Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hope Floats at Blue Vision Summit

It's hard to go to Blue Vision Summit and come away melancholy despite the myriad bad things happening to the oceans.

That's because by the time you leave the event, you have met interesting, smart, and passionate people who are doing very real things to help the oceans.  Also, there's Capitol Hill Day, a great dose of democracy in action, a bit of hope that the system does work and that you are a part of it.

On Hill Day, ocean people from across the country descend on the marble halls of US Congress in teams determined by state and region.  The New York team visited eight offices.  We sat down.   We smiled.  We talked about relevant issues like the LNG pipeline off the Rockaways, seismic testing in the Atlantic, and the EPA budget that zeroes out funds for water quality testing at beaches (I don't know about you, but I don't want to swim in sewage).

The legislative aides listened.  They took notes.  They asked questions.  Who knows?  I do know that despite Congress's dysfunctional, asinine behavior and the weight of money bending our democracy, things do happen.  If even one person we spoke with learned something, or was even marginally inspired, than it was worth it.

Much thanks to Clean Ocean Action who organized the New York and New Jersey teams and articulated the issues beautifully.  Also, Ocean Champions not only taught us how to talk to our officials but also brought in a winning squad of senators and representatives -- ocean champions -- to rally us.

Prior to Hill Day, there were solid sessions about pitching to the media and fundraising as well as panels on making climate a blue issue and a status report on coastal recovery from storms and oil spills.  It's about time the blue conversation headlined climate because too much carbon pollution is damaging the seas.

The conversation needs to continue and expand.  Hats off to Mike Tidwell of Chesapeake Climate Action Network who has done great things to fight climate change and speaks with an inspiring ferocity, and humor.  He called himself  "obnoxiously green" but also said about building a climate coalition:  "Never, ever, ever, give up."

If anyone deserves moral, financial, or any other support we can muster, it's Cynthia Sarthou and the Gulf Restoration Network.  They are on the proverbial front lines of the BP oil disaster and the battle and the destruction is far from over.

The news cycle has moved on but Cynthia is still there, still dealing with the deadly impact of chemical dispersants sprayed all over the water and still chasing elusive restoration funds.  Her battle fatigue can be heard in her voice.    

A highlight for me was the lanky gentleman in a dark suit who arrived for the Peter Benchley Awards. His head rose easily half a foot above the others.  His driver stood outside next to a sleek and shiny car with diplomatic plates.  Not your average ocean lover at first blush.

Turns out he was the ambassador from Senegal on scene to accept the award for Excellence in National Stewardship of the Ocean on behalf of his boss.

The president of Senegal kicked international fishing conglomerates out of his waters because his people connected to the sea told him there were fewer fish.  He also noted that he wanted to be sure to have plenty of Thiéboudienne, Senegal's national dish of local fish.

Blue Frontier should be loudly praised for bringing all these great people together and providing an engaging agenda in a friendly atmosphere.  Check out founder David Helvarg's overview of the summit and support the seaweed rebellion.

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