One Man Spreading the Word for Surfrider Foundation
When it comes to ocean issues, "we're at a real critical time right now . . . . almost a tipping point," according to John Weber.
A recent report indicated that "the world's fisheries, so many of them, are about to collapse," said Weber, East Coast regional manager for the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group.
Global warming is "affecting ocean ecosystems like coral reefs," said Weber, 38, a Bradley Beach resident since 1991.
"These could have catastrophic consequences," he said. "So that's why it's a tipping point, because I think we're still at the point we could do something if we act now, and if we act now (we might be able to make a difference)."
Weber's job with the international organization is to help volunteers in seven Surfrider chapters in five states, including New Jersey, he said.
Surfrider's "mission is to protect and preserve the world's oceans, waves and beaches for everybody to enjoy," Weber said.
And he said he thinks "we've been incredibly effective at winning local victories that make a real difference," including several that gained access to surfing spots in New Jersey.
Another plus involved preserving the surf off Sandy Hook, Weber said.
The Surfers' Environmental Alliance and the Surfrider Foundation sought changes in a beach replenishment project at Sandy Hook several years ago, preserving the popular Big Cove surf break.
Meanwhile, the separate Monmouth County ocean beach restoration project wiped out other surfing spots, according to Weber.
It took a few years for surf to return in some places, Weber said. In others, "it's been struggling to come back," he said.
"As we go forward, with all . . . the beach fills planned, we'd like to take what we've learned and see future beach fills done in such a way that doesn't impact the surf so much," as well as fishing and swimming safety, he said.
Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation group based on Sandy Hook, said he thinks Weber has brought a new energy and focus to "long-standing problems and issues along the Jersey Shore."
They include beach replenishment, public access and overdevelopment, Dillingham said.
Clearly, Weber's "focus on community outreach and . . . working with kids is central to . . . changing public perceptions about these problems" and getting people to listen to possible solutions, he said.
Born in Paterson, Weber grew up in Bergen County.
And for as long as he can remember, his family has had a house on Long Beach Island.
"Summers on Long Beach Island — that's basically what got me hooked," Weber said.
He began surfing, which has "grown incredibly in popularity," when he was 12, he said.
He now surfs a couple of times a week when the waves are good, he said.
Once he was in high school and then in college, he wanted to focus on something that would "allow me to study or work in the environment," said Weber, a biology major.
Since then, he's worked pretty much exclusively for nonprofit organizations, including the New Jersey Environmental Federation and New Jersey Citizen Action, Weber said.
He began volunteering for Surfrider in the mid-1990s and "just enjoyed it," he said.
"There are a lot of opportunities . . . to get the public involved" and reach people with the Surfrider message, Weber said.
He began his new job in May 2005 and has been busy helping Surfrider chapters from South Jersey through Massachusetts, he said.
While ocean water quality in New Jersey generally is pretty good, at least in the summer months, based on Surfrider reports, public access has been "spotty," Weber said.
But he thinks access will improve if the state adopts proposed rules, he said.
"The Jersey Shore is a great, great place, and what we really need to keep an eye on is making sure that development does not make it unrecognizable," he said.
BY TODD B. BATES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER