A group of high school students boarded a bus at midnight, traveled for hours, and arrived at the Capitol of California early in the morning to speak with state representatives. The uncomfortable ride and lack of sleep did not hinder their goal to advocate for legislation that will support their communities and protect marine environments.
They were part of a larger group who gathered in Sacramento for California’s 15th Annual Ocean Day. This year over 300 people, ranging from kids to long-term ocean conservationists from both inland and coastal regions across California, met with Republican and Democratic legislative offices, urging elected officials to take action to protect our oceans and coasts.
Advocates called for action on a series of issues that threaten the health of our oceans and coastal communities. Federal offshore drilling continues to be a threat to California as we wait for the inevitable release of the new Five-Year Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which may include a leasing plan for drilling in Southern California waters for the first time in over 25 years. Ocean Day advocates asked legislators to oppose any new offshore drilling both within and outside of California’s waters. In addition to the risk of oil spills, which have killed California’s wildlife, coated marine habitats, and polluted California’s beaches in years past, new drilling anywhere contributes to the climate change that affects us all. For these reasons, we need California to boldly oppose all new offshore drilling.
Another oily threat to California relates to our state’s lack of preparation when it comes to dealing with the nonfloating oil that is currently being transported throughout the state. California’s oil spill prevention and contingency plans do not fully address the specific challenges and risks of nonfloating oil. If spilled, this type of oil sinks and can be difficult to impossible to clean up. It is also more detrimental to marine ecosystems, and its clean-up is significantly more expensive. Ideally, there would be no need for this type of preparation. However, because we are still transitioning away from fossil fuels and because nonfloating oil is a present and potentially increasing risk to California, NRDC advocated for AB 936, which will help prepare California against this risk and protect our natural resources and communities.
Groups also advocated for sufficient resources to maintain California’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). To ensure that our MPAs continue to protect some of the most valuable marine ecosystems, we must continue providing adequate funding for enforcement, management, outreach, and monitoring. California’s 124 MPAs protect over 16% of state waters, including some of our coast’s most iconic and environmentally significant regions. The network is viewed as a global model for marine conservation, which makes its success even more important.
The abundance of single-use plastic found in our oceans and coasts was another critical issue for the group. NRDC supported SB 54 and AB 1080 in an effort to reduce the amount of single-use plastics polluting our oceans and coasts. If signed into law, these bills will result in regulations to source reduce and recycle 75% of single-use packaging and products distributed or sold in California by 2030. This year’s Ocean Day introduced plastic-free events to the Capitol by asking participants to bring their own utensils, coffee mugs, and reusable water bottles.
California’s Ocean Day has brought together ocean advocates for the past fifteen years. However, this year the message was particularly powerful and unique. Since 2015, Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, founder of Azul, has worked on expanding the narrative of what it means to be an ocean advocate. She created the group Latinos Marinos in an effort to include more Latinx voices in marine conservation and advocacy, amplifying the voices of these communities and making this work more accessible to California’s diverse population.
What started as a handful of Latinx ocean advocates grew to over 90 people advocating for the well-being of their communities and marine environments from across the state. The determined group of high school students who had ridden the bus since 12 a.m. were part of Latinos Marinos. The group now also includes people from other minority groups further strengthening advocacy efforts and solidarity. Latinos Marinos understands the impact that being able to swim in the ocean or relax on the beach has on individuals. This type of physical connection results in the desire to protect the environment that spans our state’s entire West Coast. Unfortunately, this access and opportunity is often only available to a small proportion of Californians. For this reason, beyond simply protecting marine life and ecosystems, NRDC supported Latinos Marinos in advocating for increased access to beaches for all.
California has been a global leader in innovative and ambitious action across different environmental issues, including marine conservation. In order to protect our marine treasures, clean energy future, and ocean economy, we must continue to advocate for and protect our coasts and oceans. This Ocean Day once again served as a testament to what Californians want from their legislators. It is imperative that California’s elected officials act to protect our ocean, coasts, and communities. The message was clear: Californians demand healthy oceans for all and continued action against federal and corporate threats.
For more information on how to take action to protect our oceans and coasts click here.