Sea The Future: Attending Capitol Hill Ocean Week

By Madyson Miller, Knauss Fellow and Caroline Donovan, Communications Director, Coral Reef Conservation Program

In October of 1972, environmental history was made on Capitol Hill. The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Clean Water Act, among others, were passed and for the past fifty years have helped sustain and maintain our oceans, coasts, great lakes, and waterways. Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) 2022 was not only special because it was the first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic, but it was also a celebration of the past 50 years of marine and freshwater conservation. And, over the past 50 years, our oceans have felt the effects from numerous environmental pressures such as climate change and marine debris.

Organized by The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Capitol Hill Ocean Week gave managers, scientists, policymakers, and ocean advocates a space to brainstorm innovative solutions that will float us into a better, brighter future. The Coral Reef Conservation Program's (the Coral Program's) Caroline Donovan (Communications Director) and Madyson Miller (Knauss Fellow) attended CHOW 2022 in-person and are feeling optimistic about the future of U.S. coral reefs and oceans.

Two women standing on either side of a poster that reads 'Marine National Monuments' and shows a sea turtle in the center of a school of fish.
The Coral Program's Madyson (left) and Caroline celebrate 50 years of Marine National Monuments at CHOW 2022.

Madyson Miller: This year was my first time attending Capitol Hill Ocean Week and I can honestly say that the speakers, panels, and enthusiasm for building a stronger future blew me away. The week started off with a panel titled Sea: The Future that explored the biggest ocean issues, followed by a detailed discussion on creative and innovative ways to tackle these problems. There was an overall theme to re-define ocean narratives, challenge our imagination, and develop transparent voices for a transformative future.

Caroline Donovan:I particularly liked the opening session with the lightning talks. Nai'a Lewis' talk about innovating beyond integration into co-creation was great! She ended her talk explaining how art can help us expand our thinking so we can conceive solutions that we couldn't have in the past. Really out-of-the-box thinking.

Colorful picture in background with woman standing on stage in foreground.
Nai'a Lewis, founder of Salted Logic, presents one of her tile mosaics at CHOW 2022.

Madyson Miller: I was moved by the various conversations regarding environmental diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, accessibility, and the acknowledgement of indigenous practices during panels such as Expanding Ocean Knowledge and Fishing, Swimming, Drinking: Why Clean Water Matters. During the conference, I was able to immerse myself with new knowledge on topics I am not familiar with, including how offshore-wind companies are working to ensure equitable access to this resource.The success of the Biden-Harris Administration's America the Beautiful initiative, including conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030, depends on including and collaborating with local community stakeholders. It was said that by decarbonizing the grid, we would be making direct advances toward environmental justice.

Caroline Donovan:Yes, it seems like a lot of the coral reef jurisdictions and territories were well represented at the conference since coral reefs are integral to indigieous communities. What about the session on seafood and fisheries called Food from the Sea? The panelists were so diverse and from totally different parts of the world. I really liked how they connected seafood with food security. I feel like most people think of food security in terms of crop yields. The second day session called Wild Waters that included NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad and Assistant Secretary Shannon Estenoz, Fish and Wildlife, Department of the Interior, was also really interesting to me. Hearing the perspective of federal agencies about coming together along with nonprofits and academic institutions on ocean policy and America the Beautiful (30 x 30) helped clarify how we're going to make it happen.

A line of people sitting in chairs on a stage.
Panelists during the Wild Waters session on the second day of Capitol Hill Ocean Week.

Madyson Miller: Overall, my CHOW experience was informative and educational. It allowed me to network and have open discussions with my peers. I am eager to take this knowledge and apply it to my favorite ocean resource, coral reefs.

Caroline Donovan: Same!

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