On Aug. 23, Congressman Jared Huffman convened a Congressional Forum on Federal Ocean Protections. The forum was in response to Trump’s attempt to undo existing protections on marine sanctuaries and monuments, and to open up California’s offshore waters to new oil drilling.

“There should have been congressional hearings and extensive public comment on his attempt to reverse public protections for these special places. Unfortunately there was none,” stated Huffman in his opening remarks during the forum. “We are taking matters into our own hands today, so the people can be heard.”

The forum featured an esteemed panel of lawmakers scientists, and business leaders: Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiCongresswoman Jackie Speier, former Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, Sen. Mike McGuire, Patagonia Social Ambassador Scott Briscoe, Oceana’s California campaign director Geoff Shester, Marine Mammal Center senior scientist Frances Gulland, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association executive director Noah Oppenhein and Aquarium of the Bay coast and ocean program director Brian Baird. Despite it being midmorning and a weekday, several hundred members of the public filled the room to show support.

Back in April, the Trump Administration released Executive Order 13795, a review of all designations and expansions of National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments since 2007. The move was part of the Trump administration’s “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.” The notice did not come as a surprise, but it detailed for the first time which ocean areas would be affected and triggered immediate pushback. Among areas at risk are four treasured areas off the California coast — the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries.

This is the first time a president has ever called for the rollback of protected areas. Protecting these areas has never before been a partisan issue. In the past decade, Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush declared several ocean areas protected due to their significant and unique historical, cultural, scientific, ecological, economical and recreational significance.

Former Congresswoman Lynn Woosley explained the long process it took to establish marine sanctuaries throughout her 20-year congressional career. She finished her heartfelt speech stating, “Now, President Trump is threatening our work after a 45-day review, and I am telling you, we will not let that happen.”

“By not allowing oil and gas drilling within their boundaries, our marine sanctuaries have retained and enhanced economic opportunity for commercial fishermen to the tune of billions dollars,” stated Oppenheim.

Senator Mike McGuire highlighted the thriving coastal economy. “The California coast is a world wonder, 150 billion visitors from across the globe visit the coast every year,” he said. “Our coastal economy is one of our largest economic drivers. It’s worth $44 billion per year.” He closed his statement with, “Make no mistake, California will fight from the halls of Congress, to the halls of our state capitol, into the courtroom, to block any shortsighted proposal to sell off our shore to the highest bidder.”

Congresswoman Pelosi called marine sanctuaries “irreplaceable treasures,” and urged people call their representatives and voice their support, especially those living in districts represented by Republicans.

At the local level, Mendocino, Sonoma, Marin and Humboldt counties have all adopted resolutions supporting current national marine sanctuary designations and opposing any lifting of protections. As the Humboldt County resolution notes, Humboldt County “has long supported the protection of vital coastal resources, tourism, fishing and mariculture cultivation industries, and stands with other coastal counties in their efforts to protect these very pristine coastal waters.”

No decision has been made yet on whether any marine sanctuaries should be opened up to drilling.

On Aug. 24, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the Associated Press he will not ask the president to eliminate any of the 27 protected areas that were under review since an April executive order. However, Zinke is asking President Trump to shrink “a handful” of national monuments that previous presidents designated to protect land and water.

For More Information:

Listen to the Coastal Currents Episode on Congressman Huffman’s Ocean Protection Forum HERE.

Listen to the EcoNews Report: “Review” of National Marine Sanctuaries Revives Threats to Offshore Oil Drilling HERE.

Visit Save Our Marine Sanctuaries HERE.

Watch the live coverage of the forum HERE.


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