The Waterkeeper movement started on New York’s Hudson River in 1966 when commercial and recreational fishermen united to protect the Hudson River’s fisheries from pollution. Bob Boyle, President of the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association, established a Riverkeeper on the Hudson to protect the public’s interest in the river. As noted in the excerpt from his 1969 book, Boyle’s vision was a Riverkeeper as an ombudsman, someone who would be the eyes and ears of the public on the river. In 1983, the group hired John Cronin, the first full-time Riverkeeper. Cronin was assigned the duty of patrolling the Hudson, restoring the River’s abundant fisheries, and leading citizen action to protect the River from hundreds of polluters. By 1998, Hudson Riverkeeper had instituted highly successful advocacy campaigns, community outreach and education programs, and stopped major polluters from discharging their toxic wastes into the River.
Inspired by the work of Riverkeeper on the Hudson, more “keepers” followed—Delaware Riverkeeper, Long Island Soundkeeper, San Francisco Baykeeper, Casco Baykeeper, New York/ New Jersey Baykeeper, Puget Soundkeeper and others. These individuals recognized the need to form a cohesive body that would keep them woven together and manage the licensing of new Waterkeeper programs, so in 1992, these groups formed the National Alliance of River, Sound, and Bay Keepers. By 1999, approximately 35 groups called themselves “keepers,” doing similar work and identifying themselves as part of this Alliance. Responding to the rapid growth of the movement, they renamed and reorganized themselves, creating Waterkeeper Alliance to unite and promote the Waterkeeper concept.
Waterkeeper Alliance continues to grow to this day; there are currently 183 Waterkeeper programs located around the world.