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Coastal Issues That Matter in 2013

With the historic re-election of President Obama, here are the top coastal issues we need to address in 2013 and beyond.

If you only watched the presidential campaigns, it would have been hard to believe that we actually live on a changing planet. Due to the “debate” over the causes and consequences of human-induced climate change, President Obama rarely even mentioned our need to address the critical problem of a changing climate that is fueling drought, super-storms (e.g. Sandy), sea-level rise and ocean acidification.

But during his victory speech last night President Obama made a statement that stunned environmentalists.

“We want our children to live in an America that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet," he said.

Hurricane Sandy was a game changer on building consensus that our quickly evolving climate cannot be ignored and that its impacts has very real consequences. So in anticipation of the road ahead for protecting our coast and ocean, here are the top issues we need to address in 2013 and beyond.

Climate Change: Hurricane Sandy showed us the very real consequences of warming temperatures, sea-level rise and the rise of destructive super-storms. Surfrider Foundation activist Mark West argues that, “Since superstorm Sandy, I think two issues are critical: rising ocean temps from global warming and coastal restoration projects.”

What is clear is that addressing the causes and consequences of climate change has to be a top priority. In San Diego, cities such as Chula Vista have already embarked on climate adaptation planning (I was a member of the advisory committee) that should be a model for San Diego County and even nationally.

San Diego Foundation also coordinated a sea level rise adaptation strategy with the particpation of coastal cities and nonprofit organizations.

Ocean Acidification: While this is a consequence of human-induced climate change, the increase in carbon in our oceans is literally changing the chemistry of our oceans.

Ken Weiss recently reported on the issue of ocean acidification:

Rising acidity doesn't just imperil the West Coast's $110-million oyster industry. It ultimately will threaten other marine animals, the seafood industry and even the health of humans who eat affected shellfish, scientists say. The world's oceans have become 30% more acidic since the Industrial Revolution began more than two centuries ago. The ill effects of the changing chemistry only add to the oceans' problems, which include warming temperatures and expanding low-oxygen "dead zones.” By the end of the century, said French biological oceanographer Jean-Pierre Gattuso, "The oceans will become hot, sour and breathless."

Coastal Restoration: San Diego has always been a national and even global leader in coastal restoration efforts. But we need to do more in the way of restoring our wetlands, watersheds and natural dune systems in order to strengthen our natural defenses against sea level rise and help to sequester the increasing amounts of carbon in our atmosphere. Additionally, restoration projects can increase our access to open spaces and trial systems that keep us healthy as well as protect fish and wildlife populations.

Sand Replenishment: For Oceanside surfer Rick Hahn, our biggest coastal issue is, “The consequences of constructing civilization in extreme proximity to our beaches, bays and waterways.” In many cases government agencies have only come up with one solution to that problem—dumping huge amounts of expensive sand on our coastline, often prioritizing the wealthiest coastal communities due to their capacity to hire expensive and well-connected sand lobbyists to game the system. However, what we saw with Sandy’s storm surge was the futility of spending billions of dollars on wasteful and largely pork-barrel sand replenishment projects. We need to rethink these projects so that they are smaller, more strategic and less costly.

This is especially the case in Southern California where the Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to spend a quarter of a billion dollars to dump sand on small patches of beachfront in Solana Beach, Encinitas and San Clemente. SANDAG planners also need to evaluate their current project in order to identify ways to reduce impacts to critical reefs and design future projects in a way that enhances rather than destroys surfing areas. We need a national debate on the most effective ways of preserving our beaches while maintaining our fiscal health.

Marine Protected Areas: With the enactment of a new system of state marine protected areas (MPAs) throughout our coastline, California has become a global leader in strategically preserving our most critical coastal and marine ecosystems. There is no better way to cost-effectively preserve our finfish populations than investing in the conservation of their spawning grounds. It is important to help to restore our new MPAs in order to bring back our commercially valuable fish and shellfish populations and preserve our treasures of the sea.

Coastal Pollution: We have to continue reducing the flow of polluted runoff and plastic from our watersheds into the ocean so that we don’t have to worry about getting sick when we play in the ocean. Watershed and wetland restoration help in this effort, but it is everyone’s job to Think Blue.

There are a host of other critical issues including seismic testing, oil drilling in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, preserving endangered marine wildlife such as sharks, marine mammals and sea turtles, and the expansion of offshore drilling.

What are other critical issues we need to address to preserve our coast and ocean? Share in comments.


Serge Dedina is executive director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. He is the author of Wild Sea and Saving the Gray Whale.

Wallace J. Nichols November 08, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Right on, Serge. Yes, we have an opportunity to fix some of what's broken on our coast and in our oceans. There's real momentum, let's use it for good. LiVBLUE! J.
John Galt November 08, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I agree costal issues matter. What is Mexico doing to pay to clean up their ongoing out of control mess? I South county that is the single biggest threat. Even if all the oils, doog poop and trash never made it into the US storm drains, and the US did everything perfect, we would still fail. When is our Southern Neighboor going to do the decent thig and clean up its act, without my tax dollars? Just wondering. I know you don't have the answers. Thanks for the rant.
Serge Dedina November 08, 2012 at 06:12 PM
John: Tijuana and the state of Baja California have done a lot to improve its sewage collection system over the past five years--with three new sewage plants built in Tijuana at no cost to American taxpayers. There is a lot more we can do--so it will be important to have your support as we move forward to advocate specific proposals to increase sewage collection and catch more trash and sewage. We have made a lot of progress and need to continue moving forward.
John Holder November 08, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Great article! All the issues are spot on for south San Diego but I think the implementation of MPA's are huge. We recently held a lobster diving competition next to the MPA near Sunset Cliffs. It was a great opportunity to let divers and fishermen, who are sometimes naturally doubtful of MPAs, know the benefit and importance of establishing this network throughout California. Thanks!
Diane Castaneda November 08, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I agree with you Serge, that we need to address these coastal issues more and more each day especially with the younger members of our community, I believe education is key! It has become clear that we can not continue ignoring these issues and I hope our elected officials will take charge in implementing effective and smart conservation policies.
Jack Fisher November 08, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I'm hoping that with Bobby Patton on the City Council that Serge will have an ally to finally get the City to work with Wildcoast. It is beyond belief that the City has not partnered up with Wilcoast to help bring awareness to issues facing our oceans, bays, and estuaries. Let's make 2013 the year to move forward
Serge Dedina November 08, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Hi Jack: Thanks for your comment. Actually we have worked quite closely with the City of IB over the past 2-3 years on educating and outreach programs about water quality issues. The city has supported efforts to clean up the TJ River but not very publicly However, there is a lot more to do and hopefully Bobby can be a strong voice for doing more and supporting new initiatives in 2013.
Jack Fisher November 08, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Wow that's good to hear as I have heard nothing positive about the City being involved in recent years. Maybe we can have an Ocean Day event next year.
Tim O'Neal November 09, 2012 at 06:18 AM
We definitely would not be where we are today without the tireless efforts of stakeholders such as Wildcoast. Serge, maybe with Patton on Council the Tidelands Advisory Committee can return and play a bigger role in coastal issues.
Serge Dedina November 09, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Thanks Tim--and I agree about Tidelands Committee--that needs to get going again --I talked to others about this as well. It will also be important to evaluate the current sand project--I think it was a big mistake not to have the sand pumped north of the pier through to Carnation given how much sand was pumped south of the pier and how much is moving south toward the rivermouth.
Tim O'Neal November 10, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Serge, thanks for the update on the sand. I was completely unaware that the sand was migrating towards the rivermouth. Just when you think they have a handle on the whole "replenishment" issue, mother nature throws you a monkey wrench.
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