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Gordon LaBedz


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POSTED: Friday, June 12, 2009

When Gordon LaBedz “;retired”; to Kauai, he gave up his daily medical practice, but not the environmental activism that has defined his life — and still keeps him extremely busy.

LaBedz, 62, a founder of the Surfrider Foundation and chairman of the Kauai branch of the international coastal preservation group, moved to the Garden Island in 2006, after 30 years as a Kaiser Permanente family practitioner in East Los Angeles.

He and wife Diana, a fellow environmental activist, live in a solar house in Kekaha with LaBedz's 89-year-old mother. His adult son, Mike, has lived on the island for 11 years.

LaBedz surfs Pakala Bay daily, continuing a passion acquired not in his Southern California boyhood but as a college student in New York. He attended Colgate University upstate, but tried surfing off Long Island in 1963 and “;I've surfed ever since.”;

The Surfrider Foundation, comprised of volunteers at the local level, has been out front on a variety of causes, from halting the Superferry to protesting the open-air cultivation of genetically modified crops. Members regularly clear fishing nets from beaches and monitor water quality in 16 Kauai surf zones. The group made news this week by offering a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever killed two endangered monk seals on Kauai.

Question: Why put up a reward?

Answer: When the seals were murdered, there was an enormous outrage ... and we thought that if we can raise funds to put a reward out, it would help the investigation ... We're getting an amazing response ... it's already (over) $10,000. One guy from California sent a check for $1,000.

Q: Are crime tips coming in, too?

A: Yes, absolutely. The number is 1-800-853-1964. The enforcement folks told us not to talk about the investigation, but I can say that I am optimistic that there will be an arrest.

Q: Is this kind of killing common?

A: There are cases all over the United States, unfortunately. Marine mammals eat fish. Sea otters, seals, dolphins, all those marine mammals are not beloved by some fishermen ... who are competing to some small degree with these marine mammals and they're mad about it. .... The chances are excellent that it was a frustrated fisherman. Monk seals eat lobsters and they often bother the lobster traps.

Q: Is an arrest imminent?

A: I can't say that. Having a good idea who did something, and making an arrest is a whole different ballgame ... The reward is helping (the investigation) tremendously.

Q: Surfrider does beach cleanups. Are fishing nets a problem on Kauai?

A: Yes. (Commercial) fishermen often allow their nets to become disconnected and they wash up on shore and kill all sorts of marine life on the way, then they get buried in the sand and become very difficult to remove. On the sand they are an eyesore and in the water they are a killing machine. About once a month we have a net patrol that goes out and removes these nets. ... Last week we took 40 elementary kids to clean up one beach ...

...Q: What about Kauai's water quality?

A: Once a month we test ... the water in 16 surf zones, where surfers sit, waiting for the waves, which is often a little cleaner than the water right at the beach. What we have found in Hawaii, as in the rest of the coastal United States, is that it is foolish to swim or surf 24 to 48 hours after a big rainstorm. Septic tanks and cesspools overflow into streams and run into the beach.

Q: Do people heed that warnings?

A: No, just the opposite. Sometimes that's when the best surf is, right after a big storm. But I do. I'm a doctor so I've seen how sick people can get (surfing in contaminated water).

Q: Is “;sustainable consumption”; as big an issue for you on Kauai as it was in Los Angeles?

A: Our lifestyle is far more sustainable here. We live in a completely solar house. My mom lives with us, so we have a smaller footprint with one household, instead of two. We have organic gardens and grow a lot of our own food ...

...Q: Do you go back to L.A. often?

A: Never. I haven't been back since I left.

Q: What are the major challenges for environmentalists on Kauai?

A: I think sometimes people who were born here take Kauai for granted, and the people who moved here recently bring their good habits and their bad habits.

Q: Like what?

A: Well, people who move here like Costco, Wal-Mart, golf courses, big cars, lots of consumer stuff. All the kind of city stuff that is really quite hard on the planet. As for good habits, if you've lived on the mainland, recycling is normal. We barely have recycling in this state ...

...Q: How have you been accepted as a newcomer?

A: I feel very welcomed and accepted. Environmental activists are appreciated on Kauai.