The past year, wave after wave of controversy and disaster attempted to wreak havoc on the ocean and coast.  The California Coastal Commission was in turmoil, domoic acid harassed the crab industry, an El Niño winter brought strange and challenging weather, and finally, the election. 

Now we face a new tsunami of threats for 2017. Before we get swept away, let’s remember that 2016 was also filled with many victories for our oceans and coastlines. These victories were achieved because a lot of people that care about the environment work ridiculously hard, and it’s clear this year they are going to need all hands on deck. 

Here is a list of 16 North Coast ocean highlights from 2016. From landmark lawsuits to feel-good stories, we should take a moment to celebrate successes for the ocean and coast, and carry that momentum into the new year. 

Photo: Surfrider Foundation.

1. Coastal Access Triumphs 

Photo: Bense-Kang.

2. Californians said Farewell to Plastic Bags! 

California voters passed Proposition 67, becoming first in-the-nation to ban single-use carryout plastic bags statewide! Prop 67 will help eliminate the 25 million plastic bags polluting our ocean and endangering marine life. The successful grassroots campaign is a silver lining this election, providing a significant victory for the environment.

Photo: MoJo Coastwalk.

3. California’s Coast Has MoJo

Morgan Visalia (Mo) and Jocelyn Enevoldsen (Jo), the “MoJo Coastwalkers” hiked the entire 1,200 mile length of the California to raise awareness for the California Coastal Trail (CCT).  Now off the trail, their next phase is to create blog posts, maps, photos, videos, and develop interpretive content for the Coastal Conservancy’s new mobile app, Explore the Coast. They hope their expedition will re-spark interest to complete the CCT; improving beach access, coastal stewardship and an overall appreciation for our dynamic coast.

Photo: North Coast Junior Lifeguards.

4. First North Coast Jr. Lifeguards: 

This summer, state parks ranger Kevin Harder, introduced the first Junior Lifeguard program to the North Coast. Over fifty kids participated, sporting the traditional red uniforms, wetsuits, and zinc sunscreen. The program was an intense three weeks of ocean safety, rescue techniques, physical fitness, first aid, CPR, surfing, bodyboarding, swimming, running, and competitions. Teamwork, leadership, respect for others, respect for oneself, and respect for the environment were the take-home messages. 

Photo: Bense-Kang.

5. Race on the Water: 

The 6th Annual Trinidad to Little River Dash, an open-water Stand Up Paddle (SUP) race, was bigger and more inclusive for all ages and skill levels this year. Two new races were added, a short Buoy Flatwater Sprint, and Through the Surf and Back.  

Photo: Humboldt Bay Critter Crawl.

6. Race in the Water: 

Part-seal-people free-styled their way across Humboldt Bay in the third annual Humboldt Bay Critter Crawl to raise money for the Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City. This year, the non-competitive open water swim drew 21 participants and raised a little over $5,000.

Photo: Pac Out Green Team.

7. Humboldt Hosts International Coastal Cleanup Day: 

Hundreds of Humboldt County residents turned out Saturday, September 17 for International Coastal Cleanup Day to lend their hands in support of clean beaches and waterways. This year was the 37th annual cleanup event coordinated by the Northcoast Environmental Center and the 32nd annual event organized by the California Coastal Commission. 

Humboldt County Totals

Volunteers: over 700

Trash: 6.2 tons

Sites: 61

Most collected Item: Cigarette Butts - over 5,000 

Photo: Andrew Goff.

8. Pulp Mill Site is no Longer a Zombie Wasteland: 

The most iconic landmark on Humboldt Bay can finally stop being called “the old pulp mill site,” and start its new life as the National Marine Research and Innovation Park with the grand opening of Redwood Marine Terminal II. For over 50 years, the site has stood as a reminder of the timber industry era, symbol of the Surfrider Foundation Clean Water Act lawsuit, and more recently, seemed destined to become a zombie apocalypse theme park.  Now, thanks to the Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District, State, Federal, and economic agencies, Humboldt County, U.S. EPA, Coast Guard, contractors, public and private groups, and countless others, the site is entering a new chapter in its long legacy.

Photo: Bense-Kang.

9. Surfers raised over $2,500 for Food for People

Humboldt County surfers showcased their talent for a good cause at the Second Annual Wavesgiving surf contest. The contest was held at Trinidad State Beach, organized by The Shop, and all proceeds were donated to Food for People. 

Photo: Tyler Whiteside.

10. The Coast Guard Keeps us Safe: 

Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay “surf school,” took advantage of our big swells for training how to operate 47-ft motor lifeboats.  The Command Center at Sector Humboldt Bay monitors for distress 24 hours a day, and facilitates boat and aircraft responses to maritime emergencies. Alaskan storms, offshore rocks, fog, and cold water make this stretch of coast some of the most dangerous and rugged in California.

Photo: Bense-Kang.

11. Marine Protected Areas: 

Make it a New Years resolution to visit all ten of Humboldt County’s Marine Protected Areas. MPAs conserve and restore wildlife and habitats in our ocean, just as state parks do on land. In Humboldt, our MPAs protect a range of coastal habitats from kelp forests to coastal wetlands, and rocky reefs to shady ocean floors. 

Photo: Bense-Kang.

12. Sailing for a Nuclear Free World:

The first peace boat, The Golden Rule, originally set sail in 1958 in attempt to raise awareness and put an end to military atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Back in 2010, the remnants of the sunken Golden Rule were hauled from the muddy clutches of Humboldt Bay. Today, the Golden Rule has been restored and is sailing once again. She is currently on her second voyage, heading north to cities including Portland, Seattle and Puget Sound. The Golden Rule will soon return to Humboldt Bay as it is her new home port. 

Photo: Humboldt Baykeeper.

13. King of all King Tides: 

The December 13th King Tide set the all time high tide record, measuring 9.56 feet on the North Spit tide gage, nearly 1 foot higher than originally predicted. King Tide events give us the opportunity to peak into the future and see what the impacts of sea level rise could look like on our coastal communities. The first King Tides of 2017 are January 11-12, and could break the record again. 

Photo: Wikimedia.

14. Klamath River to be Wild and Free

With the signing of the revised agreement, the Klamath River is scheduled to be wild and free by the year 2020. The removal of four dams on the Klamath River is a milestone step towards restoring the iconic river and rebuilding salmon runs. This is the largest dam removal project in history, and the result of more than a decade of protests, litigation, and settlement negotiations between many stakeholders.

Photo: Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing.

15. Wave of Change

A group of top women big-wave athletes have formed a group called the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS), and are changing the future of their sport.  For the first time ever, women big-wave athletes have achieved the ability to showcase their performance on the big wave stage. The World Surf League held the first ever women’s contest at Pe’ahi or “Jaws” on Maui last November. After much controversy, women will have the opportunity to compete in the Titans of Mavericks surf contest for the first time in history if the contest runs this season. 

Photo: Bense-Kang.

16. Looking to the future: 

This year we’ve celebrated many victories for our world’s oceans and coastlines, but there is still more work to be done. As 2016 comes to a close, we face an uncertain political future. That makes protecting our world’s oceans more important than ever. The air we breath, food we eat, water we drink, wildlife we love, and place we enjoy can all be traced back to the ocean. 

10 Simple ways to protect our ocean, waves and beaches in 2017

  1. Avoid single use plastic
  2. Don’t waste water indoors
  3. Plant an Ocean Friendly Garden
  4. Switch old bulbs to LED
  5. Burn less fossil fuel by driving less
  6. Sweep don’t hose down sidewalks 
  7. Scoop up dog droppings
  8. Don’t litter your cigarette butts 
  9. Get involved with your community
  10. Go to the beach


Delia Bense-Kang serves as the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Marine Protected Area Outreach Coordinator and chairs Surfrider Foundation’s Humboldt Chapter.