An Interview With Ocean Blue Project Founder And Executive Director Richard Arterbury

We always love to hear from those whom are at the forefront of ocean conservation and we were fortunate enough to speak with Ocean Blue Project Founder and Director Richard Arterbury.

Ocean Blue Project is a non-profit organization whose Mission is to protect and conserve the world’s ocean, beaches, and rivers, through education and awareness, by providing service learning projects, enhancing wildlife habitat, cleaning beaches and rivers, and by reducing pollution.  

Q: Can you tell us a little about Ocean Blue Project?
Ocean Blue was founded in 2012 by my 9 year old son, Fleet, and me. Our mission is to protect and conserve the world’s ocean, beaches, and rivers, through education and awareness, by providing service learning projects, enhancing wildlife habitat, cleaning beaches and rivers, and by reducing pollution. 

Q: What are your overall goals of your organization?
First is to educate youth and inspire them to become stewards of the environment. This year, we are removing 100,000 pounds of debris and microplastics from beaches, rivers, and the Ocean. We also have a goal to plant 1 million trees by 2025. 

Q: What caused you to get involved in ocean conservation?
The impact. So after the first beach cleanup we had some college students wanting to do beach cleanups and after seeing how much debris was being removed, I decided that if the effort was developed into a nonprofit then college students and other people from communities could use the nonprofit to fulfill their needs of wanting to give back to the environment and pursue their own dreams. 

Then we started to work with fungi trying to remove E. coli and other pathogens from waterways. The Associated Press got a hold of it and it hit world news and what I knew was that all the pollution runoff is from cities that’s getting into urban streams, then rivers, and into the Ocean. What I also knew is that oil drips from cars start out as a toxin that breaks down into a pathogen and it gets into urban streams and then rivers. Basically, if urban streams are eroding, that stuff is immediately going to the larger tributaries and rivers that’s going to the ocean. If you’re planting trees in those urban streams then you’re lowering pollution. 

It kind of gave me hope because I figured out after working with college students on these holistic restoration projects that we can use fungi, trees, and native plants as a strategy to lower not only E. coli, but other toxins, sediments, and pathogens. I also knew that most of the pollution was in our city streets that was getting into street drains, from cigarette filters and microplastics, then going straight into the river that leads to the Ocean. We use a holistic approach of cleaning up the beach, which is one part of it, and the planting in urban streams is another essential piece. Our Ocean is a mirror reflection of our city streets. 

Q: What projects has Ocean Blue Project worked on had and what have you all accomplished?
We aim to host 200 beach cleanups a year and we’re able to remove 100,000 pounds of debris from beaches and rivers. We’re working with several foundations to restore tributaries and rivers through riparian projects to lower water temperatures, erosion, create habitat for wildlife animals, which directly helps with climate change and red tide. 

We are moving forward in collaboration with NASA at Ames in California to identify DNA aspects of fungi used to clean up coastal region oil spills in the United States. We are looking at the DNA and the genome factors of how it all works, like which fungi strain is resilient, which one works better, and how does it work
.

Q: Are there any new programs down the road that you would like to see the organization be a part of or work on?
Yes, we are looking to reach out internationally for national disasters from sea level rise. We are also looking to lower red tide pollution in the Florida Gulf region. Across the U.S. we want to work closer with local and federal government agencies to lower oil runoff, pathogens, phosphorus, nitrates, pollution before it enters urban streams or rivers. 

Q: There are a lot of people today whom are very interested in being part of ocean conservation on a regular basis but a lot of the organizations today are not equipped to handle full-scale volunteering or there is not funding available for full-time employment. With so many people whom are ready to be involved in conservation, how do you think it is possible for organizations to find ways to get people more involved?
Ocean Blue has a great program to get folks involved called Create a Cleanup. This empowers anyone almost anywhere to lead their own cleanup event and we walk them through every step of the process, provide insurance, and help obtain permits from landowners to make it happen. Businesses, college students, clubs, high school groups, you name it, have reached out to us to make a cleanup happen and everyone really enjoys doing it and feels good about the impact they’re making in their local communities on their own time. 

Q: While there are many whom do want to be part of helping protect the ocean, there is a large portion of the population who are either unaware of current issues regarding the ocean or do not care. Do you think it is possible to change the mind-set of people and if so, how?
It’s cultural change and this happens at a youth level through early education and awareness. Before recycling was common practice, there was a major push to educate youth in schools on what and how to recycle. Students would go home and teach their parents and this is how the change happened and why people are recycling on a mass scale today. The same is being done through our Blue Schools program where we go into schools and inspire youth to create their own community cleanups and planting events. 

Q: Are you working on anything that help public awareness outside of the conservation community?
We played a Movie on the Beach in Long Beach, Washington a few times to get people out to the beach. It was a challenge to get locals there to volunteer for cleanups. There were a few dedicated beach cleaners, but other than that, people would not come to beach cleanups there. We used a local social media group to create a presence and so folks knew that Ocean Blue cleaned beaches and also had movies on the beach, which were a big hit and had around 100 people. So, when we run into communities who are not welcoming and have a bad taste for environmental nonprofits and conservationists, we just have fun with them and keep it light in hopes that in the future people will come around to the idea that cleaning the beach is an important community endeavor. 

Q: There are a lot of challenges coming from many different places for ocean conservation but in your mind, what do you think is the biggest and how do you see the future of this problem being handled? 
We will have major change with more research showing how plastic is causing havoc to our health. With headline news, we’re learning that plastic is in not only in fish, but in humans. We’re going to see policy change getting rid of single use plastics and innovative products that are single use that aren’t plastic-based. 

The biggest challenge by far, is that no one is willing, either due to disbelief or just not wanting to change, as sea level rises oil refineries are going under water. For instance, when you look at sea level rise, we have a good idea of what areas are going to be underwater. We have a good idea of how many millions of people will be displaced, but we have no plan of action for what will happen to oil refineries, let alone the people who are all going to be underwater, which will cause even greater stress on our Ocean. We’re not preparing, and what should be happening with the federal government right now is saying, this place isn’t going to be there anymore, and we need to clean this mess up before it’s underwater. 

The other thing is that we know that organisms in the Ocean create oxygen and that it filters carbon dioxide, but instead of working to help that filter by planting more trees, we’re not. It should be on the #1 list of things to do in the United States. All schools should be required to plant trees, the federal government should be providing trees, and we should be planting, planting, planting, but we’re not. We should really be trying to shade the areas that are getting hotter. An example is, look at the red tide. Do you think that comes from cold water? No, it comes from water that’s heating up, warm water temperatures. 

If you want to learn more about Ocean Blue Project, what else they are working on or starting your own beach clean-up, please head over to oceanblueproject.org.

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