THE BLUE WAVE (PART TWO)
March 22, 2009
By David Helvarg
On Monday March 9 some 400 people from more than 200 Ocean organizations ranging from Clean Ocean Action and the Waterkeeper Alliance to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard heard what could be the first rippling sound of a tidal shift in U.S. Ocean policy.
After two days of ocean and coastal community building (see Blue Notes #56) the third day of the Washington D.C. based Blue Vision Summit opened with a panel on “Advancing Federal Ocean Policy.” This panel was moderated by David Wilmot of Ocean Champions since the original moderator, Pew Ocean Commission Chair Leon Panetta, had been tagged to run the CIA. We figure that while this may improve our national security, President Obama still owes the ocean one.
Representing our first bodysurfing Chief Executive was his Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley. Also on the panel were Rep. Sam Farr (see previous blue notes), Delegate Madeleine Bordallo of Guam (Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on the ocean) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, “the Ocean State.” Bordallo spoke of the U.S. now having the leadership necessary to move forward on issues such as Farr’s Oceans 21 act along with bills like her HR81 Shark Conservation Act and efforts to protect coral reefs.
CEQ Chair Sutley noted they’d had a busy first 6 weeks in office “with our economic challenge,” and that the administration has committed $830 million to NOAA. She spoke of an environmental agenda including controlling climate emissions, a mercury treaty and “the numerous issues facing our ocean and coasts such as (climate linked) sea level rise, ocean acidification, coastal adaptation and resiliency.” She also gave a nod to offshore energy development and ocean governance issues. Given her background dealing with southern California air quality and climate the ocean community will be looking to new NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco (finally confirmed by the Senate March 19) and Sutley aide Mike Boots, recently of SeaWeb, to help bring her up to speed on non-climate issues impacting our public seas including industrial overfishing, nutrient and plastic pollution and loss of coastal habitat. Still Sutley’s appearance was more content driven than that of Bush CEQ Chair Jim Connaughton at our 2004 Blue Vision Conference.
Sam Farr reiterated how with 144 different agencies and aspects of the ocean divided up by federal bureaucracies we need his Ocean Conservation, Education & National Strategy for the 21st Century (Oceans 21) Act to create a common ecosystem-based approach to governance and funding for the sea.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who’s married to a marine biologist, talked about oceanic impacts from toxic waste, dead zones and the Pacific garbage gyre, of hurricanes and climate-linked acidification and how the collapse of the ocean food chain is a real and grievous threat. Whitehouse appears to be a good candidate to become the Senate’s new Ocean Champion just as Claiborne Pell, another Rhode Island Senator, was in the 1970s. Whitehouse reminded everyone that Senator Barbara Boxer (D CA) has introduced the National Ocean Protection Act (NOPA), that works as a companion piece to Sam Farr’s HR21 in the House. Although I prefer the Boxer bill in that it would move NOAA out of the trade-driven Department of Commerce and create an independent agency to protect and restore America’s public seas, Farr shows more passion for his bill.
Of course more measurable progress has taken place at the State level than at the federal in recent (Bush) years as was explained by California Secretary of Natural Resources Mike Chrisman, New York Deputy Secretary of State George Stafford and Mass. Undersecretary for Oceans and Coasts Deerin Babb-Brott during a follow-up “State and Regional Initiatives,” panel moderated by NRDC’s Sarah Chasis.
Mike Chrisman talked about California’s work establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas (marine wilderness parks), the state’s Ocean Protection Council and a West Coast Governor’s Agreement on Ocean health even as he faces cutbacks from frozen (conservation) bond dollars due to the state’s economic meltdown. George Stafford explained how the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Act is being implemented and efforts to determine how and where to site offshore renewable energy projects. He also joked about a recent Mid-Atlantic ocean partnership. “We like to think of it as the first interstate ocean agreement of the Obama administration, rather than the last region to get organized.”
Deerin Babb-Brott discussed his own state’s implementation of a trailblazing healthy oceans law while proving that even a powerpoint presentation can be amusing.
When asked how the feds can help the states it was suggested the Coastal Zone Management Act be reauthorized and updated, federal support be given to state coastal preparedness for climate impacts and adaptations. “And, It’d be good to have a national (ocean) policy” Deerin added.
I moderated a “Blue Beat” Luncheon panel with some leading environmental and science reporters including Anne Thompson of NBC, Richard Harris of NRP, Jeff Young of PRI’s Living on Earth, Joel Bourne from National Geographic and Tim Wheeler of the Baltimore Sun. It was a fun and lively discussion on the importance of good story telling, the difficulty of getting beyond lapping wave sounds while recording radio piece, the challenges of being an “endangered species” in print reporting and how the economic downturn impacts media coverage of difficult environmental stories like the Arctic meltdown. There was also lots of Q&A, a Sea Studios PSA on plastic and a chance for the audience to do 30-60 second story pitches to the reporters.
There were several more panels that afternoon on Greening Ports and Shipping, the Arctic Meltdown and Market Strategies (as stated in the last Notes, Blue Frontier Campaign is working to compile transcripts and tapes from as many of the Summit panels, workshops and events as we can and will post them asap. Feel free to forward yours).
Henry David Thoreau once asked, “Who hears the fishes when they cry?”
That question was answered in the “Artists and Writers for the Sea” session that afternoon that highlighted the works, thoughts, images and drawings of National Geographic Photographer Brian Skerry, Marine Artist Wyland, Sherman’s Lagoon Cartoonist Jim Toomey and ocean authors Carl Safina and Deborah Cramer. Their muses turned out to include portly southern Right Whales, sea turtles, voracious sharks and children. Their palpable sense of inspiration and urgency to try and save as much of our living seas as possible resonated with everyone who were there to see them.
The day ended with Eric Rardin of Care2.com and John Weber of Surfrider training folks on how to do Capitol Hill Visits on Tuesday and direct action organizing for change when they returned home.
That evening the D.C. Chapter of Surfrider held the wildest Summit party with Surfini’s, octopus origami, magic marker-tattoos by Toomey and Wyland and tattoed arm wrestling at the D.C. Science Club.
On Tuesday March 10 dozens of Summit participants were greeted on the House side of Capitol Hill by Natural Resources Committee Chair Nick Rahall (D, WV), Brian Baird (D WA) Sam Farr (D CA), Lois Capps (D CA) and Delegate Bordallo of Guam before spreading out across the Capitol for a series of 60 meetings with some ten other members of the House, with Senators Lautenberg of New Jersey and Inouye of Hawaii and dozens of House and Senate staffers to promote ocean protection initiatives including an Ocean Act at the level of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of the last century.
At one point the California delegation ran into the New Jersey delegation in the Hart Senate Building and there were suddenly over 30 of us seaweed types milling about like a hungry mob of sea lions (it was well passed lunchtime). At the end of the day we gathered on the Senate side with our key Hill organizer Melanie Marks and began evaluating our impacts. I’ll report on these in a future issue of Blue Notes.
Despite economic hard times that made the trip to D.C. challenging for many, the Blue Vision Summit demonstrated that there is a diverse and powerful ocean constituency beginning to work for the restoration of a healthy ocean and the coastal communities that depend on it from sea to shining sea.
For the full list of sponsors who made the summit possible go towww.bluefront.org/bluevision