Photo by Adam Bronkhorst
Atlanta Cook, Marine environment consultant
Are you local?
I was born in Tottenham but we moved to Brighton and I went to Stanford Juniors at five years old. So I was a lucky Londoner who ended up coming down here, and I’m very grateful for that. It would have been a very different experience growing up in London. I remember coming down to Brighton and standing on the West Pier in my flared zip catsuit (all the girls were wearing them).
What do you do?
I’ve pretty much always run my own thing. I started off as a fundraiser; the very first event I did was a Surfers Against Sewage club night at the Zap Club. That was in the early 90s when there was a massive rave culture in Brighton and a lot of activism against the Criminal Justice Act (it was basically trying to stop people from gathering and having raves and parties, which just made us do it even more). We did a lot of campaigning against sewage pollution. Back then there were 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of untreated sewage going out into the sea off Brighton & Hove every day! We campaigned for years to get the treatment works built. Sewage pollution is not over yet, but the Sewage Alert Service [a live information system that tells sea users when there has been a sewage overflow] is a really important legacy of the original campaign.
What are you working on at the moment?
Plastic Free Coastlines is the latest campaign by Surfers Against Sewage. We’re pushing to get Brighton & Hove to be the first plastic-free city. To achieve this we have to get our local government to pass a resolution to support Plastic Free Coastlines. We then have to get 30% of all businesses, 30% of all schools, 50% of community groups and 50% of universities and colleges to sign up to reduce their use of single-use plastics. We ask everyone to make three small changes – straws, plastic cutlery, plastic cups, whatever it is – and we hope that that just starts the ball rolling. What’s really lovely about Plastic Free Coastlines is it opens Surfers Against Sewage out to everybody – not in the usual ‘please make a donation’ way, it really says ‘come and join in’. Everybody is part of the fight and I just love that.
What do you like most about Brighton?
The people. Not just that the people here are different, but that they feel free. They feel free to think and say and do what they want, and that freedom is so valuable and it makes the place special. I think it’s our long history of being freedom fighters that gives Brighton people a very special way about them, because they feel like there’s this honorary lineage that they should continue.
What would you change about it?
There needs to be more funding to help stop litter from ending up in the environment. It doesn’t matter how it’s done; it should never be at the horrendous scale that it is now. The Council has to do what it has to do with its budget, but we’re putting other things before what matters, which is our environment and our sea.
Where’s your favourite place in the city?
I’d have to say Rottingdean Windmill. You can see out across the whole city, and the sea view is just incredible. Closely followed by the Ovingdean rockpools.
When did you last swim in the sea?
I had a little paddle last Sunday at the silent disco beach clean. The theme was ‘come as your favourite animal or plant’ – there were people dressed as chilli peppers and unicorns and butterflies… it was lovely!
atlantacook.co.uk / sas.org.uk