Educating Capitol Hill on Why We Need to Save Our Seas

Written and attended by: Becca Alcenius, NAMEPA Intern

NAMEPA had a wonderful time at a fly-in meeting with Ocean Conservancy on March 5. A Fly-in normally consists of field experts, non-profit representation, and/or constituents coming to DC in order to participate in organized meetings to speak with Congress Representatives and Senators about a specific issue. NAMEPA was asked to participate in the Fly-in with Ocean Conservancy on the matter of NOAA's budget for the coming fiscal year. It was great to see so many marine science and education organizations come together with a common goal. Check out what we learned and some of the experiences that NAMEPA had during our orientation. 
The orientation was predominately led by Adam Mistler and Addie Haughey of the Ocean Conservancy. We began the day by making introductions. Those in attendance came specifically from one of five states to represent. They included Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Washington State, and of course Connecticut. It was exciting to see who was participating in the Fly-in because many, like NAMEPA, were organizations focusing on education and outreach. However, there were several people there representing eco-tourism industries, environmental advocacy, scientific research, and even the mayor of a small coastal town in Washington, called Ocean Shores. The number of people there, from such varying backgrounds, further exemplifies the importance of NOAA in the U.S. and even more importantly the influence that the ocean has on all communities. 
Addie and Adam then proceeded to explain the ins and outs of member meetings on Capitol Hill. They first expressed the importance of our meetings with various legislators to remind them of how crucial it is to properly fund NOAA. They specifically communicated that a cut in one area of NOAA's budget is a cut for us all because NOAA fosters a massive community of organizations, working towards a common goal while relying on and supporting each other. They explained that we, as constituents, concerned citizens, and passionate, professional defenders of the ocean are an invaluable resource for conveying the vitality of NOAA's budget and are the people best suited for addressing federal legislators on this topic. 
After these meetings, attendees were split into groups based on the state they were representing and discussed their plan for the meetings on Wednesday. The organizations representing Connecticut included New England Science and Sailing, Project Oceanology, and the Connecticut Ornithological Association, headed by our Ocean Conservancy group leader, Chelsey Hickman. 
A final suggestion that the folks at the Ocean Conservancy gave was how to stay connected with our representatives after we returned home. First, they suggested following our members of Congress and Senators on social media, from both organizational and personal accounts. They also suggested inviting representatives to tour facilities or visit any programs that we host, especially during the summer when most representatives return home. This allows our organizations to make personal connections with the legislators and keeps us on their minds when they are voting on policy. Finally, they suggested writing letters to the editor or op-eds to be published by our local papers. In these, we should directly reference our federal reps because they have interns whose job it is to find any and all articles that reference the representative and forward them to the representative. This is an excellent suggestion not only for organizations but also for individual constituents to do as well.
The day concluded with us traveling from the Ocean Conservancy office to the Department of Commerce to visit the NOAA offices. There, we met with Admiral Tim Gallaudet, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. We also met with Kevin Wheeler, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. We each made personal introductions for ourselves and our respective organizations. Then the Admiral shared with us NOAA's two main objectives for the coming year, including elevating the United States to the world's leader in weather monitoring and improving our Blue Economy. They plan to do this through fisheries, tourism and recreation, discovery/research, and transportation. The Admiral and Mr. Wheeler then received questions, particularly about NOAA's plans for specific issues or how funding is dispersed. Unfortunately, Admiral Gallaudet had to leave for another appointment, but Mr. Wheeler was kind enough to stay at least 20 minutes after the end of the meeting to accept questions. Finally, we were able to take a photo with him and the Admiral.
The day was incredibly productive. And it was a wonderful opportunity for so many influential people in the marine science and policy world to come together and learn about the boots-on-the-ground advocacy work, as well as have the opportunity to participate. Unfortunately, NAMEPA was unable to attend the meetings on the Hill. However, we are confident that the others in attendance did a great job and will yield excellent results. 
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