Surfing Madonna Oceans Project gives $24K to support local causes

The nonprofit Surfing Madonna Oceans Project has funded a number of ocean-related causes in recent years. Last week, the list grew that much longer.

During the July 15 Encinitas City Council meeting, Robert Nichols, chairman and founder of the nonprofit, presented a $24,000 check to the city for four projects. This includes $8,000 for a transportable Mobi-Mat, a long pad that will be rolled out on the sand at Moonlight Beach to improve access for wheelchairs, strollers and pedestrians. It also aims to quicken lifeguard response times.

“Everyone should have an equal opportunity to experience Moonlight Beach’s water’s edge, or better yet, get in the water,” Nichols said. “And now this Mobi-Mat will allow all people that opportunity.”

And $10,000 is going toward an education program, developed by Parks and Recreation Superintendent Marilee Gorham and state lifeguards, so that kids can learn more about marine biology by walking Swami’s Beach.

Nichols said the program will not only teach youth about the exciting critters that “live above and below the ocean,” but will also cover water conservation, recycling and the negative impact of plastics in the ocean.

Of the remaining funds, $5,000 will support various Encinitas Parks and Recreation Department projects, and $1,000 will pay for lunches for Special Olympics World Games athletes visiting the Encinitas Community Park on July 23.

“On behalf of the entire council, we really appreciate the positive work that you’ve done in our community and the contributions you’ve made,” Mayor Kristin Gaspar said. “That list is quite impressive. And to think you haven’t been in existence for too long as an organization really is outstanding.”

Surfing Madonna Oceans Project is named after the famed Surfing Madonna mosaic, which hangs on the Leucadia Pizzeria wall facing Encinitas Boulevard and Coast Highway 101. The nonprofit was started to carry on the mosaic’s message of ocean sustainability; it’s supported by proceeds from the annual Surfing Madonna 5K/10K.

In addition to the $24,000 check, Nichols said the nonprofit has funded a number of initiatives over the past 18 months:

• A rescue cage and trailer so that Encinitas lifeguards can safely transport malnourished sea lions that strand themselves on beaches.

• Two floating beach wheelchairs, allowing disabled people to “get in the water, float and feel the healing effects of the ocean, whereas before this was nearly impossible,” Nichols said.

• Scholarships to local high school students “who show a passion for saving the ocean through marine biology and oceanography,” Nichols stated.

• Recycling programs in local schools, as well as swimming lessons at the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA to teach adults and disadvantaged youth to swim.

• A surf camp for Wounded Warriors and special needs youth.

“The positive impact and healing this program has on participants, family members and even volunteers has been astonishing,” Nichols said of the surf camp.

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