Ocean Advocates Speak Passion to Policy

California Ocean Day was back on March 29, 2022, for its 17th year, and second year as a virtual event. Over 300 advocates convened to hear from speakers and panelists and meet with more than 100 state elected officials to bring more awareness and urgency to a wide range of issues facing California’s coast and ocean.

Hosted by Resources Legacy Fund partners Azul, Environmental California, and the Surfrider Foundation, each year Ocean Day brings together individuals and organizations from around the state to share their concerns and offer ideas for improved ocean protection.  

As a changing climate continues to warm the ocean, raise sea levels, and increase ocean acidification, the resulting impacts to marine wildlife, ecosystems, and human economies are having a catastrophic, domino-like effect. Meanwhile, plastic pollution is contaminating ocean habitats across the globe and oil spills continue to plague our coast. The news can be bleak and the obstacles can seem overwhelming. But in the face of many challenges, Ocean Day is an opportunity to hear from new voices, focus on solutions, and build political support for specific steps that can lead to a better future.

This year’s Ocean Day keynote speaker, Northern Chumash Tribal Council Chair Violet Sage Walker, spoke from the heart about her strong connection to the ocean and coastal lands where she was raised and where her ancestors have lived for thousands of years. Violet described herself as a third-generation ocean advocate, noting she was carrying on the conservation legacy of her late father Chief Fred Collins, who in turn had learned from Chumash elder Pilulaw Khus who fought for decades to protect California’s central coast from multiple threats of industrial development. Violet is leading a campaign to establish the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, the first Indigenous-nominated marine sanctuary in the U.S.  

California has long led the charge on ocean protection, from the California Coastal Act’s guaranteed right of beach access for all to the nation’s first statewide network of marine protected areas. Speakers across today’s panels reiterated a commitment to maintaining California’s innovation and leadership in ocean conservation as we look to meeting the goal of protecting 30 percent of our ocean by 2030 and developing responsible offshore renewable energy.

Speakers from former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, to nationally renowned Latina ocean advocate and executive director of Azul, Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, underscored the importance of building broad and inclusive political coalitions to better protect our ocean. Surfrider Foundation board member and Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Ocean Advocate Anupa Asokan and award-winning Univision newscaster Gabriela Tessier emphasized the importance of sharing personal connections to the ocean and removing barriers so that everyone has a voice in ocean conservation. Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot and Fish and Game Commission President Samantha Murray shared the state’s commitment to advancing equitable, innovative policies that protect the ocean.

Ocean Day made clear that harnessing the power of the wonder and beauty of the ocean, elevating the stories that connect us to it, expanding the community of stakeholders, and listening to Indigenous knowledge and science to guide ocean protection has never been more critical.

As Julie Packard said during a panel session, “In the end, what is true in natural systems, is true in human society. Our lives and fates are intertwined.” Respecting the interconnected relationship between people and ecosystems is vital to securing a future that is resilient and just for oceans, wildlife, people, and nature. This year’s Ocean Day is a bright indicator that the partners in this movement are motivated, passionate, talented, and representative of the diversity of ways that we humans are connected to the ocean and committed to ensuring its health long into the future.