Meet the COA Team: Dave McLaughlin

I think having a deep connection with the ocean and atmosphere implies a level of humility that creates a common bond.

There is no place Dave McLaughlin is more in his element than immersed in salty seas and rolling swells. When he’s not catching waves, Dave is organizing grassroots campaigns and bringing people together around a shared appreciation of the ocean. In fact, his love of surf and a series of fateful events served as catalysts to the founding of Clean Ocean Access (COA) back in 2006.

What started as a problem with public parking and a sewage spill turned into a convening of the community to act and address problems of beach access and water quality on Aquidneck Island, where Dave has called home for the past 34 years. Before his journey in the nonprofit sector, Dave led a career in information technology as an enterprise architect at Hasbro Toy Company.

Since 2014, Dave has been heading COA as executive director with a goal to enact local change and set an example of the state and the region. He hopes to make a difference by instilling in people a sense of hope and conviction that “together we can do great things.”

Dave also serves as the vice chair of the Cliff Walk Commission and interim chair of the Waste Water and Storm Water Committee for the City of Newport. He sits on the board of the Restoration Advisory Board and remains an active member of the Green Infrastructure Coalition on Aquidneck Island.

Dave received his bachelor’s and master’s in applied mathematics from the Florida Institute of Technology with a concentration in atmospheric science and physical oceanography.  When he’s not in the office, Dave can be found at city council meetings, weekend beach cleanups,  and turning his compost pile.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Washington DC and a few months later moved to Italy and lived there until I was 7. Spent 2 years in Scarsdale New York, 5 years in Hawaii, and then 4 years in Rhode Island, 7 years in Florida and now 22 years in Newport! It is a challenging question about “where did you grow up” because each chapter of my life was in very different locations and I still feel like I’m growing up!

What is your first memory of the ocean?

In the 70’s I remember seeing the blue water off Ischia in Italy. In the late 70’s I remember getting hit by a wave at Jones Beach on Long Island. But the ocean memory that sealed the deal for me was bodysurfing at Waimea Bay in November of 1983. So much happened that day, but I caught a left in the middle, and that is where it all started!

What is your favorite ocean activity?

Getting back out to the lineup after catching a wave! You just finished riding a wave that felt awesome, you muscles are recovering, but adrenaline has you going out for the next one, the time between each wave is predictable so there is time to breathe, and gratitude flows, and then total stoke to see other people ride a wave, you get new ideas, see new lines to draw, maybe see a turtle or duck or fish when duck diving.

What motivates you to work in ocean conservation?

I have a desire to make sure that the next generation of wave riders have an equal opportunity to enjoy the experiences that I’ve had in the water, and that includes the friendships outside of the water too! I think having a deep connection with the ocean and atmosphere implies a level of humility that creates a common bond. But, the enthusiasm and motivation comes not only from the environmental side of things, but I also sincerely enjoy the ability to learn new skills and subject matters. I never would have thought that financial accounting and marine biology and punctuation would be things that I want to learn about or even more so care about, and everyday it fascinates me a bit more.

Meet Our Communications & Development Manager: Gloria Kostadinova

As a storyteller and science communicator it is my obligation to give our ocean a voice.

For Gloria Kostadinova, storytelling is second nature. As a passionate environmental advocate, she is keen on communicating science stories that captivate, inform and inspire audiences. Gloria comes to Clean Ocean Access with five years of strategic communications and public relations experience. She’s worked in communications departments across multiple sectors including nonprofit, federal, private, and higher education.

Most recently. Gloria worked as a graduate communications fellow for the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, where she honed her science communications skills under the mentorship of skilled professionals at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

Previously, Gloria worked in Washington, DC at two strategic communications firms and served as a communications intern at the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama Administration.

A proud Rhode Islander, Gloria knew she wanted to use her experience and expertise to give back to her community and advance environmental stewardship in the Ocean State.  As the communications and development manager at Clean Ocean Access she hopes to captivate audiences through stories of the seas, inform readers about the many challenges of ocean pollution, and inspire communities to act and stand up for a healthy ocean for generations to come.

Gloria also sits on the board of directors of ecoRI News, a local environmental news group dedicated to reporting on environmental and social justice issues in southern New England. She holds a master’s in environmental science and management from the University of Rhode Island and a bachelor’s in English from Boston College.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Bulgaria and moved to the United States when I was three years old. I’ve lived in many places including Ohio, New York, Indiana, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, and Spain. The Ocean State is where I call home.

What is your first memory of the ocean?

When I was in elementary school I lived on Long Island. My family and I used to picnic on Long Beach. It was my favorite place to visit and walk along the seemingly endless coastline. My memories of the ocean are tied with memories of being surrounded by family and friends.

What is your favorite ocean activity?

I really enjoy walking on the beach. I love the serenity of listening to the waves crashing, the feeling of sand beneath my feet, the ebb and flow of the tides. Walking along the shoreline gives me a time to think, a time to reflect and a time when I can be just one of the billions of grains of sand on the beach.

What motivates you to work in ocean conservation?

The ocean covers about 71% of the earth’s surface – it sustains life on earth, provides us with food, drives global currents and influences our climate. The ocean is a mysterious and magnificent place yet, like many natural resources, it cannot protest or speak to its needs and grievances. As a storyteller and science communicator it is my obligation to give our ocean a voice.

Meet Our Program Manager: Eva Touhey

Working in ocean conservation, I can teach people about something that I care about deeply with the hopes that it will inspire others to care just as much as I do.”

Eva Touhey grew up immersed in the island life. Growing up in Portsmouth, Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island, she’s lived within minutes of the coast and surrounded by the waters of the Ocean State, so protecting and preserving ocean health is a topic near and dear to her.

Eva earned her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015 from Hobart and William Smith (HWS) Colleges, located in the heart of New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Before coming to Clean Ocean Access (COA), Eva gained experience working as an animal caretaker assistant at the HWS biology department and an aquarist intern with Save The Bay.

She first discovered COA through a beach cleanup in her hometown and quickly became inspired to advance the budding organization’s mission. Eva began interning with COA in the fall of 2015, working to organize and analyze the Seaweed Nutrient Analysis Program (SNAP) two-year raw data set. She led presentations about the watershed, sources of pollution in the watershed, and pollution prevention. She later joined the team as an education coordinator, helping to develop hands-on environmental curriculum for elementary school students across Aquidneck Island.

“We didn’t have an office and I met with Dave in coffee shops to discuss the project I was working on,” recalls Eva. “In the three years I have been involved with COA, we have grown a lot as an organization. We now have an office, a solid work team and great interns.”

Eva is now COA’s program manager and oversees the organization’s programming, volunteer management, and advocacy efforts. “I am motivated to stay with COA because we have so much potential to do more great work, and I really am interested and excited to see where it takes us,” she adds.

As she works to finish her master’s degree in marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island this year, Eva aims to educate Rhode Islanders about the importance of having policies to protect the environment, though she is hopeful that environmental protection can be achieved without strict policies, but instead through instilling environmentally-responsible behavior in the community.

Eva’s master’s thesis, entitled “The Influence of Plastic Bag Bans on Pro-environmental Behaviors in Rhode Island Coastal Communities,” analyzes the effects of plastic bag bans on individual behaviors, and takes an in-depth look at people’s awareness of and involvement in environmental groups, their awareness of plastic bag bans in their community and their general support for a state-wide plastic bag ban. She will be presenting on her research as part of COA’s Ocean Science Speaker series in spring 2019.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Portsmouth attending the Portsmouth public school system and am now living in Newport. Aquidneck Island is home!

What is your first memory of the ocean?

I am not sure what my first memory of the ocean is, but I remember taking family summer vacations to York Beach, Maine and spending time looking for sand dollars along the beach. My parents started bringing me to the beach at a very young age and I have memories of swimming with my dad and playing in the sand.

What is your favorite ocean activity?

Being a beach bum. I can go to the beach for hours on end and sit, read a book, go for a swim, take a nap and repeat. I am dive certified and would love to dive more often than I get to right now. I also really like looking in tide pools and seeing what little critters are there.

What motivates you to work in ocean conservation?

Growing up on Aquidneck Island, the ocean has always been home. I can’t really imagine living anywhere that’s not within minutes of the coastline. Working in ocean conservation is very personal and I can’t “sea” (haha) myself doing anything else. By working in ocean conservation, I can teach people about something that I care about deeply with the hopes that it will inspire others to care just as much as I do. We take a lot of the benefits from the marine environment for granted, and if we keep abusing this, we are going to be in much deeper trouble in the future.


Press Release: Improving Ocean Health Starts on Land

Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island Project Launch with Clean Ocean Access and 11th Hour Racing.

NEWPORT, RI – On Friday, December 7th U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed and DEM Director, Janet Coit, gave remarks at the launch event of an innovative multi-year project spearheaded by Clean Ocean Access, a nonprofit organization based on Aquidneck Island. Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas Rhode Island is a two-year long initiative funded by 11th Hour Racing that aims to inspire long-lasting environmentally responsible behavior by tackling ocean pollution at its root: on land.

“The marine debris epidemic is a solvable problem, and from our experience, people absolutely want to see ocean pollution become a problem of the past,” says Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Clean Ocean Access. “Restoring and improving ocean health starts with the decisions we make on land.”

Clean Ocean Access will lead Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI, bringing together composting efforts across the state in partnership with existing food-waste-diversion groups: The Compost Plant, Rhodeside Revival and the Aquidneck Community Table. The three partners serve as the boots-on-the-ground team that will manage all commercial and residential composting collection and processing with an initial focus on Aquidneck Island.

Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI includes three composting programs:

  1. A pilot business composting program for 10 businesses in downtown Newport;
  2. A residential program for households on Aquidneck Island; and
  3. An educational pilot program, “Yes, In My Back Yard (YIMBY),” for backyard composting.Grant funding from 11th Hour Racing allows Clean Ocean Access to subsidize the composting programs and offer discounted rates to the first round of customers who sign up through Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI. The initiative brings together diverse stakeholders that include non-profit organizations, academia, government, local businesses, and industry with the hope of expanding an integrated materials management initiative throughout the State of Rhode Island. 

“What we do on land and in our every day lives affects ocean health,” said RI DEM Director, Janet Coit, citing that 100,000 tons of food waste enters the Central landfill each year. “With Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI we have an example of people seizing their own destinies, being responsible and doing it at a local level.”

Plastic makes up 10-15% of the material entering Rhode Island’s landfill. Organic waste and debris makes up another 30-35%, and the Johnston landfill is expected to reach capacity by 2034, according to a recent report published by RI Resource Recovery Corporation. With the potential to divert nearly 50% of the materials entering the landfill, integrated recycling and composting efforts could double the landfill’s lifetime through 2049 and mitigate costly expenses associated with out-of-state tipping fees.

“There’s a real spirit of bipartisanship around oceans,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, speaking of the work being done at the national level to tackle plastic pollution and marine debris. He emphasized the critical role local projects like Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI play to spark national urgency around the problem of ocean pollution.

“Marine debris can harm marine life impact, boating safety, hinder tourism and other coastal industries, as well as threaten human health,” emphasized U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who also spoke of the success of the Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program started in Rhode Island in 2012. “I am very proud to see Rhode Island leading the way on this issue.”

By encouraging people to think critically about their waste footprints, Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI aims to spark long-lasting behavior change that empowers people to reevaluate the need for low-and-no value materials entering the landfill, or worse, polluting our ocean.

“Every day organic waste is disposed of in the landfill where it generates greenhouse gases that warm our planet and are detrimental to ocean health” said Michelle Carnevale, Program Manager at 11th Hour Racing. Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI is a wonderful initiative that allows the community to come together and collaborate on an effective, and simple, solution. 11th Hour Racing is proud to support this project that promotes systemic change through individual and collective action.”

For more information about Healthy Soils, Healthy Seas RI, and to learn how you can join the first wave of participants turning the tide on ocean pollution visit:

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About Clean Ocean Access: Since 2006 our mission is action today so future generations can enjoy ocean activities, with an exclusive focus on Aquidneck Island. Living on Aquidneck Island defines a coastally inspired life; so our cause of working for clean beaches, healthy oceans, safe swimming water, and public access of the shoreline is what we do, all year long. We are a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization, learn more at

About 11th Hour Racing: 11th Hour Racing establishes strategic partnerships within the sailing and maritime communities to promote collaborative, systemic change benefitting the health of our ocean – one degree at a time. Since 2010, 11th Hour Racing has been harnessing the power of sport with an innovative and comprehensive approach through three primary areas of engagement: Partners, Grantees, and Ambassadors. Learn more at

About The Compost Plant: The Compost Plant will produce significant quantities of high-quality compost for the retail and wholesale marketplace in southern New England, building a unique Rhode Island brand that capitalizes on the surging interest in locally and organically-produced food. Learn more at

About Aquidneck Community Table: Aquidneck Community Table (ACT) combines civic conversation, local entrepreneurship, institutional partnerships, and digging in the dirt with the principles of an equitable food system for all on Aquidneck Island. After successfully bringing three related groups under one organizational umbrella in 2016, ACT uses that collective energy to strengthen the island’s food system; to support the local economy and expand access to fresh healthy food for all; and to act directly to grow more food, preserve open space, and teach life skills. Learn more at

About Rhodeside Revival: Rhodeside Revival was born out of the idea of providing a service that brings the community together in an effort to reduce waste, while also creating quality compost for your garden and giving back to our schools, gardens and other institutions within the community. Rhodeside Revival operates a curbside composting program that brings your home’s food scraps away from the landfill, and into the garden. Learn more at

Meet Our Communications & Marketing Intern: Eileen Dillon

Eileen Dillon is a junior at the University of Rhode Island pursuing her bachelor’s in marine affairs. She has served as COA’s communications and marketing intern since September 2018, helping to advance and communicate COA’s many programs, projects and initiatives to the general public.

Eileen has helped create and draft digital content for COA’s social media platforms and email marketing campaigns, interviewed and photographed volunteers at beach cleanups, and represented COA at public events. After graduation Eileen hopes to attend law school.

Outside of her classes and internship with COA, Eileen is a member of the Kappa Delta sorority at URI. She is a native of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, but spent many summers in Newport on Aquidneck Island. Eileen’s first memory of the ocean is of her father teaching her how to surf and falling off the surf board. Her surfing skills have since improved, though she prefers to relax at the beach and walk the Cliff Walk.

“I was motivated to intern with COA because I had previously known about all the work the group does on Aquidneck Island, and how people can directly see the impact of their efforts,” says Eileen. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of an organization that makes a difference in the community.