This blog is part of our ‘Vision for the Ocean’ series.
Launched on World Ocean Day, the series showcases inspirational stories of people and organisations who are seeking to protect the ocean and all it makes possible. We’re proud to call all these ocean lovers our friends and our partners in the fight for our blue planet.
By working together, we can achieve a thriving ocean, thriving people.
Dr Chris Mann is a surfer and long-time member and supporter of Surfers Against Sewage. He is the Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of Bennamann, a clean energy company in Cornwall.
Hi Chris – where did your journey with Surfers Against Sewage begin?
My journey with surfing and the ocean began in the summer of 1982 on a camping trip to the Westcountry. In Newquay I rented a red pop-out and with no instruction (nor wax!) I somehow managed to catch a broken roller at Great Western.
Behind the white water I could see standing figures traversing unbroken waves. I vowed that I would someday do that.
For the rest of my physics degree I was landlocked, but in 1985 I dragged some friends down to Newquay hiring pop-outs, (lots of wax this time, on the underside!) but I was still hooked. The journey from London then was 7-10 hours.
I became aware of the issues the planet faced when I joined the Space Science department at the Rutherford Appleton Lab near Oxford. We developed sensors that could image the damage CFC’s where then doing to the ozone layer. The eventual proof forced the signing of the Montreal protocol to ban CFC’s and as a result the ozone layer is slowly repairing itself. It will be a long time before it will be fully healed, but this proves that things can be reversed. The Greenhouse effect and global warming and climate change were then starting to hit the news.
From Oxfordshire, my friends and I hunted for the closest reliable surf break and honed in on Porthcawl and the Gower. We made many friends there all wearing lairy luminous wetsuits surfing in the terrible pollution there.
Many of the breaks had no screening on the sewage and industrial effluent outfall pipes so floating ‘grottsam’ (flotsam + grot) included everything you could imagine that could be flushed down the loo, or poured down a drain. Pollution like this was commonplace, but with the rapid growth of surfing it was no longer unseen. We all suffered from various chronic infections and bugs usually kept at bay by a pint of Hurlimans lager or five at the Pier Hotel.
Fortunately SAS was formed and, over my surfing career, has been instrumental in achieving the improvements we have seen to date – but the work is far from over.
As the road network improved my surf spots slowly moved south, finally settling in Cornwall in 2000 with my family. My local break is Mawgan Porth. We still get the sewage pollution events on the Menalhyl River but there is another issue that is now dominating the sea quality and safety, and this is the run off of slurry, manure and silage from livestock farms. This is becoming a crisis for both sea, soil and water courses alike.
As climate change starts to kick in tropical-like cloud bursts are common and if they consistently happen over a slurry lagoon it can fill in days and weeks rather than months. The resulting run-off flows over saturated ground into the waterways killing wildlife and poisoning the sea.
My company Bennamann is now working hard with Cornwall council and farmers to not only solve the issue but also provide a completely sustainable fuel and extra income for the farmers. Slurry lagoons produce copious amounts of biogas which contains CO2 and methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than CO2. We capture it and convert it into a clean fuel that can power tractors, trucks and mobile generators that can power the farm or used to charge mobile electric vehicles.
My vision is to see the seas and waterways of UK and beyond returned to their natural state, i.e., crystal clear, and full of diverse life.
A huge thank you to Chris for sharing his story. If you’d like to join our community of Members supporting Surfers Against Sewage, visit our membership page.