NCEL Events

NCEL and Seattle Aquarium: West Coast Legislator Convening

November 15-16, 2023

Region

Coastal

NCEL Point of Contact

Carlos Ochoa
Ocean Program Manager

Contact

On November 15-16, legislative leaders from Washington, Oregon, and California gathered at the Seattle Aquarium to discuss regional coastal issues: the kelp crisis, climate change impacts, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, offshore wind, and engaging with Tribal governments along with key community stakeholders.

The NCEL and Seattle Aquarium’s West Coast Convening gathered a bipartisan group of 11 key legislators, including chairs and vice chairs of environmental caucuses and committees that oversee environmental, local government, and tribal issues. 

Day One 

The Convening began with a session on the kelp crisis, climate impacts, and ocean acidification along the West Coast. Panelists included speakers from the Seattle Aquarium, Urban Ocean Lab, and the Washington Department of Ecology. Throughout the session, panelists discussed the intersection of climate impacts and ocean acidification on marine environments, especially the decline and continued threats to kelp. The discussion centered around potential approaches to address ocean acidification through enhanced monitoring and scientific resources, expedited support for a sustainable kelp industry along the West Coast, and efforts to rein in key contributors to climate impacts. 

During the next session, legislators learned about the latest legislative developments in plastic pollution. Panelists highlighted microfiber filtration, “chemical recycling”, innovative ideas to address often overlooked sources of plastic pollution, and additional avenues to reduce plastic consumption through state procurement. Legislators heard from panelists representing Oceana and Zero Waste Washington

After lunch, the Seattle Aquarium provided a behind-the-scenes, guided tour of the aquarium. Legislators got the chance to explore the inner workings of the aquarium’s coral displays, shallow water habitats, marine mammal exhibits, and deep-water fish tanks. The guided tour provided our attendees with a deeper appreciation for aquariums and the work they do to educate local communities about marine ecosystems. 

The final session of the day focused on offshore wind. Representatives from Washington Maritime Blue, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management joined us for this critically important topic, which has the potential to revolutionize energy along the West Coast. Panelists and legislators discussed approaches to regional cooperation, potential solutions to address workforce development and port infrastructure challenges along the West Coast, balancing ecosystem impacts and mitigating wildlife issues, and federal regulatory considerations that will influence offshore wind’s success in this region. One of the goals of this session centered on assisting legislators along the West Coast to get ahead of the challenges that East Coast states have faced. Despite the fact that West Coast states will primarily rely on floating wind technology – which is in its infancy stages compared to fixed-bottom technology – the premise of regional cooperation and mutual learning advances the agenda better than reactionary approaches. 

The day wrapped up with an evening reception held in the Seattle Aquarium’s Puget Sound Hall, centering a large fish tank modeled after Neah Bay on the Washington coast. Seattle Aquarium CEO Bob Davidson and NCEL Executive Director Dylan McDowell shared remarks with nearly 50 guests about the value of facilitating mutual learning and regional cooperation on marine and coastal issues among West Coast states. We were also joined by Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) CEO Erik Stegman, who shared remarks on the importance of collaboration with Tribal nations, the original stewards of the land and sea.

Day Two

The central theme for day two focused on how legislators can better create policies that meaningfully engage the communities who are impacted. 

The first session centered on Tribal sovereignty, and we were joined by the Chairman of the Makah Tribal Council and a representative from the Northern Chumash Tribal Council. The second session aimed to educate lawmakers on community engagement with BIPOC communities. Panelists included speakers from Front and Centered and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. Finally, the day ended with a session on rural, coastal resident engagement. Speakers from Washington Sea Grant and the Surfrider Foundation shared valuable insights to ensure these communities are not overlooked. 

Looking Ahead

After six sessions and robust roundtable discussions surrounding each topic, legislative leaders from Washington, Oregon, and California are equipped to bring legislative ideas back to their respective legislatures for the 2024 session and beyond. NCEL’s West Coast Ocean Convening, held in partnership with the Seattle Aquarium, facilitated the kind of deep dive that is needed to improve regional coordination among these states and move the needle forward on marine issues. 

NCEL is excited to see the continued collaboration and continued momentum from Western states on kelp and ocean acidification, plastic pollution, offshore wind, and community engagement.