Eco-Surfers Making Waves in Chile

Movie Filmed by ‘Extreme Environmentalists’ Aims To Save Communities And To Humble CELCO

Chilean flag

Josh Berry first came to Chile in 2001 as an exchange student. But six years later, he is still here. An accomplished surfer and outspoken environmentalist, he now works as an ambassador for the Save the Waves Coalition – a Californian based non-profit organization committed to saving top surf spots around the world from coastal development. Berry spearheads grassroots campaigns in Chile aimed at developing environmental consciousness and helping seaside communities maintain their traditional lifestyles.

In 2004, Berry founded the non-profit Chilean group Proplaya, which focuses on coastal cleanups and efforts to protect beaches from garbage and pollution. Berry and the Proplaya team travel the coast of Chile, inviting children and their families to help in the marine preservation. Proplaya even provides lunch for its volunteer participants.

Berry recently completed a documentary film – “Pulp, Poo, and Perfection: A Green Surfer Story” – scheduled to premier in June at the San Sebastian Surf Film Festival in Spain. The film chronicles local efforts to deter the construction of a sewage pipeline by the Sanitary Services of the BioBío Company (Essbio) in Chile’s surfing mecca of Pichilemu (ST, January 24).

Additionally, Berry and Save the Waves founder Will Henry are collaborating on a new film called “All Points South.” The movie will be shot entirely in Chile and will feature professional surfers riding world renowned waves in southern Chile endangered by pollution from Celulosa Aruaco (CELCO) pulp mills.

The production of cellulose – converting low-grade wood fiber into pulp for paper products – creates significant amounts of toxic waste (ST, Oct. 30, 2006). The resulting environmental degradation is strongly condemned by coastal fishermen and environmental activists (ST, April 27).

On April 28, Berry met in Santiago with fellow travelers from the Save the Waves coalition to begin production of “All Points South.” Berry, Henry, and their accompanying team of surfers, filmmakers and “Eco-Warriors” traveled south to the coastal villages near Pichilemu, Constitución, and Valdivia to film the on-going struggle between local fishermen and CELCO. Their goal: to capture the natural beauty that these small coastal communities stand to lose.

The subplot of “All Points South” will relate the life of Chilean surfing prodigy Ramon Navarro. Born into a family of fishermen and raised in Pichilemu, Navarro has always held an immense passion for the ocean. Henry describes him as, “a great spokesmen for the environment and for the preservation of the oceans resources” and “a great example of a Chilean surfer.” Navarro will explain his concerns about CELCO pulp mills and the cost the Celco waste emissions will have for communities relying on the ocean for their livelihood. Navarro’s collaboration with the project will give an identity to Chile’s surfing scene and provide an inside look into a grassroots conservation movement led by Chileans.

CELCO’S WAVE OF DESTRUCTION

The message of “All Points South” extends beyond damage to fishing communities. It will argue that if CELCO is allowed to continue operating without regard for the environment, there will be serious consequences for Chile’s wine, farming, and tourist industries. Henry maintains that CELCO is an enormous liability for the government and the pulp industry, and that repercussions will undoubtedly be felt for decades into the future.

Berry and Henry understand that CELCO’s pulp mills play a significant role in Chile’s economy. But they want CELCO to accept responsibility for it waste products and to start cleaning up their toxic residues. Save the Waves is petitioning CELCO to use close-circuit paper production methods that are chlorine-free. The company now uses elemental chlorine free chemicals. Although these are considered to be the least toxic of chlorines, they are still extremely hazardous.

CELCO asserts that the company is dumping clean waste, but Berry and Henry are not convinced. “The city of Constitución smells like death,” said Berry. “They claim their technology is clean, they claim the water they’re dumping is cleaner than when it comes in, but there is a track record with this industry, and we are here to shed light on these things. We are looking for a sustainable alternative. If CELCO cleaned up their plant they would create more jobs, a better image, and save more money in the long run”.

“THE TRUTH IS ON OUR SIDE”

Save the Waves is confronted with a daunting task. The non-profit organization works on less than US$1 million annually, but is facing a corporate titan that earned US$619 million in 2006 (ST, March 2). It is David versus Goliath kind of battle. But as Henry adamantly proclaims, “The truth is on our side. We are trying to protect people and we are trying to protect an industry that stands to lose a lot if it does not clean up its act.”

CELCO’s environmental track record is hardly worth bragging about. In 2004, thousands of rare black-necked swans died due to high water pollution levels in the Carlos Anwandter wetland sanctuary, just 20 miles downstream from the CELCO plant (ST, Feb 8) on the Cruces River. The ensuing public uproar forced the company to “voluntarily” shut down operations, but only for a short while. Environmental authorities allowed the plant to continue polluting, although they required it to function at less than full capacity.

Chile’s powerful Angellini group owns CELCO, and the company has curried favor with the center-left political parties that have ruled Chile since its return to democracy in 1990. Former President Ricardo Lagos worked to assure that CELCO received minimum sanctions for its environmental transgressions, and encouraged the company to seek an ocean outlet for its waste products. This, of course, angered the communities on the Cruces River, where the waste is still being deposited, and the oceanside communities where the waste may ultimately be pumped.

Lagos, remarkably enough, was appointed this week by the U.N. to lead a world-wide consciousness raising effort on global warming (ST, May 2). (Ed. Note: See related feature story on the Lagos appointment below.)

Currently, CELCO faces over 15 lawsuits from people who allege its toxic emissions are contaminating their communities’ waters supplies and polluting the air (ST, March 2).

With so much controversy surrounding CELCO pulp mills, one would think there would overwhelming support for better environmental laws and greater enforcement.

“The biggest challenge at the moment is gaining a sympathetic ear with the government,” said Henry. And although he hopes to see changes begin during the mandate of President Michelle Bachelet, Henry acknowledges this is “a long term process”.

Although Save the Waves is U.S. based, it has strong international support. Berry and Henry are adamant in telling people they are not working for U.S. interests.

Henry said he learned that “thinking like an American” and protesting will only lead to government officials viewing the group as “radical.” His is a much more diplomatic approach, he insists, seeking grounds for agreement between all parties.

Save the Wave will continue to promote its cause – “to show that waves are often more valuable than the projects that threaten to replace them, and that waves are a unique and irreplaceable resource that should be preserved at all costs.” The release of “All Points South” will necessarily move further the group’s mission and help preserve lifestyles unique to Chile’s coastal waters.

Words by Yanni Peary

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