In June of 2018, NAMEPA traveled to Washington DC to attend Capitol Hill Ocean Week, affectionately known as CHOW. CHOW is a 3 day conference where scientists, politicians, educators, entrepreneurs, and innovators gather together to discuss the latest in marine research and methods for protecting our oceans.
CHOW originally began in 2001 with a small gathering of people convening for one day. Since then, it has grown into an annual assembly of over 600 conservationist groups, scientists, policy makers, and educators to review the issues that our oceans face. The convention is hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and offers access to all interested via virtual passes and live web-streaming.
This year’s conference addressed a wide range of topics but overall focused on how science and public awareness can best be combined to confront the dangers to the oceans. Some topics included aquaculture, ocean acidification, marine debris, sustainable fishing practices, how culture influences conservation, monuments, etc. Over recent years, it appears that the conversation has shifted away from just the hard sciences. It has become clear that in order to create change, the marine research will need to be presented to the public and policy makers in ways that are inclusive and understandable, or else the science seems foreign and it may be difficult to recognize the true importance that the ocean has in everyone’s life. Just as Dr. Bridget Coughlin, President and CEO of Shedd Aquarium, explained at the conference, “We must make issues human scale. Put them in a way that they can apply to the 20 miles that I live my life in and the two generations that I can comprehend.”
The first day of CHOW greeted its attendees with an excellent opening presentation about the important relationship between the oceans and the arts and how it can be utilized for the protection of marine life. Exemplifying this idea perfectly, a speaker for this panel was Mark Brownlow, series producer of Blue Planet II. Later in the day, we were addressed by Admiral Tim Gallaudet, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Admiral Gallaudet outlined where NOAA is focusing on to strengthen our Blue Economy. These included the seafood industries, maritime commerce, marine transportation, and tourism and recreation.
The second day of CHOW provided attendees the opportunity to hear more of the political and social efforts aimed towards protecting our oceans. Some panels comprised of corporate professionals, such as Karrie Denniston, Senior Director for Sustainability, Walmart Foundation, where they discussed the importance of Business and Corporate Sustainability. Other panels included individuals from both public and private sectors such as Julie Lawson, Director, Mayor’s Office of the Clean City, District of Columbia, and Judy St. Leger, Corporate Vice-President of Research and Science, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. Here, we learned that public-private partnerships can be successful tools for supporting ocean conservation. The day concluded with a roundtable of elected officials, namely Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida’s 19th district, and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon’s first district. They described progress being made by the legislative government towards sustainable ocean practices.
The third day of CHOW was the first ever Ocean Week on Capitol Hill day. It was designed to allow advocates and researchers to directly speak with legislators about some of the greatest threats our oceans and waterways face. Although NAMEPA did not participate in this event, it is great that federal legislators were given the opportunity to learn more about marine issues straight from those most knowledgeable about them.
The week concluded with World Ocean Day on Friday, June 8, and the March for the Ocean on Saturday, June 9. What an incredible week for NAMEPA and so many others to meet and learn more about what we love, the ocean. Just as Admiral Gallaudet stated, “The oceans are the world’s circulatory system,” and they truly are the heart of NAMEPA.