what better timing for this than World Oceans Week!

Surfrider has had Patagonia as a partner since the very beginning. Each of their corporate stores in North America partner with their local chapters to participate in collab events (like beach clean ups), in-store tablings, volunteer opportunities, and grants. “They are our local mailing address, an annual event space and conduit to like minded individuals and organizations” gratefully mentioned Brian. 

Surfrider was founded in 1984 in California by a group of surfers who were seeing and experiencing first hand the deterioration of the beaches they loved so much. If they were not taking action, not one else would. Their mission: dedicated to the protection of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people, through a powerful activist network. Their approach is through a grassroots, volunteer-based organization. Fast-forward a couple of decades and Surfrider Canada was born. So far, they’ve had over 700 campaigns become victories. 

We know a very similar story, but in a much colder environment... Just as we do, Surfrider is driven by areas of focus like plastic reduction, ocean protection, beach access, coast & climate and clean water. The whole point is to protect the places we recreate and make it accessible to as many people as possible and for future generations. 

Despite the cold and grey morning, over 80 participants showed up ready to clean up Kits Beach. Gloves, buckets and picker were distributed and off everybody went. At first glance, the beach didn't look too bad. But the results were sadly impressive...

- 2,928 cigarette butts were picked up

- In total, 70 pounds of trash were cleaned up from the area in 1.5h

- 36 pounds of the total were diverted from the landfill

We asked Brian what were the most common items found in beach clean-ups and the answer was clear : cigarette butts. They also tend to find a lot of beach party waste such as beer cans and bottles and the infamous red cup. On a larger scale, micro plastics and foam fragments are also recurrent offenders. To raise awareness about the staggering number of cigarette butts collected during clean-ups, Surfrider Vancouver devised a highly creative (albeit repulsive) approach—the cigarette butts orca. At the time of the Kits Beach clean-up, this artistic representation comprised more than 3,000 cigarette butts. The nearly 3,000 additional butts collected on that day were set aside to complete the remaining portion of the installation.

The piece serves as a reminder and a call to action to join them in building a coalition to see how we can reduce and stop cigarette butts from entering our waterways. Like Brian pointed out "Smoking is legal, so how can we each do our part?" Speaking of doing our part, we asked Brian if had some insights into what individual actions we can take to protect our waterways, and it’s pretty simple. Limit your use of single use items, properly dispose of your waste, pick up what you can when you see it and support organizations and politicians who wish to address excess waste and protect our oceans, beaches and waves. If you want to go a little further, you can sign their petition on polystyrene pollution or make your dollars speak by encouraging ocean friendly businesses

To truly protect our waterways, action is needed at both the local and national levels. When these pieces come together, that's when we start to see real systemic change.

Local actions like Surfrider's beach clean-ups help to inspire people by taking tangible actions to better their communities. When these grassroots events are supported by large organizations like Patagonia, their impact is even greater. On a federal level, we can protect water by telling our government that it needs to make biodiversity legislation a priority. Add your name to our petition asking for the federal government to commit to protecting 30% of all Canadian lands and ocean by 2030, because healthy land and water benefit us all.

So let’s tune in, listen, and take action to preserve the beauty and resilience of our favourite playgrounds. After all, we are part of the ecosystems we live in and that’s why protecting nature is an act of self-defense.

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