Blog Post
by Laurel Kellner / California Ocean Science Trust

Joining the conversation about a healthy ocean in California

September 03, 2014

It’s before sunrise but I’m already out of bed. I am not a fisherman. For me, this is not normal. But today I have the chance to join an emerging discussion on ocean health, and what it means for California. Like mom, apple pie, and flag waving, I’m soon to hear it’s becoming a popular concept. I’m heading to our state capitol to find out why.

Why are we talking about a healthy ocean?

What brought 65 people to a wood-paneled room, almost 100 miles from the sea, to sit down and talk about it? As Cat Kuhlman, the Executive Director of the Ocean Protection Council, explained, “The ocean defines who we are.”  Not just socially and spiritually. We all know we are what we eat, and “We’re not going to stop eating,” Tom Weseloh joked. A Consultant of the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, he also knows that “We’re not going to stop eating seafood.” Ocean health matters to our health, I was to hear throughout the two-hour workshop, individually and as a society. What happens in the ocean affects us, whether we live on the coasts or inland, whether we eat seafood or not. We care about the ocean, because we care about our economy, we care about our environment, and we care about about ourselves.

What are healthy oceans?

Like water itself, I was finding out, it’s hard to put boundaries on what ocean health is. This two-hour workshop, on “envisioning ocean health for California,” was organized to start a public discussion on the topic. Definition aside, the conversation alone is a valuable one. It might be easier to start by saying what a healthy ocean isn’t. “Some things that have risen to the surface--no pun intended--,” said John Laird, the Secretary of Natural Resources, “are marine debris, ocean acidification, and climate change.” The ocean absorbs a lot, but it’s not invincible, and what goes in often goes in to stay. “There’s not really a ‘downstream’ of the ocean,” said Louise Bedsworth of the California Office of Planning and Research. The participants seemed to agree that we need to understand what a healthy ocean is so we can keep working toward it. Also, that science plays a part.  We’re fortunate that “California,” as Dr. George Leonard of the Ocean Conservancy declared, “is the perfect place to integrate the science” into this concept of ocean health with many groups already working on this mandate.

Secretary Laird dons 3D glasses
for a unique view of CA's seafloor.

How do we get a healthy ocean?

We don’t need to don 3D glasses to see where we need to go to get a healthy ocean. “We need to move the conversation beyond conversation,” says Cat Kulhman. We need to take action—and together. Luckily, ocean health gives us a way to do that. “Having a shared goal,” says Liz Whiteman of Ocean Science Trust, "enables us to build partnerships across traditional boundaries.” I looked around the room and saw the evidence of that.  Fishermen, tribes, resource managers, policy makers, and non-profit leaders filled the seats.  “I throw my vote behind the ocean health concept,” said Leonard, “it’s the great integrator.” Many in the room agreed. Briannon Fraley, of Smith River Rancheria said “I’m hoping to share an indigenous perspective that can inspire us to come together using science, policy and education.”

What can you do?

“Certainly all of us want a healthy ocean as part of our legacy,” Linda Sheehan said, speaking for many in the room and many who couldn’t make it. “So, what next?” was the inevitable question, posed by Becky Ota, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Here’s one answer I heard: Join the dialogue. You can start on OceanSpaces, as Paul Hobi of the MPA Collaborative Implementation Project, pointed out. Create a profile. Write a blog. I was inspired to hear so many people speaking from their hearts about how we can make this happen. Linda Sheehan of the Earth Law Center summed it all up for now: Ocean health? “Maybe we don’t get there right away but the conversation is incredibly valuable.”

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