Advocacy Spotlight: Clean Ocean Action Celebrates 40 Years - The Fisherman

Advocacy Spotlight: Clean Ocean Action Celebrates 40 Years

Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action gives a presentation on industrial offshore wind at the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association during the summer of 2023.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  -Margaret Mead

Back in 1983, the American Littoral Society’s (ALS) Ocean Dumping Task Force was formed, led by Dery Bennett. The Task Force included members of fishing, diving, environmental and business groups. Some of the member groups included the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, The Asbury Park Fishing Club, United Boatman of New Jersey, and New York and The New Jersey Council of Scuba Diving Clubs. The group worked to identify dumpsites and worked to get the dumping stopped.

In 1982, Cindy Zipf joined the ALS team as an intern. Her job was to keep track of dumping. As the Task Force grew, it would ultimately spin off a brand new organization called Clean Ocean Action (COA) which would officially come to life in 1984 with Cindy Zipf as the coordinator. A 501(c)3 tax exempt nonprofit organization entering its 40th year of operation in 2024, COA has a Board of Directors representing varied interests including commercial and recreational fishing, business, diving, education, environmental and concerned citizens.

I remember as a member of the Jersey Coast Shark Anglers hearing stories about guys running offshore to go tuna fishing only to hit huge pilings, suffering hull and gear damage, having to limp back. That was as a result of the “burn barges,” where barges carried scrap wood, pilings, old docks, and the like to a certain area where they would set them on fire. Once totally burned, the remnants would be dumped.  In actuality, some of the barges lit the wood, waited a bit and then dumped their loads well before they were burned. COA ultimately helped put an end to it.

Here is a sample timeline showing COA’s accomplishments and involvements in its first 30 years.

1984:               The waters off NY and NJ are the dumping capital of the world. COA is established.

1987–1988:    Raw sewage, sludge balls, medical waste, dead and dying dolphins, and garbage slicks wash up on the beaches causing beach closures etc. COA launches a multifaceted campaign.

1988:               Ocean incineration of toxic waste off the Jersey Coast. It stopped due to public opposition…

1989:               Last acid dumper, Allied Signal, stops dumping due to massive opposition and 15 Mile Acid Dump closes.

1992:               Wood burning off Manasquan ends. The fight against ocean dumping of DIOXIN contaminated sludge starts.

1995:               Dumping of DIOXIN contaminated dredge materials is declared illegal.

2000:               New Jersey prohibits ocean dumping of PCB contaminated mud.

2009:               COA debuts “Keep us free from LNG” video.

2011:               Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Port vetoed

2012:               Blockage of four offshore LNG ports, as well as decades of oil and gas drilling proposals.

2015:               New York vetoes the Liberty Natural Gas plan.

By no means is this a complete list. There’s also COA’s water quality monitoring and pollution track down programs, the Rally for the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers and Barnegat Bay, along with the COA Beach Sweeps which began 39 years ago and include volunteers conducting cleanups in 2024 at over 70 sites from Englewood to Cape May. As of today, over 8.3 million pieces of litter have been removed from our beaches. Debris is collected and recorded. It is then presented in a report to various federal, state and local agencies to reduce litter.

Another one of COA’s programs is the Student Environmental Advocates and Leaders (SEAL) program. The program gets “teens from underserved areas in the Monmouth County area to become environmental leaders within their communities.”  In addition, through COA’s Summer Internship Program, “select students are engaged in exciting opportunities to gain experience in environmental education, policy and law, public engagement and outreach and marine science.”

Over all these years, the organization continues to protect the ocean from pollution and industrialization.

And then came industrial offshore wind.

Beach Sweep Volunteers Alish Soma and daughter River along the Raritan Bayshore at Keyport with Clean Ocean Action’s Swarna Muthukrishnan.

A Foul Wind Blows

The Ocean Wind 1 and 2 projects were supposed to be the first of five offshore wind facilities to be developed in a 400,000-acre area off New Jersey’s Central and South Jersey coasts off southern Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May Counties.  On Halloween night, 2023, the industrial wind developers at Ørsted made the stunning announcement that they were ceasing development of the Ocean Wind 1 and Ocean Wind 2 projects at the Jersey Shore.  The Danish corporation cited macroeconomic factors, high inflation, rising interest rates and supply chain bottlenecks in their decision to walk away from industrializing those two lease areas.

New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, responded to Ørsted’s cancellation announcement by saying, “Today’s decision by Ørsted to abandon its commitments to New Jersey is outrageous and calls into question the company’s credibility and competence.”  Then in January 2024, British Petroleum (BP) and Equinor announced that they too were canceling a major offshore wind contract with New York State known as Empire Wind 2 which was expected to be installed 15 to 30 miles off the coast in between New Jersey and Long Island, NY.  According to an official statement from Equinor, the delay has been caused by “inflation, interest rates and supply chain disruptions.” While the project is not cancelled yet, it is clear that the fiscal concerns are serious.

In addition to Ørsted’s current hold on Ocean Wind (#21), British Petroleum and Equinor announced that they too were putting a pause on their Empire Wind 2 project (#19). But as per the charts provided by the federal government, there are many more in the works.

True to mission, the issue was less about inflation and interest rates for the folks at COA, and more about extensive industrial offshore wind impacts to the marine environment, including species already “on the brink”.  In official comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in 2021 – COA had the following to say of Empire Offshore Wind, LLC’s proposed wind energy facilities:

“The NY/NJ Bight is rich with diverse species and extraordinary natural features. Species diversity in the NY/NJ Bight include over 30 species of whales and dolphins, including the endangered Northern Atlantic right whale; five species of sea turtles; 300 species of fish; 350 species of birds; four species of seals; hundreds of invertebrates, eels and other species; and 20 threatened and endangered species.”

“During the leasing and planning phases of offshore wind development, BOEM only reviews impacts that are ‘reasonably foreseeable.’ As a result, cumulative effects and extensive, precautionary steps have taken a back seat,” COA said in a statement.  While not opposed to responsible and reasonable offshore wind development, the organization stressed the need for peer-reviewed science, good governance, and due diligence based on a pilot-scale project, with ecosystem monitoring and assessments developed, implemented, and evaluated by independent scientists.

There are pages and pages of material available on this matter. And of course, as of this writing, the two Ocean Wind sites (Ørsted) and Empire Wind 2 (BP and Equinor) planned for development off the Jersey Coast are suddenly in question.  The foreign energy giants – BP is British Petroleum, Ørsted is based in Denmark and Equinor is headquartered in Norway – claim supply chain issues and higher costs. Maybe immense pressure from groups like COA gave them second thoughts?

Clean Ocean Action has been at the forefront of ocean dumping and remediation efforts since its founding in New Jersey 40 years ago.

Final Thoughts

There have been a few unfair statements regarding COA over the years, one being that the group is anti-fishing. There is nothing to support that claim that I have seen (see Jim Hutchinson’s Editor’s Log on page 3).  Another misconception is that COA is run by one person, which is also not correct. There is a Board of Trustees that oversees the policies, operation and programs of COA, and a professional staff of dedicated ocean defenders that work non-stop.

Clean Ocean Action Headquarters
49 Avenel Blvd.
Long Branch, NJ 07740

Field Office
Gateway National Recreation Area
Sandy Hook, New Jersey

Phone: 732-872-0111

In a September 25, 2023, article in the Asbury Park Press called “Jersey Shore 2024 Most Influential: Beach Advocacy,” the Monmouth County based newspaper stated “COA has scored huge victories over the years, particularly when it comes to ocean dumping. Younger residents of the Jersey Shore may not remember the 1980s, when medical waste wash ups, dying fish and sewage pollution led to dozens of beach closures. It took 15 years of convincing lawmakers and regular protests for the eight dump sites off New Jersey and New York to be finally shut down.”

If you want to know more about Clean Ocean Action’s programs, activities and campaigns give them a call or email them. They are also available to speak at your club or group.

We’ll see you out there.



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