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Activist Spotlight: Steve Arnam With the Chicago Chapter

Q: What is your current role with the Surfrider Foundation?
I am the Great Lakes Conservation Consultant.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?
I've actually been involved with the Surfrider Foundation in some way or another since its conception back when I was living in California. Over the years I've worked with a number of nonprofit environmentalist organizations, but it wasn't until I met Mitch McNeil on Lake Michigan about five years ago that I really took on this new role in the Chicago Chapter. 

I'm a marine biologist by trade, and I've been a teacher in Chicago for a while now. I encourage my students to come out to beach cleanups and participate in water quality testing. It's a great way for kids who may struggle in the classroom to get engaged with real-world applications of biology and chemistry, and a lot of students end up really getting into ocean conservation. 

Steve Arman with the Chicago Surfrider Chapter.

Q: What are some environmental issues that are affecting your local community?
Well, there's always plastics. 

Here on Lake Michigan, we're also dealing with all of the nasty stuff and chemicals that BP and U.S. Steel release into the waterways and the lake. Most everyone that lives on Lake Michigan drinks that water, so it's a pretty big health issue. Not to mention the effects these chemicals have on us surfers: rashes, eye sores, nausea... it gets pretty nasty.  

Steve Arman with the Chicago Surfrider Chapter collecting water samples

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?
I organize a lot of our beach cleanups. I'm grateful to work with some excellent volunteers that keep coming out and supporting the community.

We're teaming up with some other organizations to fight the development of this pipeline in Lake Michigan. It's old, it's rusting, and if it breaks, we have toxic crude oil in the lake. 

Q: Are there any specific projects that you have worked on which benefited your community? If so, can you tell us about that?
This past summer, we were instrumental in suing the EPA — not for any money, just to get them to do their job and stop the input of toxins into our lake. And that was a victory! It's a big deal for us, but it's also a big deal for every other person who lives on the lakes.


Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience (i.e., campaign, program, victory)?
Last year, I had the opportunity to go to Hill Day at Washington D.C. and talk with our representatives. Most of the Illinois politicians are willing to lobby for us, because they know safe drinking water is a good thing, whether their constituents live on the beach or not. 

It was very moving to go to the capitol with so many Surfrider people. It really put into perspective what we're trying to do in Chicago because we got a chance to visit the offices of the representatives we vote for and really be involved at a new level. At the end of the day, we're not just a group of surfers — we're fighting for our health, and luckily our representatives understand that. 

Steve Arman with the Chicago Surfrider Chapter holding a signed surfboard at Surfrider Coastal Recreation Hill day in Washington D.C

Q: What can Surfrider do to foster an inclusive and welcoming experience? Do you have any examples from your experience where this is successfully happening?
Keep doing what they're doing! Get people on the beach for beach cleanups, and hopefully they'll become members. 

It's important to celebrate and appreciate the work that our volunteers are putting in. We work really hard here in Chicago to clean our beaches and organize events. When I went to the New Jersey conference, I got to see all the projects that other chapters had going on, which was inspiring. 

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?
I tell them that we are working for them, to ensure they'll be healthy when they go out into the water. Health is the main concern. Surfrider is for everyone — we want everyone to be involved. You don't have to be a surfer! Every recreational person on the beach is welcome. 

When you donate to Surfrider, it's not going to waste. 

Q: Why is being a part of the Surfrider ocean conservation community important to you?
It's important for sustainability and the planet. It's all about sustainability. Every person has an invested stake in the ocean, whether they live on the coast or not. Everything that's water— creek, rivers, streams — will end up in the ocean. That includes chemicals, which can leak into waterways. The water cycle is so important to the functioning of this planet because it is all connected. And Surfrider does a good job of making that connection. 

Q: Anything else?
Being a SCUBA diver and SCUBA instructor, I'm underwater as well as on top of the water and next to the water. Part of my life is seeing the problems that we create down at the bottom of the underwater environment.

Steve Arman with the Chicago Surfrider Chapter scuba diving with a shark