Heal the Ocean (HTO) was formed in August 1998 in Santa Barbara, California, in response to the closing of local beaches due to bacteria. Its original organizers are Hillary Hauser, a journalist who has covered marine topics – both internationally and in Santa Barbara – for over 40 years, and Jeff Young, a practicing attorney in Santa Barbara who once owned an oyster farm that was polluted out of business in the late 1980s. It is a citizens’ action group that began with Hauser’s newspaper editorial, published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on August 9, 1998, called “Another Day at the Beach?” The piece prompted a huge outpouring of emotional support and calls for action within the community. In response, a public demonstration took place at the Santa Barbara County administration building on August 27, 1998 in support of clean waters and clean beaches, with this community outcry giving rise to Heal the Ocean.

In our early years HTO tackled the septic systems at Rincon, a world class surfing area in Santa Barbara County. We were the first environmental organization in the county to do DNA testing in the environment in order to identify the origins of contamination. While bureaucrats and the public alike argued about the sources of pollution at Rincon, HTO raised $36,000 for this DNA study, and the results were conclusive…the pollution in the Rincon Lagoon was attributable to humans.

After countless hours of advocacy and support by Heal the Ocean at key stages of the project over fifteen years, the South Coast Beaches Communities Septic to Sewer Project is complete, meaning that seven miles of Santa Barbara coastline are now free of septic systems. 

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