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Celebrate June Ocean Month: Take Action to Conserve Our Ocean

Surfrider is advocating for increased ocean protections across the U.S. including stronger and expanded marine protected areas and a ban on new offshore drilling

In recognition of the critical importance of the ocean, President Biden recently proclaimed June 2022 as National Ocean Month. Indeed, ever since the United Nations declared June 8 to be World Ocean Day in 2002, people and groups from around the world have used the month of June to celebrate the ocean and take steps to protect it. This year, the Biden administration recognized #WorldOceanDay by announcing efforts to create the nation's first-ever Ocean Climate Action Plan, designate a Hudson Canyon marine sanctuary off the Mid-Atlantic, and phase out single use plastics on public lands.

The federal administration is also continuing its efforts to protect ocean ecosystems across the United States. Just over a year ago, the administration launched an ambitious initiative to conserve 30% of our nation’s ocean, land and fresh waters. Dubbed the America the Beautiful campaign, the initiative calls for a decade-long effort to conserve public, private and tribal lands and waters through locally led efforts. Driven by science, the campaign is part of a global 30x30 call to action to tackle the climate change emergency and alarming declines in biodiversity across the planet. 

With this national policy established, now comes the important part: translating a visionary, if somewhat abstract, policy into tangible protections for our ocean and coasts. In other words, just the type of challenge that Surfrider’s grassroots network excels at through local organizing and advocacy. Across the U.S., Surfrider chapters, clubs and partners are pushing government agencies to expand conservation areas to both protect our natural resources and enhance equitable public access opportunities.

One of Surfrider’s primary objectives for the America the Beautiful initiative is to expand the scope and impact of the National Marine Sanctuary program. Managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Sanctuaries are a type of federal marine protected area (MPA) that conserve ocean resources while allowing sustainable human uses. As such, they align well with the Administration's goals of addressing nature loss, climate change, public access and equity.

Among Surfrider’s top priorities for the program is the designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Over six years ago, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council officially proposed a sanctuary off the central California coast with support from Surfrider’s San Luis Obispo Chapter, the Sierra Club and other partners. Now, the federal government is proceeding with a sanctuary designation in the region based on public support. The Chumash Heritage Sanctuary will not only help protect the region’s outstanding marine resources, it will also honor the indigenous peoples who steward and originate from this region.

Surfrider is also working to increase protections for existing sanctuaries in U.S. waters. Scientists recognize that fully and highly-protected areas produce stronger conservation outcomes, particularly with respect to biodiversity and ecological functions. While National Marine Sanctuaries tend to encompass large areas of the ocean, critics note that their allowance of fishing and other uses can limit their effectiveness as a conservation tool. Accordingly, Surfrider is pushing NOAA to expand the conservation benefits of sanctuaries through strengthening management plans and incorporating areas of elevated protection within their boundaries.

A key example of such an opportunity is the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In 2019, NOAA published a draft Restoration Blueprint with a range of alternatives for the sanctuary to meet the conservation challenges of the 21st century. Surfrider’s network supports these proposed conservation measures to protect both the ecological features and socioeconomic values of the region. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home to the only barrier coastal reef in the continental U.S., and is a much loved recreational resource for fishing, boating, diving, and much more. Surfrider has engaged its network to provide feedback throughout the development of the Restoration Blueprint and will participate in the public comment period when NOAA releases the draft management plan later this year.

Another example comes from the Northeast region, where our New England Chapters supported a successful movement in 2021 to restore protections against overfishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Monument.

Surfrider is also advocating for increased protections for other sanctuaries and marine monuments across the U.S. These include the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary off New England, the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary off California, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and others. Along with our partners, we are actively participating in public meetings and comment periods in support of stronger management plans for these special designations. 

Surfrider is also continuing its efforts to support state and regional ocean conservation efforts through outreach and advocacy. This includes support for state MPA programs in California and Oregon, as well as 30x30 processes in California and Hawaii. Additionally, Surfrider is working to advance ocean conservation in Puerto Rico through restoration, community organizing and advocacy, using the Tres Palmas Reserva Marina as a model.

Finally, Surfrider is working to end new offshore drilling in U.S. waters. Later this month, the Department of Interior will release a draft 5-year offshore drilling plan that may include new oil and gas lease sales. Surfrider will be urging our network to advocate for #NoNewLeases in the upcoming public comment period. You can join Surfrider in urging Congress to pass a package of bills to permanently protect U.S. waters from new offshore drilling (take action).

Please join Surfrider in celebrating June Ocean Month and stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to submit comments in support of ocean protections!