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The SoCal Ocean: Surf Spot, Fishing Hole—Economic Powerhouse?

Claire A.'s avatar


Monday, August 01, 2011


This post was co-authored by Aquarium of the Pacific President and CEO Jerry Schubel.

Will we have offshore wind farms in the waters off our coast in the future? Or aquaculture areas? No doubt if these things come to pass, we will want them to be out of the way of our beautiful sunsets and our best surfing and diving spots. We won’t want these things to harm any of the local ocean’s important ecosystems or the amazing animals in them. But we have to face the reality that we already make heavy use of the ocean in Southern California in ways that benefit humans first. We bring nearly half of all imported finished goods into this country by way of the ocean through the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, we drill for oil on twenty-six offshore platforms, and we currently discharge more than 1.2 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean every day.

What if there was a way to do some environmental good, bring new business into our local economy, and preserve our local ocean culture in one fell swoop? Sounds like pie in the sky, right?

It’s becoming clear that human population growth, rising energy demand, and stresses to the environment will all affect life in Southern California in coming decades. Experts agree this situation will require some planning. Which experts? To start with, those who gathered this week in a forum hosted by the Aquarium of the Pacific and the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Institute and Sea Grant program.

The Aquarium regularly hosts forums like this, called Aquatic Forums, to bring together the brightest minds in science, research, conservation, policy, and industry to explore major environmental issues. This time, we brought together about forty representatives from colleges and universities, state and federal government agencies, various ocean and renewable energy industries, conservationists, and other stakeholder groups to explore the concept of coastal marine spatial planning, or CMSP, and how it might be applied to the Southern California Bight. Bight is a geographical term referring to a bend in the coastline. The Southern California Bight extends from Point Conception in Santa Barbara south to our border with Mexico.

CMSP was one of the recommendations that came out of President Obama’s executive order for the establishment of the nation’s first national ocean policy. It’s a process that’s designed to allocate legitimate and important uses to appropriate coastal and ocean areas in an effort to benefit both environmental health and economic prosperity. It would build upon California’s efforts to protect biologically sensitive areas designated through the Marine Life Protection Act. Important human uses might include offshore wind farms, aquaculture, and other sustainable projects that could contribute to our energy and food system resources and the regional economy.

CMSP could be especially important for Southern California because of our high and growing population; our cultural identity as a region that boasts ocean tourism, recreation, and lifestyle; and a strong consensus that environmental standards in protecting our ocean and marine life should not be compromised. Many people care about both a healthy ocean and a healthy economy; it’s a question of how to achieve and sustain both in our region.

The experts that came to our forum began to draft a vision statement and process for implementing CMSP in Southern California. Much more work, discussion, and planning need to take place, but we think this concept holds a lot of promise. What do you think?

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