Michael Regan is the Chairman of the Central Long Island Surfrider Foundation Chapter. Based out of Long Beach, Michael leads the local fight against over use of plastics as well as recently agains offshore drilling off the New York and New Jersey coastlines. Their work is invaluable in raising awareness for our shared ocean resource, pushing for pro-environment legislation, and getting out there to help clean it up.
Where were you born and raised? How has your life today been influenced by your roots?
I was born on Long Island and grew up in Lynbrook. My family has been on Long Island for a couple of generations, always towards the south shore. As a kid, my Mom used to take us to the beach all the time and my brothers and I always enjoyed playing in the ocean. I lived in the city for several years, but always spent summers at the beach. As my own family grew and we decided to leave the city, the logical decision was to find a beach community we could raise our children.
The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. How did you come to participate in the Central Long Island Chapter out of Long Beach, NY?
I feel like anyone, in any community, should be somewhat selfishly interested in health and safety of where they live. Living in a beach community, your concerns tend to be focused on the the beach and by extension, the ocean and surrounding waterways. I spend much of my leisure time enjoying water sports; surfing, swimming, body surfing, stand up paddle boarding, etc. and my kids participate in several of these sports as well. So I’m very keyed in to my environment, the tides, the waves, and of course the health of the ocean. I’m also an “avid” recycler, always trying to recycle as much as I can and this crossed over to my time on the beach a my concern for trash I’d find. Maybe a bit of an OCD kind of thing. So a friend and former neighbor was the Chairman of the chapter for two years and I admired their efforts. I had recently attended one of the city’s chapter meetings where Chad Nelsen had just assumed the role of CEO and was really jazzed on the whole program. We got to talking and he said his two year tenure was coming to a close and I immediately expressed interest in stepping into the position if that was an option. I was put in touch with the Regional Director John Weber, we talked about what commitment was required, and a month or so later, I was voted into the Chairman position. I’ve now been Chair for about 3 years and we have an amazing Executive Committee who are really dedicated to our efforts.
Its assumed that some people become complacent when thinking about participating in non-profit work. A common excuse of “What the point? Im one person”. What are some misconceptions that you have encountered with expanding the reach of your volunteer network?
It’s not so much complacent, but frustrating that people can be so nonchalant and apathetic about events or situations that could affect them so adversely. And it can be disappointing when you spend a fair amount of effort arranging an event or a beach clean up and the turnout is less than stellar. But I’m very much a glass-half-full kind of person and see the power in the difference we’ve made, even if it’s only a handful of people who’ve made the effort. What’s important is that people realize every hand counts and even if you haven’t made a seismic different, you’ve made a difference.
Often the maladie gets more attention than the victory. Tell us of some significant victories the Central Long Island Chapter has had and larger than just here at home, what are some successes the global organization that is SurfRider has had?
While there is an overarching architecture guiding our environmental mission, Surfrider is structured in a way that empowers the chapters with the ability to focus on local issues that affect our community. Our most significant victory in recent times was the veto of a proposed liquefied natural gas port off the coast of Long Island and New Jersey. Liberty Liquefied Natural Gas Company (LNG) wanted to build a floating gas port off our coast. Surfrider was opposed for a host of obvious reasons: the desire to move away from fossil fuels, the impact it would have on the ocean floor, the fear of spills or accidents, the increased boat traffic, the fact that it would encourage fracking in the mid-Atlantic region. This was a big focus for us a few years ago and with a whole lot of collective effort from our Chapter, the city Chapter, and other like-minded organizations, we defeated the proposal.
Another big victory for us was for the City of Long Beach to adopt a program designed to eliminate single-use plastic bags. This went into effect in April 2017 on Earth Day where during the event, Surfrider handed out over 1000 reusable canvas bags to help encourage the community to embrace the newly enacted ordinance. While there’s still some challenges associated with enforcement, I understand this has reduced the number of plastic bags distributed by over 70%.
We are all Surfriders, but for those who do not know, what exactly is a Surfrider? How could a potential supporter from the interior of our country possibly identify with being a surfrider?
There’s sometimes a misconception that Surfrider is an organization focused on surfing. More than once we’ve been approached during a beach clean up or event and someone will ask us if this is where they go to take surfing lessons. Surfrider was founded by surfers and their concerns for the environment. What people need to be mindful of is that our oceans are the reason there is life on this planet. We can’t survive without them. So the health of our oceans are something that everyone should be concerned about, whether they live on the shore or have never been to the beach in their lives.
Tell us of some active campaigns that Surfrider is actively running?
Surfrider as an organization has a series of campaigns they’ve been running for years, several of which the Central Long Island Chapter participates in. Rise Against Plastics is a campaign aimed towards reducing our consumption of plastic goods, particularly single use plastics such as cups, utensils, and bags. Fighting against expanding offshore drilling is another campaign that’s come into focus, given executive orders coming out of our current administration. As a Chapter, one of our goals in 2018 is to roll out the Ocean Friendly Restaurant Campaign. This is a program whereby restaurants pledge to abide by a series of business guidelines demonstrating a level of environmentally conscious efforts in their business practice that awards them the OFR seal of approval. Avoiding the use of plastic straws, using cloth napkins and reusable utensils for dine-in service, avoiding the use of styrofoam take-out packaging are just some of the items that contribute to this seal of approval.
When you think about where you live and how it has been negatively affected by environmental neglect, what do you see and experience?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a “glass half full” type of guy. So what I see is the positive effects of environmental steps that have been taken over the course of my lifetime. The amount of marine life we’re seeing in our waters in the last few years is unlike anything I’ve seen. They stopped waste-dumping a dozen or so miles off our shores a couple of decades ago. Now we’re seeing whales and dolphins, not just as a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing, but as part of the natural ecosystem. And when you’re out on your surfboard, and you have pods of dolphins around you and whales beaching less than a 100 yards away from you, you can’t help but be humbled and inspired to ensure that your actions, and the actions of others, do everything to ensure that biodiversity thrives.
What are some simple things that people can integrate into their daily lives to reduce their personal impact on the environment? We cannot expect everyone to go and drive an electric car, or install solar panels on their house, or live a plant based diet. However, there must be some simple things that people can do that have large positive impact on their own lives and their communities. Tell us a bit about it.
It starts with having some awareness about your footprint and making steps to reduce that footprint. We live in a very plastic, single use society and being mindful of how you can change your daily practices can add up. Bring reusable bags with you when you shop. Avoid using plastic straws. Carry a reusable water bottle with you. If you eat at a fast food restaurant and you don’t plan on taking your drink with you, then don’t take a plastic lid. Water is a valuable resource so don’t leave the sink on while you’re doing the dishes or brushing your teeth. Pay attention to where your food is sourced. Shop locally to minimize the amount of gas you consume. Recycle every chance you get. Leave the beach cleaner than when you arrived. I could go on for a while here but the point is, live an enlightened life knowing that you’re not where the earth started and you’re not where it ends. You need to leave the world a better place and if you approach your daily practices with this ethos, the answers are everywhere.
How can people find you? When and where are some upcoming events for folks to come and obtain some information.
The Central Long Island Chapter holds regular meetings, typically the third Wednesday of every month. We’re still in the planning stages for 2018 but I can assure you we’ll be kicking off our Spring Season with our 7th Annual Canal Clean Up in Long Beach this April. Our website, which can be found at www.centralli.surfrider.org, posts a calendar of upcoming events. We can also be found on Facebook and Instagram and we also send out regular email updates to those who join our mailing list. But I encourage everyone to a become a member. We’re an organization of local volunteers and with a small tax-deductible membership fee you can help ensure we have the funds we need to continue our campaigns.