Protecting oceans now a regional quest


As more research shows the worlds’ oceans are deteriorating, the West Coast is taking a united stand for ocean health.

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington pledged to better protect and manage the ocean and coastal resources when they signed the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health in 2006.

The agreement’s long-term action plan, released in July, calls for the three states to coordinate efforts and share information on several fronts, from clean beaches to research and public education.

“It’s a great step,” said Tony Haymet, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It capitalizes on things done before and takes them to another level.”

No boundaries

Historically, coastal issues were addressed individually. But there are no state boundaries when it comes to pollution and invasive species. From Washington to Baja California, the entire West Coast is linked by the California Current.

A regional approach is believed a much smarter and effective way to manage the ocean and coastal resources.

Government agencies representing each state developed the action plan with public input received at workshops and letters.

“The challenge was coming up with something real and tangible,” said Brian Baird, assistant secretary of ocean and coast policy for the California Resource Agency. “We didn’t want to have an agreement with very fuzzy kinds of goals and overtures. We wanted to have specific, hard-hitting actions in this plan.”

Setting priorities

The plan identifies seven priority areas with 26 actions, such as:
  • combating pollution with incentive programs for low-impact development;
  • establishing a baseline estimate of marine debris and set goals for removal;
  • enhancing state and federal collaboration for oil spill prevention, preparedness and response;
  • developing a regional marine research plan.
The plan also calls for conducting a West Coast-wide assessment of anticipated impacts of climate change and planning how to adapt to those changes.

Finding funds

The states lack the resources to fully implement the action plan, and plan to lobby Congress to establish a national ocean trust fund.

This is a formidable challenge small coastal cities know all too well. Cities struggle to meet clean storm water mandates without any funding from the federal or state governments.

“A lot of responsibility is passed to local agencies without resources of the state,” said David Ott, city manager of Solana Beach. “It could be very beneficial, all three states working together on coastal issues.”

How effective the plan is remains to be seen. Timelines are set for each proposed action, and annual progress reports are promised.

“There is such interest on part of the environmental community and industry, they are going to keep our feet to the fire,” Baird said.

Some improvements have been observed already, Baird said. Communication between the states on ocean issues dramatically increased with the agreement, said Baird, who now speaks with the Oregon and Washington governors’ offices once a week.

Haymet said he is optimistic. Political will is critical for achieving policy changes and having three governors advocate for ocean health is encouraging.

“I don’t know of a better time when the ocean had so many friends at various levels of political life,” Haymet said.