A Vote for the Ocean
by Maite Arce and Julie Packard
The global pandemic has touched all our lives, in powerful and often painful ways. With striking clarity, it has brought home how closely we’re connected to one another, and to the natural world. Our path back to health and economic recovery requires us to recognize and strengthen those connections.
It’s perhaps less obvious — for now — how our fates and futures are also connected to the ocean. But the ocean provides the air we breathe, the food we eat and the medicine we rely on. It is deeply intertwined with our weather and climate, all the more important as we are battered with hurricanes and heat waves in different parts of the country. Tens of millions of us live along the coast, or visit the beach with family and friends to restore our spirits, or wonder at the incredible marine species we find in aquariums.
The policies adopted on land by our elected leaders will determine how we safeguard the living ocean, so it can continue to sustain us all. It’s imperative that in choosing our leaders, we vote for the ocean in 2020.
Both of us have had the good fortune to be connected with nature and the ocean for most of our lives. Maite grew up on the Pacific Coast of Baja California, where the ocean was an inspiring daily presence, before moving to inland Santa Ana, California where the beach was a long day’s bike ride away. Julie spent her childhood exploring woodlands and meadows in the foothills above Silicon Valley, then found her life and career intertwined with marine life after tidepooling at dawn and studying marine algae in college.
Like so many of you, we’ve experienced the joy of connecting with family at the beach. We’ve worked in our professional lives to ensure that everyone — regardless of their background — has an opportunity to share these enriching moments with the ones they love.
Along the way, we’ve discovered that all of us are connected to, and care about, the health of the ocean. And that, sadly, too many of us — especially people of color — live in communities that are deprived of opportunities to connect with nature.
For example, a report released this year by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress documents how people of color, from low-income communities, and families with children are most likely to be deprived of the benefits that nature provides. Another, also released earlier this year, explores the deep connections Latinos have to the ocean and the coasts, for food, jobs, recreation and the continuation of cultural traditions. It concludes that their untapped potential can energize and transform ocean conservation.
If our representatives have failed to address our love for the ocean and our need to connect with nature, there’s one sure way to change things: vote. By using our power at the ballot box, we can elect people who share our values and our priorities, at all levels of government.
We’ve seen what happens when we ignore the ocean. Climate impacts are accelerating in the form of more — and more intense — storms and sea level rise that could drown homes and beaches. Poor management of fisheries costs our communities jobs and threatens to disrupt our traditional cultural connection to the ocean. Ignoring plastic pollution leaves beaches and rivers choked with debris and fills the ocean with tiny plastic particles that are finding their way into the food we eat.
When we’ve chosen leaders who care about these issues, and how they affect our lives, we’ve seen progress that benefits both people and nature.
Ours is a small, blue ocean planet. We are all interconnected and dependent on one another. We can make our world better for one another, and all living things — and we thrive when we do. If that wasn’t obvious before, it certainly is now.
In this moment, through the power of our vote for the ocean, we can make a lasting difference.
Maite Arce is president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. Julie Packard is executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.