Protecting the ocean: Don’t stop at the shoreline

A view of the Pacific Ocean along the Big Sur coast in northern California. (Photo: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz, via Shutterstock)

California has distinguished itself as a climate leader, from reducing carbon emissions to managing wildfire risk and preparing coastal cities for rising seas. But our action to date has largely stopped at the shoreline, despite the fact that some of the first and worst climate impacts are being felt in the ocean.

If you have walked the coastal trail at Point Lobos lately, you may have noticed the once-sprawling kelp forests are shrinking. If you fish or enjoy eating local seafood, surely you have noticed the periodic absence of Dungeness crab at local markets over the past couple years, as heat waves fueled toxic algae blooms that at times made their meat unsafe to eat.

There are actions we can take today that will reduce the pressure on struggling sea life.

Researchers are tracking the northward migration of many species, from tropical jellyfish to spiny lobsters, seeking cooler waters as their home ranges become inhospitably warm.

State and university scientists have studied our ocean’s vulnerability to climate change extensively, and we have a good idea which places and species are at greatest risk. Now, with marine plants and animals suffering from rising water temperatures, increased acidity, and pockets of low oxygen, it is time to move from assessment to action.

There are actions we can take today that will reduce the pressure on struggling sea life and protect the industries and communities that rely on a healthy ocean.

Fortunately, state legislation introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) could be the life-preserver California’s ocean needs to withstand the current effects of climate change and ward off even more dire stressors.

The Ocean Resiliency Act of 2019 (Senate Bill 69) tackles a range of threats facing our fisheries, from fertilizer runoff that feeds harmful algae to sediment flowing downstream from logging operations that violate clean water rules, which can silt up the spaces between rocks where baby salmon shelter and feed.

It can be daunting to move from analysis to action, but the longer we wait, the greater the risk.

While the ocean is uniquely vulnerable to climate impacts, it also holds much-needed solutions. Wetlands, kelp, and eelgrass capture and store a tremendous amount of carbon. The Ocean Resiliency Act will protect and restore these hard-working habitats so they can soak up more emissions, boosting our climate resiliency and slowing the progression of global warming. As a side benefit, these underwater gardens also serve as nurseries for baby fish and shellfish and absorb the force of strong waves during storms, reducing flood risk for low-lying areas.

The Ocean Resiliency Act is the product of a fruitful collaboration between the fishing industry and the conservation community. It is sponsored by our two organizations, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the California Coastkeeper Alliance, because we all have a stake in the health of California’s ocean, and will all benefit from the “no regrets” actions called for in the Ocean Resiliency Act.

While California continues our efforts to reduce carbon pollution, we must also take action to prepare for the climate impacts we face today, and those we know are coming tomorrow. It can be daunting to move from analysis to action, but the longer we wait, the greater the risk.

Thank you, Sen. Wiener, for your leadership on oceans. We look forward to helping you extend California’s climate leadership beyond our coastline to the waters that sustain our $45 billion ocean economy.

Editor’s Note: Noah Oppenheim is executive director of The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. Sean Bothwell is executive director of the California Coastkeeper Alliance.

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