On the heels of Pete Stauffer’s recent coastal blog post highlighting the national view of the NOAA budget process currently being considered in Congress, we’re taking a deeper dive into the waters of Washington State to get a clearer sense of the importance of NOAA programs to the state’s communities and quality of life.

Washington Sea Grant

It’s hard to believe that eighty percent of Washington residents live along our 3,000-mile coastline (outer coast, Strait of Juan de Fuca, San Juan Islands, and Puget Sound). The people of Washington depend on healthy, productive marine and watershed ecosystems as much as any state in the country. For nearly 50 years, Washington Sea Grant has helped people understand, conserve and prosper from our state’s rich marine resources. Like several other programs in the NOAA Budget, Washington Sea Grant, along with 32 other state Sea Grant programs, was proposed for elimination after having its budget zeroed out by the Trump Administration. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley summed it up best when he recently said “at a time when coastal ecosystems and infrastructure are under unique stress from a changing climate, it would be a terrible idea to cut back on support that will help our communities adapt and continue to thrive and create jobs.”

More than just a recipient of your federal tax dollars, the staff at Washington Sea Grant are real people just like you and me, doing good work around the state in our local communities, with families to feed. Learn more about Washington Sea Grant and a few of the staff that we work closely with.

Ian Miller, WA Sea Grant Coastal Hazards Specialist with a Forks High School student at Rialto Beach collecting some shoreline morphology data.

Ocean Acidification

Washington is a leader in addressing ocean acidification. Caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, ocean acidification threatens both the health of the marine environment and coastal industries. While the challenges that we face are large, we have much to draw on to tackle this problem, including an active and informed citizenry and some of the top scientists in the world located right here in Washington.

Washington State has the most productive commercial shellfish industry on the West Coast. Annual sales of farmed shellfish from Washington account for almost 85 percent of U.S. West Coast sales, including Alaska. The shellfish industry generates $270 million annually, and directly and indirectly supports 3,200 jobs, which is a significant contributor to our coastal and state economy, as well as part of our culture and a significant contributor to the quality of life that we enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest. Changes in ocean chemistry are a major challenge to this industry and the aquatic ecosystem as they inhibit the growth and calcification of shells during early life stages. Additionally, more than 30 percent of Puget Sound’s marine species are calcifiers: oysters, clams, scallops, mussels, abalone, crabs, geoducks, barnacles, sea urchins, sand dollars, sea stars and sea cucumbers.

In 2013, the State of Washington passed legislation to create the Washington Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC), within the Office of the Governor. The Marine Resources Advisory Council’s membership includes legislative, executive, and elected officials, nongovernmental organizations, and private sector. Representatives from academic institutions and federal agencies have been invited by the Governor to participate. This body is tasked with implementation of the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations, one of which was to create the Washington OA Center at the University of Washington to advance scientific research on OA. MRAC appointees include a Surfrider board member and the Surfrider Washington Policy Manager. Bringing scientists, managers, and stakeholders together to address these challenges is a model that other states can adopt and employ.

While the Ocean Acidification program was sparred of cuts in the early NOAA budget proposals, it’s worth mentioning here for it’s huge importance to Washington State in addressing the challenges that we face. Read more for a snapshot of how Surfrider is addressing the threat of OA.

We’re all in this leaking canoe together in our efforts to address climate impacts like OA…that’s why collaboration is key.

Coastal Zone Management

Often referred to as the most important coastal policy that you’ve never heard of, the Coastal Zone Management Program in Washington is administered by the Washington Department of Ecology and directly connects to important work that is being done in coastal communities to update Shoreline Master Plans and enhance community resiliency. Two mayors of Washington coastal communities recently highlighted the importance of the CZM program in a Op-ed piece in the Seattle Times, “Our world-class beaches require ongoing monitoring and maintenance to keep them healthy and safe. The NOAA-managed Coastal Zone Management Program helps local governments like ours plan and manage shoreline development by keeping homes and buildings away from erosion-prone areas that put people and property in harm’s way. Without this type of proactive planning we would see unsafe development — homes and businesses literally swallowed up by the ocean.”

Additionally, CZM funding is supporting the current process to develop a Marine Spatial Plan for the Washington outer coast. Marine spatial planning (MSP) helps plan for the future use and conservation of the ocean by gathering information on coastal and ocean activities and environments. The result is a comprehensive plan that provides recommendations for siting new ocean uses, creates a process for coordinating across all levels of government, and ensures stakeholder input on new ocean uses. With so many competing and emerging uses of the ocean, it’s easy to imagine how things could go wrong in the absence of smart ocean planning! Take a closer look at the video that we produced on MSP in Washington here.

One of the ways that Surfrider has contributed to this planning effort is to complete a recreational use study for the Washington Coast. The “Rec Use Study” collected data on numerous non-consumptive uses by the public including beach-going, kayaking, surfing, wildlife viewing, and camping. It documented the locations on the beaches and in the waters of the Washington coast, what type of recreation and how much was spent getting there, eating, renting equipment, and other trip-related expenditures.

Coastal recreation provides significant economic and social benefits to coastal communities and the state—these include direct expenditures, as well as social benefits such as citizen enjoyment. In 2014, Washington residents took an estimated 4.1 million trips to the coast, with nearly 60 percent indicating their primary purpose was recreation. That recreation included a variety of activities including beach going (67%), sightseeing (62%), photography (36%) hiking and biking (33%), surfing/kayaking/boating (7%) and wildlife viewing (40%). When at the coast, the average respondent spent $117.14 per trip, translating to an estimated $481 million dollars in total direct expenditures for coastal communities and the state, through hotel visits, shopping, dining and other trip-related expenditures.

Map product with results from all recreational activities from the Opt-In portion of the study.

How you can help!

We are looking to demonstrate the strong support that exists in the business community for coastal management. We have begun working on an effort to enlist the support of local businesses that rely on a healthy and well managed coastal area to thrive and would be adversely impacted by a federal weakening of sound coastal management. On the webpage is a form businesses, groups, and individuals can fill out to sign on to our letter supporting the CZM Program that will be used in the effort described above.

Washington Chapter Leaders take their advocacy to The Hill.

Support the NOAA Budget!

-Attend an upcoming town hall event with your Federal Rep or Senator

-Write a letter to the Editor of your local newspaper highlighting the importance of the various NOAA programs (Contact Gus or Brice for talking points and contact info)

-Write a letter to your Rep and Senators, thank them for their efforts to support the NOAA budget and encourage them to keep pushing (Contact Gus or Brice for talking points and contact info)

-Pick up the phone and make a quick call to their office