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Aquarium of the Pacific celebrates and ponders the fate of Southern California's urban coast

Aquarium of the Pacific
Aquarium of the Pacific

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A few weeks back, Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific held an “urban coast” festival, celebrating the millions of people and thousands of species that share hundreds of square miles of ocean. Now the Aquarium is developing scenarios for what Southern California’s ocean and its coastline should look like within 40 years, and it’s looking for help.

That’s where the rest of us come in. Aquarium president Jerry Schubel says just about everyone has a stake in the coast's future. “We’ve got the two largest container ports in the nation. We have some of the best, busiest beaches [and] surfing. We have all of California’s offshore oil platforms, 17 of them, so it’s this wonderful combination of humans and marine life, living and acting and working and surviving in relative harmony,” Schubel says.

From the bend in the coastline at Point Concepcion in Santa Barbara and extending 400 miles south, that’s what's known as the Southern California Bight. This area is home to scientists who monitor this area for public research. By their own reckoning, they cover only about 5% of the region, and a lot of that work looks at the pollution sent via stormwater and sewage runoff out to sea. So this project is, basically, a really informal version of the same information the South Coast Marine Life Protection Act folks sought. (And KPCC, actually.)

The Aquarium of the Pacific is doing this to support federal policy. The Obama Administration has made “marine spatial planning,” a sort of regional planning in U.S. coastal waters, a priority. That’s a change from the piecemeal, patchwork of rules we’ve been making for decades: separate rules for fishing, boating, research, pollution, and other human activities.

“The Aquarium of the Pacific is leading the dialogue on urban ocean issues at local and national levels, raising awareness among the public, and bringing together stakeholders to make innovative plans for the future,” said Margaret Davidson, who directs the Coastal Services Center for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Aquarium president Schubel says Southern California could focus on recreation, or a healthy ecosystem, productive fisheries, or science research. (Maybe all of the above.) “And we’re asking people to pick from among these to tell us what they want the urban ocean to look like, thirty, forty, fifty years from now.”

The idea is that people will send their opinions via email, Facebook or Twitter. The aquarium plans to put the findings together for a report due out in July.