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July 05, 2011

Save the Oceans, Save Ourselves.

By Serge Dedina for the San Diego Union Tribune
Image by Dana Roeber Murray.

By Serge Dedina

San Diego Union-Tribune.

During my daily forays into the Pacific Ocean to surf with my two teenage sons, I am constantly reminded of its awesome power and beauty. Last week we were also reminded of the ocean’s fragility. Its resources are vast, but they are far from limitless. Unfortunately we have pushed marine systems to the absolute brink.

If you read the news last week, you likely saw the headlines about mass extinction or an environmental doomsday. Heavy stuff, but it is not time to despair. It is time for decisive action.

Our ocean faces myriad threats, from climate change to habitat loss and overfishing. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Mike Lee reported on the changes to the California Current – the life-giving artery of the Pacific – brought about by global warming.

The underlying science is complex, a mixture of human impacts and global environmental factors that are yet to be fully sorted out. That is hardly surprising given how little we truly know about the ocean (we’ve only studied 5 percent of it worldwide). But we know enough to recognize that our ocean cannot endlessly absorb pressures and continue to provide for us.

We have a responsibility to safeguard our sea for the plants and animals that live there, as well as the individuals and businesses that depend on it. It is a many-layered problem and we have to attack it from every angle. That means staying the course on water-quality efforts, reducing carbon emissions and moving ahead with planned protections for eco hot spots in Southern California.

Marine protected areas and reserves are a key part of the solution for long-term ocean health, and it is critical that we stay on track with completion of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, which would create a statewide system along the length of our coast.

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report on the state of marine reserves in the United States. It confirmed what ocean advocates have been saying for years: Marine protected areas work to instill resiliency in our coastal waters, and far too little of America’s ocean is covered. Only about 3 percent of our territorial waters are currently protected – and 95 percent of that is in a single reserve off Hawaii.

It is encouraging to hear a government agency so clearly identify the need for more marine protected areas. Amid the growing sense of urgency conveyed by the recent International Union for Conservation of Nature report on the state of the world’s oceans, we need a ray of hope. Dr. Sylvia Earle has famously called marine protected areas “hope spots” because of their ability to help nature heal itself.

After two years of study and planning, the third link in California’s statewide marine protected areasystem is approved and ready to go into the water. The Fish and Game Commission will meet on Wednesday to decide that these new protections will go into effect on Oct. 1.

I think the take-away from all this ocean news is clear. There is no time to waste. The sooner we protect key areas like the Tijuana Sloughs reef, south La Jolla, Swamis and Point Dume, the more quickly marine systems can rebound. Let us heed this wake-up call and redouble our commitment to smart, science-based ocean management.

Dedina is executive director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team based in Imperial Beach that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. His email address is