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Blue Vision’s Wave of Activists

11258327_958572390854373_7574075228465014377_n-1Ocean and Coastal advocates from across the nation and our blue world converged on Washington DC May 11-14 for an inspired week of action, education, citizen lobbying and celebration. Here’s a brief summary of what occurred at the 5th Blue Vision Summit and the 8th annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards.
Following an all-day ‘Blue Mind’ Seminar BVS5 opened with an evening ‘Celebration of the Sea’ for more than 300 ocean citizens including Ralph Nader, Rep. Sam Farr and Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz who discussed how to build the ocean movement (hint, start local and build broad coalitions like with the clean-up of Boston Harbor or the California fight against offshore oil, be persistent in your organizing efforts). Explorers Fabien Cousteau and Paul Rose of Nat Geo gave lively presentations on conservation and exploration although I was jealous that Paul got to harass polar bears with camera drones while I spent the last six months organizing conference events. The evening continued with schooling behavior around the food, drink, art, photography and nine ‘Writers for the Sea’ doing book signings for works ranging from ‘War of the Whales,’ to ‘Lunch wore a Speedo.’
Tuesday’s Summit workday included ‘State of the Seas’ talks by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island (the Ocean State), NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathy Sullivan, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson of the Waitt Institute and U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft who pulled no punches about the risks of operating in the Arctic, warning of a “black swan” incident — a disaster of historic proportion — if an oil spill or shipwreck were to occur there, because there would be no way to effectively respond to it.
This was followed by a day of conversations and panels by leading voices for the ocean such as Dr. Jeremy Jackson, NYC Councilman Donovan Richards, National Ocean Council Director Beth Kerttula, Taylor Shellfish Company’s Bill Dewey (whose oyster aquaculture operations in Washington state are being impacted by ocean acidification) and dozens of others speaking from their hearts and fins about the challenges and solutions to key issues: coastal climate impacts, offshore oil, the future of fish and fishing (integrated aquaculture on Long Island Sound and community-based fishing management in Port Orford Oregon are two solutions needing to be scaled up), the polar regions, Marine Protected Areas, marine pollution, ocean recreation (getting the industries who profit from our ocean stoke to work with us for its protection), the Blue economy and other deep topics. That evening included a ‘Blue the Dive’ reception sponsored by the Colorado Ocean Coalition and D.C.’s Blue Planet Scuba dive shop and theme dinners on noise and plastic pollution, using video and using your blue mind to connect with our seas.
On Wednesday we held the largest citizen lobby for ocean conservation in U.S. history! More than 130 ‘Healthy Ocean Hill Day’ participants were welcomed by Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and 4 members of the House including Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico who clearly understands that every state’s a coastal state. Our 24 state delegations went on to hold 163 Hill meetings with 9 Senators, more than 25 House members and dozens of their staffers to voice opposition to new offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic and the Arctic and support a bipartisan bill against IUU (Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported) fishing and pirate fishing. The day of our visit a senate bill was introduced as a companion to the House bill we were supporting. We expect to follow up on this commonsense bipartisan anti-fish piracy (food and national security) legislation until it becomes the law of the land. Foot weary after our long march through the halls of Congress we gathered afterwards for a group photo in front of the Capitol. Our only disappointment was it was too windy to inflate the Great Whale Conservancy’s 90-foot inflatable blue whale lest it take off and become a whale over Washington (the Secret Service warned they’d shoot it down if it left the ground). That evening the D.C. Chapter of Surfrider held a celebratory party including surf videos where not everyone drank like fish.
Thursday morning we held a ‘Report Back’ from our Hill Day and in the afternoon the Peter Benchley Leadership Forum on the ‘Ocean in 2050’ at National Geographic headquarters. Panelists included His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, Enric Sala of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project and Admiral Chuck Michel, Chief of Operations for the Coast Guard. The Forum was moderated by “Her Deepness” Dr. Sylvia Earle. That evening’s Peter Benchley Ocean Award presenters included Senators Schatz of Hawaii and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. The winners included Prince Albert II for National Stewardship, Dr. Daniel Pauly for Science, The Economist for Media, Nainoa Thompson for Exploration, 21-year-old “Shark Girl” Pip Stewart won the Christopher Benchley Youth Award and Todd Miller of the North Carolina Coastal Federation and Dana Beach of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League won the Hero of the Seas Award for their longtime work on coastal restoration (now threatened by proposed offshore drilling). Secretary of State John F. Kerry who won the Policy Award was unable to attend because he was in Russia (damn you Putin!). He did however send a letter of regret and thanks. His presenter Senator Markey spoke of the links between this winter’s massive snowfalls in Boston and record low snow in Alaska and changes in the Arctic from fossil fuel fired climate change that is also warming the ocean. He noted that his state’s famed cod and lobster are “voting with their fins and claws” by moving north into colder waters. We have our work cut out for us but our Benchley winners remind us that we still might be able to scale up our solutions faster than our problems.
The Benchley Awards, sometimes called ‘the Academy Awards of the Ocean’ were followed by a sold-out dinner that included gourmet vegetarian fare (more sustainable than sustainable seafood) and lots of socializing. The next day the Washington Post society page ran a story on it by a reporter who approached the Prince who has explored both poles and worked for marine protection from the high seas to funding vital research on ocean acidification and asked his serene highness, whose twins were recently baptized, ‘Why are we all so obsessed with royal babies?” Really? I thought some of us were more concerned with saving our blue planet.
The feedback from the 400 plus people who attended the Blue Vision Summit and Benchley Awards has been outstanding in our shared belief we advanced the networking, strategy and power of the marine conservation movement May 11-14. Just doing our part to restore the blue in our red, white and blue.