© Blue Frontier

Blue Vision Summit spurs ocean conservation on Capitol Hill

By Courtney Mattison

On Wednesday, members of Congress met with what was likely the largest ocean advocacy group to ever visit Capitol Hill during “Healthy Ocean Hill Day” – part of the fourth biennial Blue Vision Summit organized by the Blue Frontier Campaign in Washington, D.C. Groups of multi-generational ocean lovers ranging from two to 20 members met with over 100 Congressional offices and represented a growing constituency to turn the tide for our public seas. Called “seaweed rebels” by Blue Frontier founder David Helvarg, this empowered group was comprised of marine conservationists; businesses; scientists; recreational ocean users; youths; communicators; artists and others from dozens of states and overseas to help advance marine conservation and U.S. ocean policy.

Healthy Ocean Hill Day participants preparing for congressional meetings (© Courtney Mattison)

Healthy Ocean Hill Day participants preparing for congressional meetings
(© Courtney Mattison)

The Blue Vision Summit began in 2004 as a way for ocean lovers and stakeholders to unite to address opportunities and challenges facing the health of our ocean and coasts. Each Summit includes a series of networking and educational events surrounding a day of meetings on Capitol Hill, where participants visit the offices of Congress members and convey their support for healthy oceans. The 2009 Summit introduced ocean issues to newly elected members of Congress and helped inspire the National Ocean Policy that is being implemented today. In 2011, an even larger group of attendees showed their support for restoration efforts following the Gulf oil spill and new findings on the increasing impacts of climate change. Now that the National Ocean Policy has entered its implementation stage, this year’s Hill Day participants helped familiarize Congressional members and staff with the policy and encouraged them to support its final implementation plan, the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing bill, and the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act.

Representative Kathy Castor speaking at Healthy Ocean Hill Day alongside a photo by Brian Skerry (© Mary Kadzielski, Blue Frontier)

Representative Kathy Castor speaking at Healthy Ocean Hill Day alongside a photo by Brian Skerry (© Mary Kadzielski, Blue Frontier)

The rest of the week’s events were held at the Carnegie Institution for Science and various receptions around the D.C. area. The Summit began on Monday with the Celebration of the Seas – a festive opening ceremony that featured ocean artists Wyland, Claudio Garzon, Asher Jay and Courtney Mattison on a panel moderated by cartoonist Jim Toomey, as well as an “Oceans in Focus” photo exhibit and film screening with shorts presented by One World One Ocean / MacGillivray Freeman Films, the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival, filmmaker Gareth Burghes and Ocean Doctor David Guggenheim.

Tuesday was a day for strategy and skills development led by young and veteran ocean advocates. After motivating talks by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of RI on politics of the ocean and Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger on his work with the U.S. Coastguard, Erika Bergman of ExploreOcean gave an inspirational account of her experiences as a young submersible and submarine pilot and stressed the importance of getting young people under water to explore the deep sea. The morning continued with a panel that identified opportunities and challenges presented by ocean and coastal catastrophes – particularly the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. Speakers Clay Maitland (NAMEPA), Debbie Mans (NY/NJ Baykeeper), Cynthia Sarthou (Gulf Restoration Network) and Eric Schwaab (NOAA) made recommendations for future success based on their firsthand experiences with these disasters.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse addressing Blue Vision Summit attendees (© Courtney Mattison)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse addressing Blue Vision Summit attendees
(© Courtney Mattison)

Tuesday afternoon featured three workshops on ocean-related media, policy and fundraising that included guest speakers Juliet Eilperin (Washington Post), Nancy Baron (COMPASS) and Dr. David Wilmot (Ocean Champions) among others. The following session on climate change informed the audience about the great extent to which the ocean is impacted by greenhouse gas emissions. As Mike Tidwell of CCAN put it, “By definition climate change is a blue issue.” And as a recurring theme for the conference, youth leadership was the focus of the final session on Tuesday, with seven young ocean advocates highlighting the importance of their generation’s involvement and how youth can work with adults to advance marine conservation efforts.

Dr. Sylvia Earle raised a glass to celebrate polar marine Hope Spots Tuesday evening (© Courtney Mattison)

Dr. Sylvia Earle raised a glass to celebrate polar marine Hope Spots Tuesday evening (© Courtney Mattison)

To conclude Tuesday’s activities, Dr. Sylvia Earle hosted an evening celebration of Hope Spots in the Ross and Bering Seas at the home of artist and environmentalist Mara G. Haseltine with support of the William A. Haseltine Foundation for Science and Art. This event – titled “Polar Hope Spots: Preserving Marine Gems at the Ends of the Earth” – marked a growing collaboration between Mission Blue, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) and Greenpeace and emphasized the immense value of Planet Ocean’s polar marine regions.

From left: Wyland, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mara G. Haseltine, Jim Toomey (© Courtney Mattison)

From left: Wyland, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mara G. Haseltine, Jim Toomey
(© Courtney Mattison)

After a long day on the Hill on Wednesday, the Summit concluded with a celebration of this year’s eight Peter Benchley Ocean Awards Honorees and a final day on Thursday to recap and plan to build off of the week’s progress for the next two years, until Blue Vision Summit 2015 floods Washington once again!

Learn more about the Blue Frontier Campaign HERE. And stay tuned for an upcoming story on the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards!

Featured Image (top): Blue Vision Summit attendees – including Blue Frontier Campaign founder David Helvarg – on the steps of Capitol Hill (© Blue Frontier)

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