Protecting Our Oceans

Imagine a world without fish. It's closer than you think. And, it's not the legacy I want to leave for my children. As a Southern California resident and long-time ocean activist, I care deeply about the state of our sea and know we cannot take it for granted. It provides a wealth of economic, recreational and therapeutic benefits.

While issues like climate change and pollution seem to grab all the headlines, another equally dire problem lurks beneath the world's oceans. Or rather, it lurks above them, in party boats and rigs of all shapes and sizes that fish our waters to meet an ever-growing demand for fresh seafood. Our oceans cannot keep up with this pressure. The number of commercial fishing vessels and commercial fishing related revenue in Los Angeles County alone has decreased by over 50% since 1990. Some local fish populations are down 90% from their historical levels.

But, fish are in. Every doctor and health magazine seems to rave about their health benefits. And here in Los Angeles, we have thousands of restaurants that pride themselves on turning consumers on to the latest thing--from disappearing tuna to struggling Pacific salmon.

President Obama declared June Oceans Month, recognizing that the problems facing our seas are too great to be tackled in a single day. Here in Southern California, for those following the implementation of marine protected areas, it might well feel like Oceans Year. Local divers, scientists, surfers and anglers have been working overtime to map out a sustainable future for our coastal waters through the creation these seriously needed pockets of protection, where marine life and habitats can recover and thrive safe from disturbance. As the state draws its plans for these areas, it must keep protections strong, for the sake of everyone who depends on healthy oceans.

Science has shown that marine protected areas are one of the best ways to buffer our oceans from threats like climate change and acidification, and an effective step toward restoring underwater ecosystems. We've seen their effectiveness firsthand as close to home as Santa Barbara. After only five years, kelp forests have grown in the protected areas around the Channel Islands, and fish are larger and more abundant. But while these areas have helped to restore ocean environments worldwide, less than 1% of our seas are protected.

For decades, we have preserved iconic landscapes with wilderness areas and parks. Now, California is leading the charge to do the same underwater. The state is halfway through a science-based public process to create an underwater parks system in our own backyards. On July 28 and 29, a policy task force will meet in Santa Monica to discuss these coastal protections. Divers, anglers, business owners, and ocean lovers throughout the region can attend and share their thoughts about protecting our valuable ocean.

Join me in telling the state they must act before it's too late - and they must do it right. This means developing science-based protections for our ocean and resisting industry pressure to weaken them.

With so many people relying on the ocean for business and pleasure, this community-driven process is not without conflict. Some commercial and recreational fishermen are resisting protected areas out of fear of effects to their business - and their voices are loud. But the truth is, protected areas will help make fish more plentiful, and without them, the entire future of fishing is at risk. It is our responsibility as Southern California residents, parents, and coastal users to make sure the state hears us as well.

A healthier ocean benefits our whole community. In the long run, fishermen will catch more fish that spill out of protected areas. And the rest of us will be able to dive, surf, and swim in thriving kelp forests teeming with life. In a time of economic uncertainty and environmental degradation, marine protected areas are the insurance policy we need for the future health and productivity of our California coast. Our amazing submarine canyons, majestic kelp forests and rocky headlands are iconic spots that deserve protection. I hope you will join me in supporting scientifically sound protected areas for Southern California. Consider attending the July 28-29 meeting or sending a letter of support. Learn more at www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa. or www.caloceans.org.