Saturday, January 20, 2018

Keeper of Clean Waters

September 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 


 keeper of clean waters 1

Marc Yaggi waterkeeperWhile we’re out boating, the sad reality is that we often spot trash. You scoop it out, but you wonder how dirty water affects everything — boating, marine creatures, and safe drinking levels. Marc Yaggi and the Waterkeeper Alliance think about that as well, as they work to protect our precious water resources all over the world.

The organization, started in 1999, protects rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways on six continents. Yaggi, the executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, answered questions about his job, the organization, and the state of the world’s water.

Michael Griffin: What is the Waterkeeper Alliance?

Marc Yaggi: Our mission statement is to strengthen and grow a global network of grassroots leaders protecting everyone’s right to clean water. Ultimately, we want to ensure that all of the Earth’s habitable watersheds are protected and we want to be sure to provide these grassroots advocates with first class training that will enable them to be the best and brightest advocates on the planet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I started at Waterkeeper Alliance in 2005, we had 100 Waterkeepers. Today, we have nearly 300 Waterkeepers in 34 countries. Together, they patrol and protect nearly 2.5 million square miles of watersheds across the globe. The Waterkeepers are all very diverse with different languages, cultures, religions, and legal and political frameworks. However, they share the firm belief that everyone has a right to clean water and they are fighting for a world where everyone can swim in their local waterway without fear of getting sick, drink from their local water source without fear of drinking toxins, and eat a fish without fear of mercury or PCB poisoning. Waterkeepers keep our waterways clean so we can use and enjoy them through a variety of activities, like sailing, paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, powerboating, and more.

MG: What’s your background?

MY: I loved working on issues in my backyard – in the community where I lived and worked. I still proudly tell people that I was lucky enough to work to protect New York City’s drinking water supply. At the same time, while I was in law school in the mid-1990s, I got to watch Waterkeeper Alliance form and evolve, and I had such a strong belief in the model that I decided to use my time and talents to help support community leaders all around the world in their fight for clean water.

MG: What’s the future hold for cleaner waters?  

MY: When I think about the future, I think about the world I want to leave behind for my children. I don’t want to leave them a mess to clean up, or worse, a mess that can never be cleaned up. Leaving them a better world means giving them a place where they have the infrastructure — clean air, clean water, plentiful forests and more — to support healthy life and reward hard work and ingenuity. My biggest fear is that I will look back 20 years from now and wonder if there was more I could have done to ensure a safe and healthy future for them. We owe it to future generations to give them a better world than what we inherited. In his new book, John Hope Bryant, harkening to the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement, wrote that “We make America better, stronger, more resilient, more valuable, and more valued when the nation has the benefit of everyone rowing in the waters of prosperity, dignity, and human aspiration.” The same is true of the world — we are strongest when we are united, and we will only succeed in this fight to save our planet when everyone is empowered to do so. Everyone must come together to create a world where we can all row in the waters of prosperity, dignity, and human aspiration. That is the world I plan to leave for my children, and that is the future I imagine.

Marc Yaggi in BhutanMG: How do people get involved with Waterkeepers?

MY: When people want to get more involved in our work, we always first refer them to contact their local Waterkeeper and become involved in their programs. You can find your local Waterkeeper organization by visiting We are also active on social media — follow our work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Finally, we put out an incredible publication twice a year

MG: What can boaters do to clean the water?

MY: There are a few things boaters can do to protect clean water. They can make sure to use sewage pumpout programs, and by properly cleaning their boats, they can take care to not transport aquatic invasive species from one waterway to another. Finally, a huge way to protect clean water is to get people out on the water. In his book Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols writes, “We know instinctively that being by water makes us healthier, happier, reduces stress, and brings us peace.” The way people seek out and interact with bodies of water to cleanse and heal the body and the mind is universal, and I’ve seen it myself around the world. People always seem to find a deeper connection with themselves, with their environment, and with other people when they are immersed in nature: by a lake, near a river, on top of a mountain, or in the forest. Getting out on the water helps people feel deeply connected to their waterway, which makes them feel responsible for its well-being. So please, take people out on boats!

By Michael Griffin


Marc Yaggi discusses his greatest success and challenge, and videos
MG: What has been your greatest success with Waterkeeper?
MY: Seeing this movement grow all over the world and watching local citizens stand up for their communities and their waterways. When I first started at Waterkeeper Alliance, I had the opportunity to go to Senegal, West Africa, to meet with some villagers in Hann Bay about potentially starting a Waterkeeper there. This was a village soccer club that had seen their local waterway ruined by pollution. They later became Hann Baykeeper and used advocacy to convince the Government of Senegal, the French Development Agency and the European Investment Bank to commit $68 million to fund a cleanup of Hann Bay. Additionally, their ongoing work and partnership with key local advocates ultimately led to the suspension of construction of a coal-fired power plant. Hann Baykeeper has been a leader in the fight against the pollution that has long impoverished fishermen, sickened villagers, and fouled Hann Bay’s beaches. Those success stories are by far what I am most proud of in all our work over the years.

MG: What has been the biggest challenge you face?
MY: Everyone needs clean water and recognizes that clean water is important. But as a society, we haven’t gotten to a point yet where illegal water pollution violations are viewed as serious as crimes like bank robbery, arson, auto theft, or driving under the influence. Then you have a situation like the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, where these children were born with an unlimited amount of learning potential, which was then compromised when they unknowingly consumed lead through their drinking water. How is that not just as bad as any other crime? How is it not even worse?

In many cases our current government system is rigged so that many politicians are more beholden to the polluters funding them than they are to the people they were elected to represent. This results in agencies and officials turning a blind eye to serious pollution violations, which is why it is so important to have locally based grassroots advocates to hold these officials and polluters accountable and who are willing to step in and do the government’s job when necessary.

is a native New Yorker who has many fond memories of going deep-sea fishing in his youth. He lives near Long Island with his wife, son, and cat (who is sitting in his lap as he types this).

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