Every year, California’s leading environmental organizations join forces in the State Capitol building to lobby for policies that will benefit the health of our oceans and coasts. Ocean Day 2011, organized by Environment California , brought together 54 participants from 37 different organizations to visit 73 legislative offices on April 4. While many of the organizations represented work on a statewide or national level (i.e. the Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and Natural Resources Defense Council, local groups like San Diego Coastkeeper end up being crucial to the success of our environmental lobbying efforts.
First, most legislators want to meet with someone from their district. Since I live in the City of San Diego and represent our Coastkeeper members from all over the county, I am a more direct link to the pulse of their citizenry than someone working for a larger organization with an office in San Francisco or Sacramento.
Second, I was the only person at Ocean Day advocating for coastal environment protection specifically with San Diego County in mind. We are the third most populous county in California, and our coastline makes up about 10% of California’s coast. Yet Coastkeeper was the only local organization that made the trip to Sacramento to fight for what’s important to San Diego’s coastline and water quality! The ability to tell our area Senators and Assemblymembers about our San Diego beach cleanup data in the context of the upcoming Styrofoam bill (SB 568) was an important local link to push for their support for foam reduction legislation.
Third, many legislators and staffers from both parties simply need a regular reminder of why ocean protection needs to be a priority. We talked about marine debris reduction, support for implementing the Marine Life Protection Act , the plight of sharks and the need to ban shark fin soup, planning for oil spills and climate change and much more. Who else brings that stuff up in their offices in Sacramento, when there are so many issues to consider on a day to day basis?
Finally, we have a few big battles ahead of us. Intense opposition from big budget industries often gets in the way of our environmental
goals – we need to be in the offices of our legislators just as much as they are. For example, lobbying from the plastics industry with millions of dollars and campaign contributions beat out our grassroots efforts and the voices of thousands for last year’s statewide plastic bag ban, AB 1998. Let’s not let that happen again with upcoming bills for copper reduction, shark finning and marine debris.
Ocean Day ends with a sustainable seafood reception where important connections are made between legislators, environmental leaders, agency representatives, and funders. The event is always an excellent way to end a full day of ocean advocacy – by planning future collaborative efforts, celebrating accomplishments, and supporting California businesses that see the value in sustainable fisheries and oceans. Plus, the Drakes Bay Oysters are truly delicious…..