Art by Bob AulWhen the Surfrider Foundation launched its Web site (www.surfrider.org) in 1995, it had a grandiose budget of $0. Last year, that zoomed to $25,000; this year, site producer Mark Babski expects it to hit $45,000, and next year, he's predicting he'll get $60K to run the site. And the great thing, Babski says, is that Surfrider is actually turning a profit.
"It's a revenue-generating site—by a long shot," he said. "It's our best source of memberships. People ask, 'Who's making money on the Web?' Surfrider is."
Even if you've never heard of the Surfrider Foundation, you've seen their work. The national nonprofit organization, based in San Clemente, has been a thorn in the side of coastal polluters since 1984. Dedicated to conserving the world's coastlines, the foundation's 44 chapters sponsor water testing, coastal mapping, documenting environmental resources and other programs. They're the folks who go around patiently stenciling NO DUMPING on storm drains. And they dedicate an enormous amount of time to educating beach-goers about the dangers of pollution.
So a Web site seemed a logical step. "Surfrider is very much involved in raising people's awareness of coastal and environmental issues," Babski says. "Education is part of our mission. So having a Web site and being able to get our message out to the public was a natural fit."
But starting at the end of the month, Babski hopes to use the Internet not for reaching out to the public but to improve communication within the organization. One of Surfrider's most visible programs is its Blue Water Task Force, a collection of volunteers (often students) nationwide who test coastal water samples for various pollutants. By the end of May, Babski aims to have an online database that will let volunteers enter their testing results on a private Surfrider page and then instantly see said results on Surfrider's public site.
"The students who take the water-quality tests will be able to go to a password-protected Web page—so random people can't go in and change the database—and input the test results onto a form," Babski says. "Surfrider will get that information as soon as they input it, which is great because we've been having major problems getting testing results. There's a long paper trail, and it's a pain and not very efficient.
"And for the students," he added, "they can type in their water-testing results and get a stoke—as we surfers say—from immediately going to the Surfrider site and seeing their results online."
For his initial run, Babski recruited students from several schools in San Clemente, including Shorecliffs Middle School. Surfrider plans to test the program with its San Clemente chapter to work out the kinks and then hopefully take it nationwide.
"Most of our chapters are also doing water testing and have the same problems," he says. "With this system, we'll be able to publish the results instantaneously and get them in the database right away. It's going to be a huge step up for Surfrider. We're using the Web not only to reach the public but also to improve internal Surfrider communications and effectiveness. Our Web site is helping us to be fast-acting, communicate well and build coalitions."
Which isn't to say there isn't a lot for the public to nosh on as well. While random folks may not contribute to the database, they can certainly see the results on the public Surfrider site. The site already posts daily-water quality updates from throughout California—including a perennial warning about the eternally filthy Aliso Creek runoff in Laguna Beach. And while it's sprawling and complex, the site is well-organized and intuitively easy to use. You can check out what the waves are doing near you, educate yourself on coastal preservation, learn what you can do to help, and even buy stuff from the online catalog. And all of this is maintained pretty much by one guy:Babski.
"It's a one-person show, but the content comes from the whole Surfrider community, and content makes a Web site," Babski said. "I just try to present it in a way that downloads quickly and let the content speak for itself."