Protecting our Coastal Playgrounds with Ilana Kelly

Both in and out of the water, connecting with our local surf communities has meant we have been lucky enough to meet some great humans along the way, and one at the top of our list is Vice President of Surfrider Foundation Sunshine Coast - Ilana Kelly (aka Larns). With a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Conservation Biology, she’s been leading the charge on cleaning up our beaches, and works with Noosa Landcare on local conservation and regeneration projects. Living off-grid in the hinterland, she has one epic permaculture garden including bee hives that produce some of the finest local nectar going around!

We recently headed up the beach with Larns & Surfrider Sunshine Coast for their annual Double Island Point Beach Cleanup. A crew of over 100 ocean lovers covered 26km of coastline and collected just over 1 tonne of rubbish. From this they were able to recycle 220kg steel, 240kg containers (cans/bottles), and 7kg of HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene plastics including milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, some plastic bags, & rope). 

It was an epic weekend filled with a whole lot of hard work, icy cold brews, a few sneaky sliders, and live music by Shannon Sol Carrol (Band of Frequencies + Musician & Sound Engineer for the Waterpeople Podcast). We’ve got Larns and the Surfrider crew to thank for pulling it all together, and we caught up with her to find out a little bit more about her journey and what we all can do to help protect our coastal playgrounds… wherever that may be in the world.It can be addictive, this love of the ocean. How did it all start for you?

I have been very fortunate to always live close by the beach for most of my life. I grew up just outside a small beach town on the Mid-north Coast of NSW and spent many hours climbing over the rocks of the local creek spotting bream, fishing along the sand flats with my dad, and exploring the many sandy shores and waves of beautiful beaches as a kid. Despite my folks working a lot, they made sure my sisters and I spent as much time at the beach and in the ocean as possible. 

Surfing was passed down to me by my dad. I was thrown in the deep end when I was around 7 or 8 years old, learning to surf on dad’s 7ft something pink single fin from his youth. I surfed on and off for many years after, amongst other sports, until I was in my late teens. Surfing since has been a HUGE part of my life and has been a vessel to develop a deeper understanding and love for the ocean. 

Has there been any major influences (people or places?) that inspired you along the way?

There are a few places that have played an important role in shaping my life and values, though their locations I am sworn to secrecy ;) 

These places are raw, secluded and full of life. They are a glimpse into what the world may have been like before urban sprawl along our coastlines. They have given me inspiration and motivation to do all I can to live a low impact life and encourage and support others to do the same. 

What sparked your initial interest in environmental work? And what study / work experience did you do to get where you are now?

I have to acknowledge my teacher Ms Littlejohn, from my senior class of Environmental Science, in sparking my interest in environmental work. Though I am sure our class gave her some grief, Ms Littlejohn was a caring and inspiring teacher. She opened my eyes to not only the many wonders of the natural world but also the destruction and mismanagement by humans, of which I am grateful for. I remember watching the documentary The Inconvenient Truth in class and though I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the issue, it did set me on a path of wanting to learn more. 

From there I went on to study a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Conservation Biology and later an honours degree looking at marine turtle nesting on the Sunshine Coast. A lot of my studies explored the interactions between humans and the environment. I had the privilege to learn from some of the top researchers in ecology and marine science, worked alongside extraordinary people and visited some pretty amazing places, like the Great Barrier Reef and Nepal! Don’t get me wrong, uni definitely had its fair share of challenges too, it wasn’t all sea turtles, coral reefs or mountains in the Himalayas. 

At the end of uni I was itching to get out and apply what I had learned and get my hands dirty...which is literally what I did when I jumped into a traineeship with Noosa Landcare. Noosa Landcare is a non-for-profit community organisation focused on habitat restoration, conservation and education, based in the hinterland of Noosa. This gave me the opportunity to better understand the complex interactions present within our surrounding environment and society. Despite dealing with some challenging mindsets and degraded land, I have been lucky to work alongside a passionate and inspiring team and community to build a more resilient and healthy region to thrive in! 

I acknowledge I am privileged to have access to these experiences and knowledge and with that I hope to use it to my best ability to support my community and our environment to live in harmony. The intersection of environmentalism and surfing can be a strong one… why do you think that is?

As surfers most of us share an affliction for the ocean and the environment as a whole. This may be driven by the pure joy and a strong connection to place we feel when we spend time in the ocean. It is our moral obligation as stewards of the sea to care for its health and well-being, to give back to something that has given so much to us.

Let’s talk about feelings…. What does the ocean do to you? 

My time in the ocean, whether it be surfing, fishing, or playing in the shorey, gives me so much joy. It takes my breath away and fills me with life all at the same time!

In a world moving too fast, the ocean is my solace and a space to move at my own pace. A love at first dip, the ocean is forever close to my heart! 

Any tips for all of us ocean lovers as to what we can do on an individual level to help protect our coastal playgrounds?

My top tips would be:

  • Take the time to learn and understand the ecology of your local break and surrounding landscape. 
  • Care for the climate. Demand for better climate action at the local, state and federal political levels and start your personal transition towards a more climate friendly lifestyle. 
  • Divest your money from fossil fuels. Switch your insurance, super fund and bank to more climate and earth friendly investments. Visit to help make the switch today. 
  • Vote for the environment. Take the time to understand the policies of local, state and federal political parties and representatives. Do they align with your values? Why not use the power of your vote to help influence political policy and create change.
  • Protect our coastline from industrialisation. Currently there is a major push to open off-shore gas and oil reserves to mining along many coastlines of Australia. There are a number of campaigns happening, with advocacy groups, like Surfers for Climate, Save Our Coast and Surfrider Foundation Australia, banding together to stop this ludicrous plan to open new oil and gas projects and the industrialization of our beaches and surf breaks. Give your support by signing the following petitions and spreading the word:
  • PEP11
  • 2021 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release
  • Connect with your community. Join or start a local Surfrider Foundation branch in your area. This is a great opportunity to work with like minded folk and support the protection of our ocean, waves and beaches. Together we can make positive waves of change!
  • Find your way to help support change. It's OK if you can't be a hard core activist, this isn't for everyone! Just be you. 'Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can' ~ Milkwood Permaculture. 
  • How did you find surfing in U&I swimwear?!

    The best! It is sooo hard to find surf swimwear that actually is practical for surfing. Stoked to know the search is finally over. 

    I also love the fact that the swimwear is made from recycled materials, designed to last and handmade in Australia! Can't forget to mention they are just so beautiful too.
    Last Question! When & where can we get more of your delicious Ninderry Nectar? My kids went through our 2 pots super quick… best tasting honey on the Sunny Coast! Xx

    Naw thanks, but all credit goes to our wonderful bees for all their magical work! We actually just harvested a fresh batch of honey! We have a couple of jars here with your name on it.

    If you are interested in volunteering for your local Surfrider Crew - visit Surfrider Foundation and check out their locations closest to your home break!

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