Monterey >> Area restaurants are getting an education about ocean sustainability thanks to a group of Monterey Peninsula students promoting an initiative asking them to cut back on the use of Styrofoam, plastics and other materials harmful to Monterey Bay.
Dubbed “Ocean Friendly Restaurants,” the program was started by the Surfrider Foundation and embraced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. It is the platform students from Seaside’s Chartwell School are using to fulfill their service curriculum requirement this quarter.
On Friday, a dozen of the high school age kids received an overview of the Seafood Watch program, a lecture by its business program manager Simone Jones about fisheries and the seafood supply food chain and a tour by the aquarium’s executive chef Matt Beaudin. It was all part of a half-day training session held at the aquarium and geared to provide the students with tools to help local eateries become certified under the “Ocean Friendly Restaurants” banner.
“For us, our job as chefs is to hopefully inspire change,” said Beaudin, who on Friday gave the students a tour of the aquarium’s kitchen and food preparation room. “To show them they can truly make a difference through food is amazing.”
In his work for Seafood Watch, a program established to help consumers and businesses make choices for the sake of healthy oceans, Beaudin has strived to create a blueprint of sustainability for other restaurants to follow. “Bringing the region’s farms and fishing boats directly to the table” is his mantra.
He shared his message with students to help them then do the same when approaching nearby restaurants. Earlier, during her lecture, Jones noted the progress that had been made in Monterey since the days when the sardine canneries polluted the bay.
“Sea otters were gone and there were hardly any whales,” said Jones. “Our bay didn’t look like what it is today. We live in an area that is an example of how things can change.”
Students will use what they learned Friday and continue to visit and try to enroll local restaurants in the program.
It was Chartwell teacher Valerie Gaino who originally approached Surfrider Monterey Chair Kevin Miller looking for volunteering opportunities for her more environmentally-minded students. How it evolved into working with restaurants, she couldn’t have foreseen. But so far Gaino’s students seem to be responding.
“They have the ability here to take ownership of their work and see directly how it affects the community,” said Gaino, who noted the students would be working on the project for the next three months. Chartwell is a small private school that offers project-based curriculum for students with language-based learning differences.
“This is not just traditional volunteering,” said Miller, who described Surfrider’s beach cleanups as the organization’s “bread-and-butter” program. “This is great for these high school students. Instead, they’re learning how to start a nonprofit.”
So far, Miller said Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove has signed on.
Yet, Chartwell junior Will Surber, 16, said it was a Surfrider beach cleanup where he picked up as much as 2,500 pieces of trash and other objects in just two hours that instigated him to want to further promote the message of ocean and seafood sustainability.
“This is really a bigger deal than I imagined. It’s trying to get the message throughout restaurants so they don’t let the waste from us pollute the bay,” said Surber. “At the very least, we can help restaurants be more aware of what they’re doing.”
Carly Mayberry can be reached at 831-726-4363.