Posted on December 14, 2021 by Sarah Winter Whelan
Here in the Boston area, the ocean is an ever-present part of everyday life. This is particularly true during the holiday season. Neighborhood farmers markets, teeming with locally caught seafood, are bustling with people preparing for festive family gatherings. Tourists and locals alike enjoy Boston Harbor cruises as they crane their necks to take in the downtown holiday lights. Our family looks forward to gathering for our long-standing Christmas Eve tradition of poaching locally caught haddock in baggies with lemon and squash.
But you don’t have to live near the ocean to benefit from it. Whether you live by the coast, in the mountains, or on the plains, the ocean stabilizes the climate, stores carbon, and generates the oxygen we all breathe. Ocean-based tourism and recreation contribute about $124 billion to the U.S. economy each year and employ almost 2.4 million Americans. And we are relying on food that comes from the ocean more than ever. Fresh seafood revenues totaled more than $7 billion over the past year — a nearly 10 percent increase from the year prior.
As the executive director of the Health Ocean Coalition — a network of ocean lovers from throughout the country who raise their unique voices to call for stronger, more equitable ocean protection — I work with people from all walks of life who connect with the ocean for a host of reasons. Some people are generationally rooted in their coastal community, while some like to feel the sand between their toes while they listen to the waves crash in the background. Even people who live hundreds of miles from the nearest coast look forward to the Friday night fish fry at their local community center or a trip to visit seals and penguins at a nearby zoo or aquarium.
No matter how you enjoy the ocean, now is the time for everyone to raise their voice and call for stronger ocean protection. For too long, the ocean has been taking the heat on climate change, absorbing over 90% of the heat and nearly a third of the carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, the ocean is warmer, more acidic, less productive, and increasingly starved of oxygen. That is bad news for fish and wildlife — and for all of us.
The United States has one of the largest ocean territories in the world, but only 3 percent of the U.S. ocean is fully protected and just 20 percent is highly protected. The Biden Administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative aims to protect 30 percent of the nation’s lands, water, and ocean by 2030 — and NOAA, the federal agency that oversees ocean protection in the U.S., is asking all Americans, right now, to weigh in on how we want to see our ocean protected.
Those who want to continue to experience the wonders of the ocean and all the benefits it offers to both our economy and human health have until the end of this month to call on NOAA to prioritize placing at least 30 percent of our ocean in fully or highly protected marine protected areas by 2030.
The holidays are a time for giving and now is the perfect time to give back to the ocean. Together, we can ensure that the ocean remains the gift that keeps on giving for centuries to come.