Celebrating California Ocean Day — The Golden State’s Special Connection to the Ocean
April 11, 2023
April 11 is recognized as California Ocean Day. The ocean is essential for all life on Earth, but how is it essential to everyday Californians? Below are a few facts that highlight California’s connection to the coast and ocean:
- Almost 70% of the total population in California live in coastal portions of the state.
- Coastal portions of California employ 12.3 million people annually, earning a total of nearly $883.5 billion.
- California was the first state in the nation to establish a system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to protect and restore ocean habitats. The state completed the coastal network of MPAs in 2012, creating over 120 underwater refuges along California’s coast.
- The California Current is the feeding grounds for billions of fish, mammals and birds. These consistently cool waters help create the state’s mild climate.
- The productive waters of California attract migratory animals from all over the Pacific Ocean—in total, 34 species of marine mammals and more than 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds travel to California.
The ocean provides immense value to California, but ocean health has been in decline due to human-caused threats such as offshore drilling, climate change, habitat destruction, and more.
California Legislators Working Towards A Healthier, More Resilient Ocean
Blue carbon ecosystems — ocean and coastal ecosystems that naturally capture carbon — can sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. As we lose blue carbon ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes, and kelp forests, stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere, effectively creating an additional source of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Legislative Action: California Assemblymember Dawn Addis and State Senator John Laird introduced AB 1407, which would require the California Ocean Protection Council to establish a Kelp Forest and Estuary Restoration and Recovery Framework that has a goal of restoring a specified number of acres of kelp forests, eelgrass meadows, and native oyster beds by 2050. The bill would require the Council to establish an interagency working group that coordinates and facilitates large-scale restoration along the coast.
OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS DRILLING
California has been impacted by several oil spills over many decades. Dating as far back as 1969, a blowout of a Union Oil drilling rig platform off the coast of Santa Barbara resulted in a spill of 4.2 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. As recently as October 1, 2021, a pipeline from an Amplify Energy oil platform off the Orange County coast leaked oil into the ocean and onto beaches.
- Legislative Action: State Senator Dave Min introduced SB 559, which would require the State Lands Commission to seek negotiations with the lessees for the active oil and gas leases in state waters, with the goal of reaching an agreement for the voluntary relinquishment of the leases and termination of all oil and gas production associated with these leases.
In 2022, the California Energy Commission adopted a report establishing offshore wind goals that could produce enough electricity to power 25 million homes by mid-century. California is at the cusp of an offshore energy revolution, which state legislators are attempting to support.
- Legislative Action: Many state legislators in California have introduced legislation to support offshore wind.
- State Senator Mike McGuire introduced SB 286, which would require the California Coastal Commission to process a consolidated coastal development permit for any new development that requires a coastal development permit and that is associated with or necessary for the construction and operation of offshore wind energy projects and transmission facilities needed for those projects.
- Assemblymember Dawn Addis and State Senator John Laird introduced AB 80, which would require the Ocean Protection Council to establish and oversee a West Coast Offshore Wind Science Entity for the purpose of ensuring that comprehensive baseline monitoring of the California ocean ecosystem as well as targeted research are available and used to inform state and federal decisions.
- Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur and Assemblymember Dawn Addis introduced AB 3, which would require the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, in consultation with the State Lands Commission, to develop a 2nd-phase plan and strategy for seaport readiness that further analyzes the recommendations and alternatives in the strategic plan for offshore wind energy developments.
Sea level rise and severe weather events are threatening the natural and built landscapes of coastal areas. Over 68% of Californians live in coastal portions of the state, and this coastal economic activity equates to over $2 trillion in gross domestic product. Finding ways to enhance coastal resilience remains a priority for state legislators.
- Legislative Action: California Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath introduced AB 72, which would extend the deadline for research on coastal cliff landslides and erosion in the County of San Diego to be completed by January 1, 2026; and the bill would extend the deadline a report to the legislature with recommendations for developing a coastal cliff landslide and erosion early warning system to March 30, 2026.
Supporting the Ocean Through State Action
Coastal states like California are working hard to protect the ocean, but finding solutions to address problems that affect the ocean—an area that covers 71% of the Earth’s surface—requires big picture thinking and collaborative efforts. That is why legislators from 18 states formed NCEL’s Coastal Working Group in 2021. The working group provides state legislators with a platform to convene, work together on policy approaches, share lessons learned, and identify best practices as it relates to a wide array of ocean policy topics. View how legislators across the country are working to protect the ocean:
- ocean acidification efforts
- offshore wind efforts
- blue carbon efforts
- coastal resilience efforts
If you are a state legislator and interested in learning more about ocean policy in your state and/or joining NCEL’s Coastal Working Group, please contact Carlos Ochoa, NCEL’s Ocean Program Manager.