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And yet, still the masses come, lured by surf, sand, and laid-back lifestyles. Call it the Jimmy Buffett syndrome. Every week more than 3,300 new residents land in southern California, while another 4,800 hit Florida's shores. Every day 1,500 new homes rise along the U.S. coastline. More than half the nation's population now lives in coastal counties, which amount to only 17 percent of the land in the lower 48. In 2003 coastal watersheds generated over six trillion dollars, more than half the national economy, making them among our most valuable assets. Yet two blue-ribbon bipartisan panels—the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, convened by the Pew Trusts and the U.S. Congress, respectively—recently issued disturbing reports that found the coasts are being battered by an array of pollution and population pressures. Former Secretary of Energy Adm. James D. Watkins—not exactly a wild-eyed environmentalist—chaired the U.S. commission and laid it out for Congress:

"Our failure to properly manage the human activities that affect the nation's oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes is compromising their ecological integrity . . . threatening human health, and putting our future at risk."

What follows are stories of people with salt water in their veins, who, in ways large and small, are having an impact on our shores.

I. Surfing's Dynamic Duo

In which a surfer and his wife ride a wave of clean water populism into San Diego's city hall

In the tattooed, slash-and-burn circus that passes for surf culture these days, Harry Richard "Skip" Frye is the sport's Fred Astaire, a quiet, God-fearing surfer and surfboard shaper, whose unmistakable style on and off the water speaks louder than his words. At a time in his life when many of his contemporaries are contemplating bypass surgery, Frye spent his 64th birthday surfing for hours in head-high surf, riding everything from monster 12-foot (four-meter) longboards to short high-speed "fish" designs that he helped immortalize in the 1960s. To anyone who has ever tried to sit on a surfboard, much less paddle one in big surf, the feat was impressive. But what truly impressed the lifeguards, who let him in to San Onofre State Park early, was the hour he spent forgoing the fantastic waves to pick up trash along the beach.

"In Genesis, God lays it out," says Frye as he dusts off his latest creation—an alabaster fish with so many subtle curves da Vinci could appreciate its potential for flight. "We're in charge of Earth, but we have a responsibility to take care of it."

It's a responsibility Frye has been taking seriously for years, going back to the days when he used to pick up garbage around Harrys', the old-school surf shop that he and friend Harry "Hank" Warner ran for years just off the boardwalk at Pacific Beach. The strip of beach shops and bars serves as party central for much of San Diego, hitting a peak on the Fourth of July. July 5 is now officially dubbed by local beach activists the "morning after mess." Says Frye: "It's like they took the landfill, backed it up, and dumped it on the beach. It's the sickest thing you can imagine. I used to get very down on the human race."

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