Watch this video to see why we're crushing on the Changing Tides Foundation team. 

When you love something, you do your best to care for it, right? A shared love of the ocean is what inspired mermaids Becky Mendoza, Leah Dawson, Anna Santoro, Leane Darling, and Jianca Lazarus to team up and create the Changing Tides Foundation, an endeavor which strives to link travelers with social and eco-conscious projects to enhance their journey and ensure they make a positive impact wherever they go. At the heart of every project is the hope of improving the conditions of our oceans, which, as we've reported, are in sad shape. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their wisdom is so easily converted into action (if you don't have a reusable grocery bag, buy one now!), they've inspired us in so many ways. Read on to learn more about the Changing Tides Foundation and how they're shifting the idea of eco travel. 

BIKINI: What is the most important thing people need to know about the state of our oceans?

Becky Mendoza: The ocean is what brought us all at Changing Tides Foundation together in the first place as surfers and water-women, so it is near and dear to our hearts—it is our playground, our therapy and the root of our connection. The ocean is our home, and our home is currently dying a slow and painful death. It is heartbreaking. Coral reefs are bleaching and dying due to rising ocean temperatures and chemicals, ocean acidification from carbon pollution and runoff is killing our shellfish. Mercury pollution from coal plant runoff is at record-high levels and is being absorbed by fish (and in turn by humans, as we consume these fish). Over-fishing is depleting fish populations. Other issues that are killing marine life include plastic pollution and dead zones where life cannot be sustained, caused by fertilizers and runoff. The good news is that some of this is still reversible if we act right now to make big global changes.

Where do we start? Purchase fish from fishermen that use sustainable practices, wear sunscreen that is free of harmful chemicals, refuse single-use plastics, dispose of your trash appropriately, especially when you’re near the ocean. I could go on for days, but these are how you can start. Awareness is the catalyst for change, so simply bringing this into your awareness will enable you to make a change.

BIKINI: How did the foundation come to fruition?

Becky Mendoza: It was born from the idea that the world would be a much better place if we all had the opportunity to give back. We all travel so much, and we are all interested in going beyond the walls of where we sleep when we’re traveling and connecting with the locals. We wanted to understand the issues being faced by the people native to these places and see if there is anything we could to do help. We felt strongly that other travelers should have the option to serve as well while on their own travels, which is why we’re setting up a platform with each of our projects, which tackle existing social, environmental, health and/or safety issues, that allows the pass-through traveler to get involved.

BIKINI: You're quite a team — everyone seems to bring something to the table. Is that part of your secret?

Becky Mendoza: All of the founders and board members are adventurers and water people. We each offer something very unique to the organization. Leah is an incredible surfer, influencer, filmer and story-teller. Anna is great with social media and sharing the story of what we stand for. Leane is an incredible water-woman and world-class paddle athlete with an amazing business sense. Jianca has had roots in humanitarian work for years and is unbelievable behind the lens of a camera. I am an action sports attorney, a networker and a humanitarian. I had been bringing water filters to distribute on surf trips for years. Liz Clark is the epitome of a dream chaser. She is an adventurer, an influencer, a boat captain and most recently, an author. Sam is a marketing consultant and brand strategist and is extremely passionate about sustainability; he brings extensive experience to the table. Together we make an incredible team of humans with a common goal: to do what we can to improve people’s quality of life.

BIKINI: International projects seem to be close to your heart — are there any domestic projects that you're involved in?

Becky Mendoza: We haven’t actually been involved in domestic projects as of yet, not for any particular reason other than the opportunity has not presented itself to us. Our model is based on collaboration and is rooted in travel, so most of our projects have been pitched by international organizations or individuals. We have projects in set up in Mexico and are developing projects Sri Lanka and Panama at the moment. Our 2017 projects will focus on gender disparity issues and female empowerment (and encouraging male involvement in advocating for solutions to these issues), the trash crisis, and clean drinking water. We definitely support local organizations in all the places we live: myself and Anna in Southern California; Jianca, Leah, Leane and Sam in Hawaii and Liz in French Polynesia. We are still a very young organization, founded just last year in 2016. We are certainly open to domestic projects and welcome any suggestions and partnerships.


The Changing Tides team at the Hen House in Oahu.

BIKINI: Where are your favorite places to swim + surf?

Becky Mendoza: We all love to surf, swim and bodysurf, amongst other things. I would have to say that we are biased towards Rocky Point on the North Shore of Oahu. Leane, Leah and Anna have been living in a house at Rocky Point, which has now come to be known as the Hen House. That is where our friendships and connections to each other have flourished. Jianca was living just up the street near Sunset, and I have spent several weeks there every year for the last eight years. The Hen House is a special place where we all convene — Rocky Lefts is about 50 yards from the Hen House, so it wins! Other notable spots on the North Shore would have to be Pupkea and Lani’s and swimming in Waimea Bay. A group of us did a four-day kayak trip on the Na Pali coast of Kauai a few years back, and there were some incredible caves we got to swim in, which were breathtaking — we also love South Point on the Big Island. The Hawaiian island chain is really something magical!

BIKINI: What are some common misconceptions about eco travel?

Becky Mendoza: One common misconception is that it is difficult to travel in a conscious way, that there isn’t enough room in your bags for eco-friendly gear, or that everything has to be wrapped in plastics to be safe. We are hoping to encourage travelers to re-think these things — it just takes a little practice. It’s actually quite simple to be environmentally conscious when you travel, outside of the unfortunate realities of the natural resources used to get to the places we go, like the oil and gas that powers our planes and vehicles. There are things we can do to offset that. We realized when we were in Mexico for our Clean Mexi-Agua project, that by bringing our own water bottles and using our personal water filters or re-filling our water bottles anytime there was filtered water available, that we saved about 60 plastic water bottles from the trash in just five days. One major issue in Third World countries is that they lack trash pickup infrastructure, so people end up either burning their trash, which poisons the air, or they dump their trash in the ocean or near rivers, which means the trash ends up in the ocean. We don’t want to come into a country and add to their plastic waste problems that will harm the people, wildlife and environment in the places we are visiting. 

BIKINI: What are some easy changes we can all make to our travel plans to be more eco-friendly?

Becky Mendoza: One of the pillars of our foundation is to adventure consciously and leave the places we visit better than we found them, rather than depleting their resources and leaving behind a bunch of trash. For this reason, we created an eco-friendly web shop, where you can pick up the items we recommend to help you travel in a more eco-minded way. We all travel with bamboo utensils, insulated Mizu water bottles, glass straws and mugs, and quick-dry travel towels made from recycled plastic bottles. We bring chargers and solar panels, personal water filters and reusable bags. We cover ourselves in natural, reef-safe eco-friendly sunscreen. We refuse plastic straws and utensils when we travel, as well as single-use bags and water bottles. We encourage you to do the same.

BIKINI: Activism is at the heart of your foundation — how can anyone become an activist?

Becky Mendoza: Another common theme that binds our team is that we are all activists. We all feel very strongly about the health of the ocean and the planet, we feel strongly about human connection and compassion, justice and peace. Anyone can become an activist by using their voice or actions to make changes in their own lives that support the things they are passionate about. One example is plastic. If you’re passionate about a healthy environment and the health of our oceans, you can start by refusing single-use plastics. Just try it. Maybe next time you order a drink, you say “no straw please." Once you see how simple it is and how good it makes you feel, you will do it without effort. You will instantly feel the difference you are making. That place is where activism is born. Every little bit matters. Change starts with just one drop: one action, with one person. The more drops we have, the bigger the ripples, the bigger the ripples, the bigger the waves, and we love big waves! We just have to awaken that part of ourselves and the way we do that is by taking action in our own lives.