Minds Meet at
Forum on California’s Ocean Future
By Zannah Noe
January 13th, a forum was held at the Herbst Theater on the
state of our oceans. Co-sponsored by the National Marine
Sanctuaries and the Commonwealth Club of California, the
evening was moderated by Michael Krasny of KQED. Five
panelists delivered passionate speeches on the depletion of
our fisheries, erosion of our coasts, and the polluting of
underwater sanctuaries. They represented an array of
scholarly and politically active organizations with a
variety of solutions to protect, preserve, and restore the
health of our oceans. The panel consisted of Michael
Chrisman, Secretary for Resources, State of California; John
E McCosker, Ph.D.; Daniel Basta of NOAA; and Kate Wing, an
ocean policy analyst for the Natural Resource Defense
Council. A common call went out to spread the word that the
most crucial element to successfully saving our oceans is
the involvement of the public. People must participate in
the responsible stewardship of our oceans.
The keynote speaker was the former White
House Chief of Staff for President Clinton, Leon Panetta.
Mr. Panetta has worked tirelessly to make both politicians
and the public aware of the declining state of our oceans.
He outlined some of the major causes for the decline and
gave a number of proposals and suggestions to take action.
Citing the findings of the Pew Oceans Commission (http://www.pewoceans.org)
in conjunction with the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Mr.
Panetta’s report was grim. With coastal development
impacting wetlands, runoff pollution creating dead zones,
and a bureaucratic maze of unorganized and conflicting
policies contributing to the failure to protect the vital
life cycle of the ocean, Panetta asserted that, “If we keep
to our course, our seas will not support our children.”
Mr. Panetta’s response to these findings
calls for leadership at the national level. He suggested a
National Ocean Policy that would fulfill the dire need for
streamlining the bureaucratic process by instituting
policies from the top down. Highlighting the most urgent
recommendations, Mr. Panetta advised devising a cohesive
plan to manage sustainable fisheries and strengthen
pollution requirements from cruise ships and aqua culture.
Reforms include implementation of a regional eco-system plan
where local use of coastal land is congruous with the ocean.
Also at the top of his list is educating the public.
Mr. Michael Chrisman, Secretary of Resources
for the State of California, will participate in a
leadership role with Governor Schwarzenegger to form an
ocean action plan that will be the first of its kind. Mr.
Chrisman recognizes the need for leadership and wishes to
spearhead a group that would create a template for a
national policy. The new policy would involve stewardship at
the local level, as well as offer direction for forming
councils to help draft a new umbrella policy to protect the
ocean as a living habitat while maintaining its function as
John McCosker, a senior
scientist with the California Academy of Sciences, got a
round of applause when he suggested that the audience hold
Mr. Chrisman’s political feet to the fire for his promises.
“Holding leaders to their word constitutes the first step in
good stewardship of our oceans.” Mr. McCosker continued,
“This is the triage moment of the state of the sea.”
Extolling science is a way to mitigate and reverse the
effects of pollution and degradation of marine habitats. He
warned that the “shifting baselines” of the public are
passive reactions to the loss of our oceans as a resource.
Citing a personal story to illustrate his point, he told of
the abundance of abalone that littered the beach in his
grandfather’s time, his father’s stories of diving for
abalone, and his own knowledge of abalone as a rare
delicacy. He feels that if the decline is viewed as normal,
we won’t know there is a wound to heal. Mr. McCosker
suggests that through science we can document changes and
therefore better understand how to help save our oceans.
Daniel Basta, Director of NOAA’s National
Marine Sanctuary Program, shed light on ways to bring the
public into the business of conservation and preservation of
the oceans. Citing ownership as a primary impulse to
protect, he has worked to achieve this vision in unique
ways. Supporting coastal heritage agendas, he understands
that maritime history hits a nerve with the American public.
Installing underwater webcams in the kelp forest of Monterey
Bay for classroom education is a way to bring people into
the fold of ocean preservation. Our coastal communities need
the support of landlocked states for financial, political,
and educational gains to be made in reforming ocean policy.
The final panelist was Ms. Kate Wing, an
ocean policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense
Council. Ms. Wing emphasized that stopping offshore oil
drilling isn’t enough; management must be accountable for
what we take out of our oceans as well as what we put in.
She used the analogy of an accountant that didn’t track
income or expenses yet still expected to pull a paycheck
indefinitely from the company that it managed. “If we expect
the ocean to pay dividends to support generations to come,
then we should be practicing good accounting.” Her
background in fishery management informs her duty to her
“clients,” i.e., fish. Ms.Wing delivered an inspirational
call to fix the management of fisheries by knowing limits
and managing what is out there. She implored the audience to
invent new ways to redirect our pollution instead of
exhausting the ocean as a filter for our pollution.
The message is clear: public involvement is
crucial to protecting our oceans. All of the host
organizations, The Commonwealth Club of California,
Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, National Marine
Sanctuaries, Gulf of the Farallones, and the National Marine
Sanctuary Foundation, encourage and welcome questions and
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