Coastal Crusader

Cindy Zipf hopes to put an end to all threats of ocean pollution through Clean Ocean Action, an advocacy group she's helmed since 1984.

Cindy Zipf of Rumson, shown during a recent Beach Sweep at Sandy Hook, has helmed the Clean Ocean Action advocacy group since its inception in 1984. Zipf hopes to put an end to all threats of ocean pollution—and be out of a job—in the near future.
Photo by Colin Archer/Agency New Jersey.

Cindy Zipf dreams of the day when the stretch of ocean from Cape May to Montauk is forever spared the threat of pollution.

In this Clean Ocean Zone, as she calls it, there would be no more proposals for oil drilling, natural gas ports or dumping of dredge spoils. She wouldn’t have to organize rallies, persuade legislators or counterpunch tough industrial lobbyists. The waters would support only a recreational economy: fishing, surfing, boating, diving.

“Very few people work really hard to put themselves out of a job,” says Zipf, the Rumson native who leads Clean Ocean Action (COA), the state’s most vocal marine-advocacy group. “I would really love to be put out of a job and just get back to the beach and enjoy myself.”

Zipf has been at the helm of Sandy Hook-based COA since it spun off from the American Littoral Society in 1984, tasked with advocating for the end of ocean dumping. At the time, New York and New Jersey were the only states in the nation that still allowed industrial dumping into open ocean.

Fifteen years of organizing protests and reaching out to lawmakers and opinion shapers helped achieve the closure of all eight blue-water dump sites that held everything from acid and industrial waste to sewage sludge and construction rubble.

Putting a lid on ocean dumping is COA’s claim to fame, but it hardly put Zipf out of work. Now her eight-member team, which includes a staff scientist and a coastal-policy attorney, routinely sounds the alarm on any proposal they deem a threat to the deep.

That includes showing up at public hearings to lambast federal plans to explore the Atlantic for oil and organizing hundreds of people to protest a liquefied natural gas port off Asbury Park (which Governor Christie vetoed last year).

The group also is known for its Beach Sweeps, held every April and October. Hundreds of children and their parents come from all corners of the state to pick up beach trash and document it for an international database of coastal refuse.  “What a testimony to society in that data,” Zipf says. “We’ve just seen an avalanche of plastics.”

There has been less cigarette trash as smoking rates have fallen, Zipf says, but there has been no shortage of garbage oddities. Recovered at April’s sweep: an adult-sized Elmo costume, typewriters and a prosthetic leg.

Come August, Tour for the Shore will rally  support for participants who are charting a course, via land and sea, from Cape May to Montauk to raise awareness of the envisioned Clean Ocean Zone.

Some in our densely populated area may dismiss Zipf’s vision as wishful thinking, but she says even the incremental gains keep her going: “These moments where people come together and drive public policy to save the bounty of the ocean for future generations are really inspiring.”

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