April 8th, 2005
By David Helvarg
On Friday, April 8th the Blue Frontier Campaign, with the support of the Living Oceans Foundation, Clean Ocean Action, the Baltimore Aquarium, Common Counsel, Coast Alliance and others held its first regional Blue Vision Conference in Baltimore. It drew some 50 people from 30 seaweed groups active in the Mid-Atlantic between New York and North Carolina.
This was the first follow-up to our July 11-13, 2004 national Blue Vision Conference of 250 in Washington DC.
We spent much of the day in the aquarium’s spectacular Harbor View room and, despite the distractions of the nearby marine animals and the dragon boats on the bay, we managed to stay focused on our mission, to unify and strengthen the ocean and coastal constituency along the middle Atlantic seaboard.
The program began at 10AM with introductions by myself, Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action and Glenn Page, Director of Conservation for the aquarium. “Blue Frontier is a new model,” he said, going on to suggest that, “The kind of Blue Vision we’re looking at involves outreach and engagement with the public and groups like yours so that we (aquariums and zoos) don’t become displays of what habitat used to look like.” The aquarium is now working with the public on efforts that include local marsh restoration, marine mammal rescue, “Ocean Awareness” days along the shore, and conservation work in the Bahamas.
The first conference presentations (by Beth Millemann of the Ocean Policy Project, Eric Rardin of the Marine Fish Conservation Network and myself) were on major federal ocean issues now in play in Washington including the President’s Ocean Action Plan, the Ocean Caucus’s ‘Ocean’s 21’ bill for ecosystem-based management of US waters, the status of a new bill for fisheries reform (HR 1431) and the Magnuson-Stevens Act (the main federal fisheries law). We also talked about the status of the energy bill and other attempts to expand offshore drilling and LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) platforms in areas presently under a congressional drilling moratorium.
We then spent over an hour going around the room to find out the priorities of the different activist, policy, commercial, educational, and scientific groups represented.
Their concerns included: Nutrient pollution, Waterfront restoration, Fish and human health, Storm water runoff, safe aquaculture, Combined Sewer Overflows, Marine Reserves, Water Quality, Coastal development, Land use, protecting horseshoe crabs, power-plant impacts on fish, watershed education, decaying infrastructure, and public access to the beach and shore, among other topics.
Common themes seemed to include concerns over fishing and pollution. Interestingly, while most of the groups had expressed concern over offshore energy development, none of them presently work on it as a priority issue.
This led rather logically (if coincidentally) into the panel on the Virginia Offshore Oil Fight – or how a blue coaltion quickly formed this spring to defeat and attempt to open the coastline to oil and gas drilling.
House Resources Chair Dick Pombo (R.-CA) has floated the idea of a bill (called SEACOR) to allow states to opt out of a quarter century old moratorium on oil and gas drilling in most federal waters. The Virginia state house passed a bill in support of his scheme.
Our conference panel included three key players who helped win a veto of the state bill – Mike Town, head of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, Beth Millemann of OPP and Buffy Baumann who’d been working for the US Public Interest Research Group.
Mike talked about mobilizing local and state response, including how they worked with the Mayor of Virginia Beach, and how they did high profile protests like creating a (black plastic) “oil spill” on the beach. Buffy and Beth talked about how they mobilized regional and national response after hearing from Mike, that ranged from going to the Assateague Chamber of Commerce (“you don’t want oily ponies”) to reaching out nationally, including (through longtime anti-oil activist Richard Charter) getting California politicians to call the Governor. Beth noted their seaweed success was also a result of “seeing local, state and national groups coming together to work in a collaborative and respectful manner.” They agreed we can expect more of these energy fights at both the state and national level.
Discussion later focused on the fact that the Mid-Atlantic region may be particularly well positioned to influence marine issues like energy or pollution because it’s congressional delegations include a number of moderate Republicans and are generally bipartisan on ocean protection issues (provided they hear from their constituents).
Lunchtime was left open for people to network and collaborate and trade gummy sharks, light pens and fish beads from their program bags.
After lunch we had three presentations on ‘Mid Atlantic Strategies for Change” from Will Baker, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Todd Miller, ED of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and Cindy Zipf, ED of Clean Ocean Action (of New Jersey).
Will spoke of the costs of clean up and how a ‘flush tax” of $2.50 a month that was passed by Maryland voters will reduce 40 million pounds of the 110 million pounds of nitrogen flowing into the bay every year that has to be eliminated. He spoke of a CBF march of 500 people on the Virginia legislature where the demonstrators all wore blue scarves for clean water and got $50 million of new funding from a conservative republican legislature. “We don’t have any idea of the potential power we have,” he said, and called for new coalitions with conservatives who are also pro conservation. He reported that CBF will soon begin working at the federal level to demand matching funds for the states and recognition of the Bay as a national treasure to be protected.
Using slides of languid Carolinian bays Todd Miller spoke of a range of tactics and tools the Coastal Federation uses including advocacy, coastkeepers, restoration, preservation and education to advance the cause of the coast. He spoke of the use of oysters as indicators and organizers for coastal health and how they’ve established a string of oyster hatcheries and oyster growing zones (oyster sanctuaries) that have helped win a range of public interests to their cause.
Cindy gave a presentation on the New York/New Jersey Clean Ocean Zone proposal that has been developed over the past two years by a coalition of anti-pollution activists, recreational and commercial fishing groups, coastal communities, and businesses. It would protect the 19,000 square mile New York Bight from dumping and drilling and other extractive industrial activities. Rather than waiting for Washington to act they began with local interests and now plan to have the Clean Ocean Zone Act introduced as stand-alone federal legislation.
The conferees were excited by this idea and bottom-up approach and voted overwhelmingly to support it (after having a chance to fully review it). They also responded positively to the idea of joining in a Hill Day (visit to Capitol Hill) to promote the NY/NJ Clean Ocean Zone among elected representatives from the Mid-Atlantic.
We next passed out two short guides to effective lobbying and media work for the oceans – you can download the handouts for Lobbying and Media by >>>CLICKING HERE<<<
As it was now around 3PM and even the most dedicated seaweeds need some late-afternoon stimulation, we brought out the bike horns and ‘Seaweed Rebel’ T-shirts (prizes) and divided the room into two teams. As the aquarium has a pregnant dolphin and sick but recovering harbor seal, the teams were named Dolphins & Seals (and their score sheets illustrated by Sherman’s Lagoon cartoonist Jim Toomey who was with us for the day). Each team was represented by 3 players who blew horns and answered a series of ‘Ocean Policy Survivor’ questions relating to how we win change in Congress. It was a close contest with Seals winning 8-7, but all of us really winning if we can become a more effective movement (Yeah right, -tell that to the guys who didn’t get the t-shirts!).
After a review of Hill Visit tactics (‘Don’t talk about the meeting you’ve just had in the bathroom, elevator or hallway’) we opened up the floor (and tables) to a discussion about the future of Mid-Atlantic collaboration.
People felt they’d gotten a lot out of the day. There was agreement that we would keep an eye on LNG and other coastal energy impacts and be prepared for rapid response. It was suggested Bluefront.org keep a posting of key issue topics for others to track. There was also endorsement of a Blog (rather than Listserv) that would allow people to track common topics of interest without being overwhelmed by e-mails. There was a consensus that a regular Mid-Atlantic Blue Vision meeting like this one should be held every 6 or 12 months.
There was also strong support for an Ocean Lobby Day – not around specific legislation but, as occurred in July 2004, around a suite of reforms that will also demonstrate to Congress that there is a strong Blue Movement that needs to be heard. Any such hill visits it was agreed, will have to be complimented with district visits and events (like the annual educational boat trip the Hackensack Riverkeeper provides his Congressman and staff memebers).
The meeting ended with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Aquarium (with many lingering by the big doors to the dolphin pool) and a beer, wine, and culinary reception where people got to mingle, eat and drink into the watery dusk.