As COVID-19 became a global threat in early 2020, we needed to rethink our in-person volunteer training strategy. With chapters around the country, going virtual provided an opportunity to take our volunteer leadership trainings online and expand our inland ocean community. The virtual Inland Ocean Ambassador Certification Program brought together 25 Ocean Ambassadors from 12 different states for a four-week intensive training on ocean leadership to further grow the inland ocean network. The inland ocean movement continues to serve as a voice for inland and coastal communities, and we were delighted to share that vision with our Ocean Ambassador cohort.
Content from the four week session included how our stories and memories have shaped our relationship to the ocean and introduced topics like marine protected areas, The Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature, plastic pollution, the importance of ocean climate action, and how to be proactive in supporting key ocean legislation. We were honored to host prestigious guest speakers Enric Sala from National Geographic Explorer, Amy Kenney from National Ocean Protection Coalition, and Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse. Our Ocean Ambassadors finished the training with the tools and inspiration to be ocean champions in their communities.
We are thrilled to see our Ocean Ambassadors staying active and engaged with our Inland Ocean Coalition community. Since the training, our Ocean Ambassadors have created the IOC’s 16th chapter in Washington, D.C., published two op-eds, with 3 currently in review for publication, joined coalitions, organized cleanups, and will soon begin a cross-country dive adventure to educate and involve communities all over the nation in ocean protection. With a formal graduation set for December, we are eager to share further accomplishments from the first Inland Ocean Ambassador cohort.
If you are interested in joining our Ocean Ambassador Certification Program, please check our website for updates on when applications will open for the next program. We look forward to continuing to grow the inland ocean network with you!
By Maya Chastang, an eighth grade student at Summit Middle School in Boulder, Colorado
In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s hard to see how any good can come from this tragedy. However, because people are traveling and polluting less, the environment is getting a well-deserved break.
I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on social media lately, reporting wild goats wandering down from the hills in Wales and into people’s yards, and drastically clearer skies in Los Angeles. I wanted to look deeper into how the ocean is reacting to this slowing of human activity, and see if this gives us insight as to how we can restore our ocean to health.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put life as we know it on hold. Flights have been canceled and many people are working from home instead of driving their cars to work. The result is that a lot less carbon dioxide (CO2 ) is being put into the atmosphere. According to the airline company Blue Sky, the average plane produces more than 53 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile. Now that very few people are traveling in planes, think of how much less CO2 is being emitted.
You may be wondering, how does a decreased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affect the ocean? Well, due to the ocean carbon cycle, when there is less CO2 in the atmosphere, less CO2 is sucked into the ocean. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ocean holds fifty times more carbon than the atmosphere. When fossil fuels are burned, carbon is released, and much of those fossil fuels end up in the ocean. This makes the ocean’s pH (how acidic the water is) and temperature rise, and causes a process called ocean acidification. Ocean acidification makes it more difficult for certain animals such as corals and mollusks to build their shells, and is a threat to most marine species.
Because less fossil fuels are being burned right now, air pollution is going down. For example, according to Lauri Myllyvirta, a scientist at the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, in India, one of the countries with the most polluted air on earth, people who have never been able to see the Himalayas from their houses can see them clearly. According to National Geographic, the amount of nitrogen dioxide (a harmful gas produced by burning fossil fuels) in the air in India has been reduced by over seventy percent.
This phenomenon is not only happening in India. In Los Angeles, nitrogen dioxide levels have decreased by 33 percent. In New York, they have fallen by 22 percent. In the Northeast U.S., NASA estimated that the nitrogen dioxide levels in the air have dropped by thirty percent. The speed at which air pollution is plummeting during the pandemic may give us insight into how dramatic reductions in pollution are possible in the future.
In Thailand, International flights have been canceled and citizens are being encouraged to stay home. Beaches that were once crowded with tourists are deserted. Since November, scientists in Thailand have found eleven leatherback turtle clutches. According to Kongkiat Kittiwatanawong, the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Center, this is the most clutches reported in twenty years. Leatherbacks are the largest species of turtle and can sometimes grow to seven feet long. They live up to 45 years in the wild, and though they are thought to occupy the widest range of habitat of any reptile (they live in every ocean except the Arctic and the Antarctic), the leatherback population has been decreasing in recent years, especially in the Pacific where Thailand is located. The main threats to leatherback turtles include bycatch (the accidental fishing of marine wildlife not intended to be caught), disruption of clutches, and unintentional consumption of plastic. The leatherback turtles’ main food source is jellyfish, which can appear a lot like plastic bags floating in the ocean. When sea animals eat plastic, it harms their digestive systems, and over time, if they consume enough, it eventually kills them.
Beaches in Thailand aren’t the only ones seeing a sudden increase in leatherback turtle clutches. In Florida on Juno Beach, scientists have already counted 76 clutches of eggs since the start of the nesting season, a drastic increase from last year.
Clearly, the sudden increase of leatherback turtle clutches is very welcome news. Though one larger generation of leatherbacks won’t necessarily make much of a difference in the long run, this shows us that closing certain beaches, even for a short amount of time, may help restore the leatherback population.
Although the viral pictures of dolphins swimming in Venice canals have been debunked, the absence of boats in the canals has been leading to clearer water, revealing schools of fish and other marine life. According to Matteo Bisol, a Venice restaurant owner and environmental activist, “[I]t is not surprising there are fish in the canals of Venice. If there were not, then we should all be worried, as the lagoon here is a fragile ecosystem. People need to realise that if we control and cut down boat traffic in Venice and its lagoon then we could all discover a unique biosphere.”
Fewer boats in the water benefit more than fish in the Venice canals. Though scientists don’t have conclusive results yet, it is thought that the decrease in underwater noise pollution may benefit whale populations. Researchers do know that when there is more noise from sea vessels, whales off the coast of Alaska tend to call and communicate less. Michelle Fournet, a marine acoustician, told the Guardian, “[W]hat we might see is an opportunity for whales to have more conversation and to have more complex conversation.”
Humpback whales and their calves in Hawaii are also enjoying the absence of boats. On March 20, the state Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation banned all boats from sailing around the island. This includes whale watching cruises and fishermen, the main disturbances to the whales. According to Marc Lammers, a research coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, “Not having humans either trying to view them or, in some cases, interact with them will be a huge benefit for the mother, whose priority is to protect and nurse her calf so it can be strong enough to make the trip to Alaska. It allows her to conserve her energy and transfer that energy to her calf in peace, without having to respond to stand-up paddlers and five or six boats approaching at a time.”
On April second, a humpback whale and her calf were spotted close to the beach in Lahaina Small Boat Harbor. It is uncommon behavior for humpbacks to venture so close to shore, and scientists wonder what other changes in whale behaviors we might see if boating bans remain in place.
Of course I don’t mean to make light of the awful situation the pandemic has put us in, but these temporary positive improvements among marine life are giving us insight about how to heal our polluted Earth. I expect the pollution levels to rise and leatherback turtle populations to fall again after quarantines are lifted if we don’t make changes from how we were living before. If we were able to create and enforce bans on boating in certain parts of the ocean, we may see whale and other marine populations thriving once more. If we limited the burning of fossil fuels, ocean acidification would decrease. These changes wouldn’t solve all the problems our ocean faces, but they would help a great deal. It took a global pandemic to slow our consumption of fossil fuels and to clear up the water in the Venice canals. If only we could institute some of these changes for a long period of time, our Earth might one day become as clean as it once was.
Maya Chastang is an eighth grade student at Summit Middle School in Boulder, Colorado. She is passionate about marine biology and ocean conservation. She enjoys writing, reading, playing volleyball, basketball, and the piano.
This year Colorado is taking steps to reduce plastic pollution in the state through three legislative measures. First, SB 10 would have overturned a plastic preemption measure—essentially a ban on bans—that barred local governments and communities from creating their own bans on plastic items or regulating any plastic products within their jurisdiction. The bill was heard in the Local Government Committee on February 4th. Melissa, the Inland Ocean Coalition’s (IOC’s) new Community Engagement Manager, provided testimony highlighting the importance of reducing plastic here in Colorado, and that as a headwaters state, this would send positive ripple effects downstream to the ocean.
The IOC carried out a pilot study in 2017 with scientists from the Shaw Institute which found evidence of microplastics in high alpine mountain tributaries above 11,000 feet—what we would generally think of as pristine ecosystems. This highlights that plastic pollution is not a big city issue or far away problem: It’s something that affects all of us, from the mountains to the coasts.
Unfortunately, the bill, sponsored by Senator Kerry Donovan of District 5 in Eagle, Delta, and Pitkin counties, was voted down 3-2. This means it did not pass through committee to the Senate floor. Telluride Mayor DeLanie Young said, “It’s extremely disappointing. Our community has been patiently waiting…for elected officials to take action on this erroneously outdated language.”
However, there are still two upcoming bills that could still help reduce plastic production, use, and pollution here in Colorado. HB1162 would eliminate polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) use and and HB1163 would implement a single-use plastic bag ban for the entire state. These bills will be heard by the Energy & Environment Committee on February 24th. We plan to attend and again testify to the harmful effects of polystyrene and single-use plastic on our land, waterways, wildlife, climate, human health, and ocean. We anticipate that these bills will pass through committee and be heard by the whole floor in the upcoming months.
Stay tuned for updates! If you’d like to support these bills you can:
By Stephen C. Curro, Inland Ocean Coalition Volunteer
Say the word “salmon” and different people think of different things. To foodies, salmon is a tasty meal rich in omega-3s. To anglers, it’s a gorgeous fish to fool on a line. To Native Americans and First Nations Peoples, it’s an important part of their culture and the web of life itself. To naturalists and adventure seekers, it’s a symbol of the wild.
Salmon are remarkable creatures. Depending on the species, they can be over three feet in length and weigh around thirty pounds. They feed on zooplankton when they’re young and seek out smaller fish as they grow. They live most of their lives in cold Atlantic and Pacific waters and swim upstream into rivers to spawn. During these salmon runs they leap up waterfalls and brave hazards like grizzly bears just so they can give the next generation a chance to taste the open ocean.
In the spawning season, and indeed other seasons, salmon are a critical food source for bears, eagles and a number of other terrestrial and marine animals. Salmon are even responsible for contributing nutrients to riparian ecosystems when they travel upstream. When predators eat salmon, they disperse nitrogen and phosphorus into surrounding lakes and foliage, increasing plant growth by up to three times the normal rate! By nourishing predatory animals, salmon help to nourish the entire riparian ecosystem.
But it’s not just the animals that benefit from the salmon. During these salmon runs, billions of dollars are generated and thousands of jobs are supported through fishing, angling and ecotourism. Commercial fishing greatly benefits from the bounty of salmon stocks, supplying the filets to your own supermarket. Many indigenous tribes have depended on salmon as a primary source of food for thousands of years. When one considers these facts, it should be apparent why salmon are considered a keystone species; a linchpin that holds an entire ecosystem together.
Companies and politicians that want to exploit mineral resources in the far north—namely Northern Dynasty’s proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska—seem to fail to understand why people are resistant to their plans. It’s true; such a mine would yield billions of dollars and provide jobs. But such development is only skin-deep. In time the coveted gold and copper will run out and the jobs they supported will end. What will be left is a scar in the land and a torrent of toxic runoff dumped into the surrounding waters.
If allowed, Northern Dynasties will dig a hole 4,000 feet deep. To contain toxic runoff, the company will construct a tailings dam three miles long and 740 feet high. That’s larger than the Hoover Dam! All of this will happen in the heart of salmon country. The size and scope of this operation will place the surrounding waters at risk of contamination from 10 billion tons of toxic waste rock. Once dug and abandoned, the gold and copper mines will need constant maintenance just to keep the runoff in check, and not all of it will be caught. The contamination will be even worse if an earthquake strikes the region or the tailings dam breaches.
All five species of salmon, including the coveted sockeye salmon, are found in abundance in the Bristol Bay area. These are not just blip populations; we are talking over 50% of the known fishery. Unnecessary mining in the area will devastate this concentration of salmon, and as a result cripple the global population. That would be a severe blow to ecotourism, angling and commercial fishing. Worse yet, it would disrespect and damage the cultures of native peoples who revere salmon, who depend on salmon for physical and spiritual sustenance. It would strain animal populations that all depend on salmon for food, on the land and in the sea, and fracture the web of life in ways we cannot yet predict. Such a breakdown would further impact food stocks, further impact culture and tourism, and so on. These are consequences that will outlive any mine by far, consequences that cannot be easily reversed, if at all.
So what is the lesser of two evils? Choosing to not exploit viable mining, or sacrificing a critical natural resource that in all likelihood cannot be replenished?
How should America regard salmon? A food source? A draw for tourism? A facet of indigenous culture?
The answer is all of the above, and that’s a treasure worth more than precious metals.
The Army Corps of Engineers plans to release the draft Environmental Impact Statement on or before the 22nd of February and there will be a 90 day public comment period. Stay tuned for how to make your voice heard on this critical issue.
By Taylor Shedd, Inland Ocean Coalition Policy Manager
Some of you may know that June is orca awareness month. Few of you may know that there is a unique population of orca whales that live in the Pacific Northwest called the Southern Residents that are critically endangered. Even fewer of you may know that I, Taylor, am the Inland Ocean Coalition’s newest staff member serving as our Ocean Policy Manager. I am also an orca whale researcher in Washington state and am the Program Coordinator for the Soundwatch Program at The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. Soundwatch is on-the-water education and research that mitigates risk and disturbance away from the Southern Residents in the heavily trafficked Salish Sea. If some of this is starting to sound familiar to you, it may be due to this whale, and this photo.
This is a photo of J-35 ‘Tahlequah’ who carried her deceased calf for 17 days last summer. I actually took this photo and monitored J-35 for 12 days over 1,000 nautical miles (5 days the whales were out in open ocean). This photo made it around the world and back again, and brought attention to the plight of the Southern Resident orca whales. However, this is not a new story.
The Southern Residents are estimated to have numbered around 200 individuals pre-exploitation. In the 1960s, the possibility of holding orca whales in captivity to make a profit was realized with the successful capture and care of Namu in Biritish Columbia, then housed on the Seattle waterfront. Namu did not survive for long, and the search for a replacement quickly lead us to the Southern Residents. Around this time researchers had just figured out how to identify individual orca whales, and realized that pods are made up of strong family and social bonds. In 1972, the last live capture of orca whales in the United States took place in Penn Cove in Washington where 47 Southern Residents were removed from the populations. Five did not survive the capture, and the rest were sent around the world to theme parks. The whales returned to the wild were mostly older individuals and males, since young females were targeted by theme parks for their reproduction potential. In 1975, there were only 71 Southern Residents left in the wild. Today there are 76.
In the late 90s there was an increase to 98 individuals in the population, but since then there has been a steady decline in the Southern Resident population. This decline lead to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listing the Southern Residents as a distinct endangered population under the Endangered Species Act. In this listing, three main threats to the populations where listed as vessel disturbance, prey availability, and contamination.
Great efforts have gone into reducing these risks to the whales with the most recent rendition being taken by Washington state Governor Jay Inslee. In March 2018, Inslee signed an executive order creating an Orca Recovery Task Force that would produce legislation to further aid in the recovery of the Southern Residents in a years time. Last summer was a difficult time for the whales and we had three high profile losses in the population: J-35’s calf (unnamed), J-50 ‘Scarlet’, and L-92 ‘Crewser’. A year has passed, so what’s changed? Four bills passed through the state legislature that came from the Task Force. Most of these changes focus on vessel disturbance, increasing approach distance by vessels from 200 to 300 yards, introducing a speed limit of 7 knots within a half mile of whales, and including Be Whale Wise information into state boater testing.
Other bills targeted habitat restoration for salmon and forage fish, and increasing hatchery production in an effort to provide more prey for the Southern Residents. The Task Force is set to meet again in 2019 to establish longer term recovery efforts for the Southern Residents.
If you’d like to learn more about the Southern Residents, or be a part of the naming process for the two new calves, visit The Whale Museum’s website. If you are in the area and would like to volunteer for Soundwatch you can find information there as well. For those who would just like to help the whales there are many things you can do. Being informed and educated is a great first step, and even if you do not live in the Pacific Northwest there are things you can do everyday to help these whales. Being eco-friendly and using less single-use plastic benefits that environment as a whole. Purchasing truly sustainable seafood is a great way to reduce bycatch and impacts to the ecosystem. Being a part of the Inland Ocean Coalition, helping to educate your community and representatives, and sharing your voice can make the biggest difference. We’re excited to share our passion with you, and hope you share yours with us, so we can best protect all that we love.
The summer is approaching and it’s easy to notice the vegetation around us becoming more green. The days are longer and the weather is warmer. During the warmer part of the year we may also take notice of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in ponds, waterways, and lakes. HABs are present in all 50 states and harm aquatic ecosystems. With an increased understanding of the problem, we can take steps in the community to reduce this environmental stressor. This in turn can help protect the ocean.
Algae refers to a group of marine and freshwater organisms that photosynthesize. These organisms may or may not be related. Seaweed and kelp are examples. Algae is common in the environment; however, an abundance of algae is harmful. It impacts aquatic habitats, drinking water, and the economy.
Certain varieties of algae produce toxins. Illness and even death may result from consuming contaminated fish or shellfish. Oxygen depletion can also result in HABs. This may suffocate animals or force them into migration. Economies are impacted by the decrease of consumable fish and recreational beaches are impacted with HABs.
Harmful algal blooms are continually being researched and explored today. Algal blooms happen for a number of different reasons and can have lasting effects on our environment. If we seek to reduce HABs in landlocked states we can have an impact in protecting the ocean.
During these warmer months when HABs are likely to occur we can take precautions to reduce the likelihood of occurrences. Nitrogen and phosphorus, for instance, lead to more outbreaks of HABs. It’s essential to use only the recommended amount of fertilizers or use organic and natural fertilizers strategically to reduce nutrients from running off into waterways. If we make sure our septic systems are maintained we can prevent wastewater contamination in waterways.
Understanding water quality issues like HABs can help establish cleaner waterways in local communities. Cleaner local waterways can result in a cleaner ocean, and through understanding we can help to enact regulations that will provide us with healthier aquatic and marine ecosystems.
Davenport, Coral. “E.P.A. Blocks Obama-Era Clean Water Rule.” The New York Times, 31 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/31/climate/trump-water-wotus.html.
MacDonald, James. “The Problem With Algae Bloom.” Science & Technology, JSTOR. 24 Oct. 2017, daily.jstor.org/the-problem-with-algae-bloom/.
“Algal Blooms.” Colors of an Algal Bloom | CeNCOOS, www.cencoos.org/learn/blooms/habs/impacts.
“Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB)-Associated Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Dec. 2017, www.cdc.gov/habs/prevention-control.html.
By Jacob Villalobos, trained Ocean Ranger and Inland Ocean Coalition volunteer
The Trump administration has a very different definition of conservation.
Following the December announcement that the sizes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments of Utah will be greatly reduced, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released the next step for “responsible extraction” of America’s oil and gas resources along the nation’s coast.
The National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program will potentially open up 90 percent of the Outer Continental Region of America’s coastlines to “exploration and development,” regions of American marine ecosystems that were originally set aside for extended preservation and recovery by previous administrations. “Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Zinke.
Zinke and the Department of the Interior, in a press release in Late December, went on to say that the administration is leaving behind a “Conservation stewardship legacy, second only to Roosevelt,” while simultaneously placing emphasis on the expansion of hunting and fishing in ten wildlife refuges where such activities are currently strictly regulated. Despite the continued outcry against the reduction of America’s refuges and monuments, the Trump administration continues to reframe the definitions of conservation to include the potential for heavy resource extraction, a disregard for biodiversity, and ultimately, a strong emphasis on the acquisition of profits.
In response to the announcement by Zinke, 2.8 million Americans submitted public comments to the White House urging the administration to reconsider reductions to the sizes of the many monuments that are up for review, which Zinke promptly ignored.
The pushback from American mayors from states along the coastline was swift, with the majority directly opposing the proposal, citing the importance of fishing, the wellbeing of marine biodiversity, and tourism revenue, which provides coastal communities and the economy at large with billions of dollars every year. The move, if finalized, would expose vast swaths of coastline to further risk of extraction accidents as well as to the threat of seismic survey technology, a practice in petroleum and gas exploration in which sound waves are used to discover untapped oil and gas reservoirs. The practice has been highly criticized by scientists and activists, citing severe harm to migratory species who utilized sound for communication and navigation purposes, among other issues.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management open comment period ends March 9th, and we need as many voices as possible to create a conservation chorus based upon compassion, science, unity, and truth. Together we can protect the entirety of the US coast from further exploitation and unnecessary, long term damage to precious marine life and delicate ecosystems. Together, we cannot be ignored.
By Kris Lindhal, realtor and water enthusiast from Blaine, Minnesota
The importance of clean, vibrant water cannot be understated. The environment constitutes our home and the arteries that deliver life-sustaining elements should be treated as sacred. But many people may not realize that these resources can also have a profound impact on our everyday health and wellness. Consider these positive effects of living near a clean lake, stream, river or sea, and how you can help keep them pure.
Ocean Air Combats Free Radicals
When we are exposed to secondhand smoke, exhaust fumes and industrial pollutants, free radicals can damage the cells in your body that may lead to cancer. Spending time by large water sources such as the ocean and breathing in the negative ions associated with sea air helps the body acquire oxygen and fight off free radicals. This healthy state helps improve our cognitive powers and brings serotonin levels into balance.
Psychological Effects of Natural Waterways
Few would dispute the fact that spending time by the water has a calming effect on the mind and spirit. While the high levels of negative ions in the air helps balance out serotonin levels, the sounds of waves breaking on the shore or the trickle of a stream flowing over rocks can relieve significant stress. Like calming music sounds can have a powerful impact on everyday moods. Repetitive sounds, such as the soft sounds of moving water can have a meditative effect.
How Homeowners Can Help Keep Water Clean
Legislation such as the Clean Waters Act was established to protect the environment from the harmful actions of industry. But the average home also has a significant impact on water purity. In addition to reducing our carbon footprint at home, consider these simple things homeowners can do to help protect our waterways:
Manage Hard Surfaces: Things like driveways and walkways tend to be pathways for pollutants to travel into storm drains. Use more gravel and materials that allows water to return to the Earth directly. If unavoidable, install a trench or catch area to capture water.
Watch What You Flush: Hard materials and products should never be flushed down the toilet. These pose a problem for treatments plants and can end up in waterways. Chemicals and medications should also be limited to trash disposal.
Proper Disposal: Automobiles use a variety of environmentally harmful compounds such as oil, gasoline, antifreeze and others. Home car care should be conducted with a plan to prevent spillage and collection in mind. Once these dangerous chemicals hit the ground, they will find their way to the water table.
Environmentally Friendly Products: Switch to all-natural and environmentally friendly dish soaps, laundry detergents and other products that routinely find their way down the drain. When purchasing items to keep your home clean and fresh, consider adopting a philosophy of do no harm in your daily life.
By Jacob Villalobos, a trained Colorado Ocean Coalition Ocean Ranger
We all eat. We all breathe. We require water to live, and we are all subject to the effects of the weather and climate. No matter where you may be in this world, the ocean makes all of our lives possible. In our day to day lives, it can be easy to carry on without considering the natural processes that allow us to sustain our economies, enable our cultures, and plan for future generations. It can be difficult to comprehend the many connections we have to the ocean, especially if you live away from the coasts. But nonetheless, we are all critically dependent on a healthy, functioning ocean. And a healthy ocean requires an informed, mobilized public ready to protect it.
President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that would allow for the expansion of oil and gas exploration along US coastlines, a move that would endanger a host of marine sanctuaries along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, American Samoa, and Hawaii. The “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” aims to allow fossil fuel companies to expand their reach into regions of the American coast and beyond that were recently set aside for conservation by the Obama administration. In doing so, the future of 11 protected areas may be in jeopardy, as the Trump administration will begin to review the policy behind each sanctuary to either limit or abolish their protected status and weaken their protective capabilities.
President Barack Obama invoked a provision in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 to permanently ban the development of offshore drilling practices along large portions of the Atlantic and Alaskan coasts, an unprecedented act that would ensure his environmental legacy following the Paris Climate Accord and the designation of numerous American monuments and reserves, both on land and sea. In continuing his quest to dismantle the Obama legacy, President Trump has promised to revitalize the fossil fuel industry by crippling numerous environmental regulations he claims are harmful to the economy. Despite the downward trend in oil and gas prices and the continued rise of renewable energy, President Trump is adamant that the revival of American prominence on the world stage lies in our continued reliance on an outdated and dangerous energy system. He has said, “Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent.”
National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine Monuments are both types of marine protected areas (MPAs). The primary difference between the two is the process by which they are designated and the laws under which they are established. More broadly, marine protected areas are regions of seas, oceans, estuaries, and lake and river systems that are designated as limited or no use areas for the purpose of conserving biodiversity, ecosystems, and natural resources.
This is a centuries old idea that received modern revision during the 1950s and 1960s as fish stocks and marine resources began to plummet under the weight of industrial pressures. Using the Antiquities Act of 1906, a statute enacted by President Theodore Roosevelt, President Obama protected over 550 million acres of land and sea, and more than doubled the existing size of MPAs in the US, including the massive Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.
The Trump Administration, through the Department of Commerce, has announced a 30 day public comment period on the review of National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments Designated or Expanded since April 28, 2007. This review opens up our nation’s underwater treasures to the threat of oil and gas exploration and development and the myriad dangers that come with this – seismic airgun blasting, oil spills, and an increase in the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet with devastating impacts on our ocean.
As citizens of inland America, it is essential that we be aware of the importance of marine protected areas, not only for their aesthetic value, but for their ability to revitalize and sustain natural resources that are critical to the wellbeing of our ourselves, our economy, and the generations that will come after us. Our communal waste, be it plastics, agricultural runoff, or industrial pollution, inevitably finds it way into the ocean, as we have seen in dramatic fashion with the rise of massive garbage patches and vast dead zones where little life can thrive. Our food and transportation choices impact marine food webs, creating emissions that are absorbed by the seas, increasing ocean acidity and and temperature and contributing to the melting of the planet’s ice sheets. Although we may live our lives hundreds or thousands of miles from a coastline, our actions and our knowledge of the collective impact of humanity on the ocean will nonetheless have an effect on its long term functionality and resilience.
Putting America first means protecting its natural treasures for all Americans, not exploiting their resources for short term gain for a very select few. It means keeping an eye on future generations and actively preparing a world for them that is as rich and beautiful for them as it has been for us. It means recognizing the true economic potential that lies in maintaining the oceans as they are, not in exploiting the combustible refuse of an ancient world that no longer exists. It means disseminating knowledge, founded in sound science, that opens our eyes to the true complexity of the seas, creating a community of inclusivity where all people identify with their many connections to the ocean. With the continued rise of denialism and rhetoric aimed at discrediting scientists and the realities of the dire state of this beautiful blue planet, the power of our communal voice has never been so important.
Take Action! The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation has written a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in opposition to revoking or weakening any of the designations or expansions of national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments that are under review. Please add your name today and/or submit a comment to the Federal Register on why protecting these areas is important to you.
A key component of the Blue Vision Summit in Washington D.C. is Hill Day where participants talk to their federal Senators and Representatives. The Inland Ocean Coalition showed up in force with a delegation of fourteen. The group consisted of Colorado residents as well as chapter leads and members from around the country and a resident of Canada. As an inland delegation, we began the day on the Senatorial side of the Capitol and ended the day in the House buildings.
We met with staff members from the following offices: Cory Gardner (R-CO), John McCain (R-AZ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Gary Peters (D-MI), Scott Tipton (R-CO), Jared Polis (D-CO), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Dana DeGette (D-CO), and Doug Lamborne (R-CO). The meeting agenda’s varied based on the audience, but in general, we discussed: plastic pollution, offshore oil drilling, joining the Ocean Caucus, the threatened Antiquities Act and protecting National Marine Sanctuaries. We addressed specific house and senate bills depending on whether we were speaking with Senators or Representatives. With a majority of legislative aids, we covered the Save Our Seas Act, the Trash Reduction Act, and/or the proposed drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
The Save our Seas Act was introduced by Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK). It is a bill to reauthorize and amend the Marine Debris Act in order to promote international action to reduce marine debris and encourage the leadership to interact internationally to address plastic pollution. The examination of the Monuments under the Antiquities Act, initiated by President Trump, endangers many marine monuments: The Marianas Trench, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Pacific Remote Islands, Papahanaumokuakea, and Rose Atoll. The delegation asked all members of Congress with whom we spoke to vote against the de-designation of the ocean monuments.
The Trash Reduction Act is currently in the House and involves “carry-out” bags. The federal government has begun to enforce a ban on bans, taking away the ability of states to ban plastic bags. In our meetings, the delegation asked that representatives give the power back to the people and allow the decision to be made on a local level.
In specific meetings, the delegation did not discuss offshore drilling because research into previous voting records indicated that it would be pointless. With this approach, our meetings were productive, civil, and encouraging.
Senator Cory Gardner was not willing to join the Ocean Caucus, is supportive of offshore drilling, but wanted to learn more about the Save Our Seas Act, and said it had been brought to their attention before. The aid in Senator John McCain’s office took notes on the ocean caucus, may be in support of voting against offshore drilling for National Security reasons, and was interested in the Save Our Seas Act. The aid for Senator Michael Bennet listened intently, and shared our concerns, and requested that the Inland Ocean Coalition stay in touch. Senator Gary Peters from Michigan is a member of the Ocean Caucus, is co-sponsoring the Save Our Seas Act, is against offshore drilling, is interested in learning more about plastics, and is aware of the importance of inland communities in ocean conservation. With Representative Scott Tipton’s aid, the coalition focused mainly on plastics, and there was little interest; he did, however, take notes because of the bipartisan nature of the Save Our Seas Act, and suggested that the Inland Ocean Coalition begin to lobby our states for the Trash Reduction Act. Representative Jared Polis is a member of the Ocean Caucus, is against offshore drilling, was interested in creating a house version of the Save Our Seas Act, but needs a Republican to cosponsor the bill. He is an ocean advocate and an ocean champion! Representative Ed Perlmutter wants to shrink his caucus list so he will not be joining Ocean Caucus. His voting record, however, is aligned with the values of the delegation, and he requested to be kept apprised of the Inland Ocean Coalition’s actions going forward and to be a newsletter recipient. Representative Dana Dugette is completely aligned with the values of the Inland Ocean Coalition and wants to join the Ocean Caucus. The last meeting of the day was with a legislative aid of Representative Doug Lamborn. The delegation only discussed plastics and preserving the monuments currently under review. We had a productive discussion regarding how to incentivize people to reduce their plastic bag use. The aid was more aligned with offering rewards for bringing one’s own bag, rather than penalizing plastic bag use in the form of a tax. He was also in support of reevaluating the preservation of monuments.
Overall it was a fun, informative, and energizing day. Given the current political climate, it is even more important that coalitions like ours stand up and make sure we are heard. It was a great reminder that the United States is a democracy and individuals matter. The ocean is rising, but so are we.