Conservation & Science

A surge of ocean action in Sacramento

The 2018 California legislative session brought great news for the ocean! The Aquarium supported seven bills and two resolutions this year—and they all became state law.

These new state policies will:

  • Protect our coast from federal offshore oil and gas drilling
  • Restrict several common single-use plastic products that pollute the ocean
  • Continue to conserve California’s marine protected areas, and
  • Encourage new, more sustainable fisheries practices

Here’s a bill-by-bill breakdown.


Assembly Bill 1884: Straws On Request. Enacted.

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What’s missing from this picture? We didn’t notice, either. California’s new Straws On Request law helps you skip the straws you don’t need.

What it does: The Straws On Request bill (Asm. Ian Calderon) requires that dine-in, full-service restaurants in California provide plastic straws only when customers ask for them.

Why it matters: Plastic pollution can now be found in almost every marine habitat on Earth—from polar ice to deep ocean trenches. It’s estimated that nearly 9 million U.S. tons of plastic enters the global ocean each year. Plastic straws are consistently among the most top items collected in beach cleanups around the world. Cutting back on the unnecessary use of plastic straws reduces one source of ocean plastic pollution, and raises awareness of the larger problem.

Our role: The Aquarium rallied behind this legislation. We wrote letters of support, testified at legislative committee hearings, and urged the public to contact their legislators in support of the bill. The Legislature passed AB 1884, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it. It takes effect in January 2019, but you can start skipping straws today.


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California Senator Bill Monning, left, sponsored a state resolution making No Straw Novemberan idea championed by Aquarium Teen Conservation Leader Shelby O’Neilofficial statewide.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 139: No Straw November. Passed.

What it does: SCR 139 (Sen. Bill Monning) declares the month of November as “No Straw November” in the State of California.

Why it matters:  This initiative raises awareness about the growing problem of plastic pollution and brings attention to the power of individual actions, like refusing single-use plastic straws, in working toward positive change. High school student Shelby O’Neil, an Aquarium Teen Conservation Leader and founder of the Jr Ocean Guardians, is the driving force behind the resolution, which challenges businesses and individuals to cut back on straws for one month. Hopefully that will lead to lasting behavior change; they say it takes three weeks to make a new habit!

Our role: The Aquarium and Shelby jointly sponsored this resolution, working with Senator Monning and his staff to draft the resolution and supporting documents, and joining him on the Senate floor for the SCR 139 vote. California’s first No Straw November begins in two weeks.


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Offshore oil and gas drilling has been limited in California. One existing operation is Platform Harvest, in federal waters 7 miles from Point Conception. Photo by NASA JPL.

Assembly Bill 1775: Prohibits new infrastructure for offshore oil and gas drilling. Enacted.

What it does: AB 1775 (Asm. Al Muratsuchi) prohibits the State Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction over waters up to 3 miles offshore, from granting leases for new oil and gas pipelines, and infrastructure. Under this law, California will not approve new pipelines or allow the use of existing pipelines to transport oil and gas iff new offshore drilling wins federal approval.

Why it matters: The Trump Administration has proposed opening nearly all U.S. ocean waters, including six areas in California, to oil and gas drilling. Potential impacts of an oil spill are both immediate and long-lasting. Burning oil, coal and natural gas also contributes to climate change and ocean acidification. This bill builds on California’s long-standing defense of our state’s remarkable ocean and coast, and the marine life that depend on them.

Our role: The Aquarium wrote letters in support of the state bill. We also pushed back against the federal proposal to open nearly all U.S. ocean waters to offshore oil and gas drilling, inviting our digital audiences to stand up for our ocean through comments in the Federal Register—and thousands responded. The California Legislature passed AB 1775, protecting California waters from new oil and gas development, and the governor signed it. The bill covers leases as of January 2018.


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Assemblymember Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill will increase the fines for illegal fishing in marine protected areas like Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Assembly Bill 2369: Higher fines for commercial illegal poaching violations in marine protected areas. Enacted.

What it does: AB 2369 (Asm. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher) raises the penalties for illegal fishing in marine protected areas. Previously, fines for illegal fishing by commercial fisherman and passenger boats, also called “party boats,” were capped at $1,000. Once the law takes effect, penalties will become $5,000 to $40,000 for the first offense, $10,000 to $50,000 for the second offense, and loss of license after the third offense.

Why it matters: California was the first state to establish a network of marine protected areas (MPAs), which now comprises 18 percent of state waters. Some MPAs allow limited fishing, while others are off-limits. A collaborative scientific report concluded that fish inside MPAs tend to grow bigger and more abundant, and produce more young, than those in unprotected areas. In other words, MPAs provide a reserve of fish that can re-populate depleted stocks in adjacent waters. This only happens when fishing limits are enforced and effective.

Our role:The Aquarium was part of a large and diverse coalition supporting this bill. AB 2369 passed unanimously in both the Assembly and Senate, and takes effect in January 2019.


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Squid boats fish with purse seine nets in Monterey Bay. Experimental permits allow fishermen to innovate more sustainable gear and fishing methods.

Assembly Bill 1573: Encourages new approaches to sustainable fishing. Enacted.

What it does:  AB 1573 (Asm. Richard Bloom) creates a state version of a federal permit that allows fishermen to test out new, more sustainable fishing practices.

Why it matters: We need to be able to test new ways of sustainable fishing. This permit encourages fishermen to get creative in order to reduce bycatch and habitat damage. Ultimately, their innovation could lead to stronger regulations and more sustainable fishing in California waters.

Our role: The Aquarium was part of a coalition in favor of this bill, and also submitted an individual letter of support. The new permit becomes available in January 2019.


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Sampling reveals microplastic in beach sand. Photo by Peter Charaff (www.raceforwater.org), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Senate Bill 1263: Creates a statewide microplastic strategy. Enacted.

What it does:  SB 1263 (Sen. Anthony Portantino) directs the state’s Ocean Protection Council to examine “microplastic”—pieces smaller than 5 millimeters across—in the marine environment. The goal is to better understand how much microplastic is polluting the ocean, how it’s affecting marine life, and create a plan to address the problem.

Why it matters: Over the last decade, scientists have discovered tiny pieces of plastic, most of them smaller than an M&M candy, in all parts of the ocean. More science—like our recent study on the transport and cycling of plastics through ocean food webs—is needed to understand the impacts, and inform policies in response. This bill will produce a science-based strategy to tackle the growing problem of microplastic pollution.

Our role: The Aquarium submitted a letter in support of this legislation. The Ocean Protection Council is required to develop a statewide microplastics strategy by 2021.


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When reusable materials aren’t an option, opt for recyclable glass or metal, like this bottled water in aluminum.

Senate Bill 1335: Requires that all take-out food packaging at state facilities be compostable or recyclable. Enacted.

What it does:  SB 1335 (Sen. Ben Allen) requires that all food containers provided at facilities in state-owned properties—including parks, colleges and fairgrounds—be recyclable or compostable. To help food vendors comply with the law, CalRecycle will develop and distribute a list of acceptable packaging types.

Why it matters: Take-out food packaging in California generates tons of non-recyclable, non-compostable waste every day. Much of that waste finds its way into the natural environment, including the ocean, where it can harm marine life. This bill is one important step to reduce the sources of ocean plastic pollution.

Our role: The Aquarium joined a coalition of organizations in support of this legislation. The bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021.


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A student with the Aquarium’s Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats (WATCH) program conducts research in Elkhorn Slough.

Senate Bill 720: Requires environmental literacy at all public schools. Enacted.

What it does:  SB 720 (Sen. Ben Allen) directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to increase environmental education in public schools. This bill ensures that environmental literacy is part of K-12 curricula, and encourages school boards to promote it.  

Why it matters: We must equip California’s young people with the tools necessary to navigate a rapidly changing environment. The Aquarium’s education programs are leading the way in ecosystem-based science education as we work to inspire students with a lifelong passion for the environment, and offer professional development support teachers as they bring environmental education to California schools.

Our role: The Aquarium submitted a letter in support of this legislation. It will influence updates to the state’s K-12 curriculum beginning January 1, 2020.


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To protect California’s coast and ocean in the face of climate change, we need bold, science-based action.

Assembly Joint Resolution 47: Supports science-based action to protect California’s coast and ocean in the face of climate change. Passed.

What it does:  AJR 47 (Asm. Richard Bloom) affirms the Legislature’s support for science-based action to conserve, protect, restore and effectively manage California’s coastal and ocean ecosystems in the face of rapid climate change. It also urges federal and state agencies to protect the communities most at risk from these changes.

Why it matters: Climate change is a major threat to human and ecosystem health. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped today, the amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere would still drive global changes for which we must prepare and adapt. This resolution affirms the importance of science-based planning for impacts such as sea-level rise, intensifying storms, ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Our role: The Aquarium was part of a coalition in support of this resolution, which took effect upon passage.


Featured image: “California State Capitol” by Andre m – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Learn more about the Aquarium’s work to influence ocean conservation policy.

 

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