This Ocean Hero Has Been Fighting for Our Seas for Nearly 20 Years
Here’s what she has to say about protecting our planet—before it's too late.
Hillary Hauser, Executive Director, Heal the Ocean
It all began with her op-ed "Another Day at the Beach?," published in the Santa Barbara News-Press back in 1998. Journalist/scuba diver/ocean activist Hillary Hauser wrote an impassioned plea to her fellow Californians about the plight of Rincon, a world-class surf spot that had closed due to unhealthy levels of bacteria in the water. Today, after nearly two decades of advocating for safe wastewater infrastructure and working with area plants to upgrade their systems to recycled water, seven miles of Santa Barbara coastline—and beyond—are free of septic systems.
Below, Hauser shares her tips on enacting effective environmental change and how she stays motivated while facing the daunting task that is healing the ocean.
Coastal Living: From your perspective, what’s the number one action people can take to help protect the environment?
Hillary Hauser: Act locally, think globally. Think globally, act locally. Just take care of your own backyard. What we do about places like India and third-world countries is another issue, but we’ve got to clean up our own stuff foremost and then do what we can to help.
Related: Sylvia Earle's Message To Climate Change Deniers:
CL: Looking at everything happening as a result of climate change and pollution, do you ever feel hopeless? How do you deal with that?
HH: When it came around that polar bears were disappearing, the damage to the ocean, all that, I got very down and depressed. I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m going to write about what’s beautiful about the ocean, what’s there to be preserved.”
CL: How does Heal the Ocean’s methods compare to those of other groups?
HH: The usual thing is suing and suing and complaining. They complain about A, and once they get A, they complain about B. We have always used our donations to hire consultants and researchers to identify the problem and then to get the money to fix it. Our M.O. is to find the money. Whatever you seek to change, find the money to change it. Don’t just complain and sue and not improve anything.
CL: Do you ever wonder about humankind’s ability to save the planet in time?
HH: When you look at the big picture, [we wonder,] “Have we got such a big moving wheel that we’re slowing it down but it’s still going forward?” We’ve got ocean acidification, of course, that is killing the barrier reef. We’ve got all of this stuff that human beings have put into the ocean, which has just clobbered it. Now we’re moving into pristine areas, now nothing’s off-limits. Those of us in the environmental world have to ask ourselves these questions all the time. Are we doing any good? Is this doable? Can we make a difference?
CL: Do you have an answer to those questions?
HH: We just do what we can. I have moments [where I think], “Oh my god, this is too stressful.” We are small, we haven’t become a great big huge organization. Can we make a difference? Yes. … We were talking about it one day, years ago, and [a woman I was working with at the time] said, “What would it be if we did nothing?” And that’s the answer.
CL: After almost two decades of advocating for our oceans, do you still enjoy what you do?
HH: It’s really rewarding work. The ocean is our friend and the source of life, and it is worth every minute to do what you can to help. We come from the ocean, we are the ocean, we must put nothing in the ocean but love and respect.
Heal the Ocean recommends using liquid detergents instead of powdered, ditching soft-water systems, and buying nonchemical cleaning products. Because wastewater plants are vital environmental tools, it's important not to add toxins to the waste stream that the plants can't process; healtheocean.org.
Responses edited for clarity and conciseness