To restore and protect the ocean, we need both bold new ideas and better amplification of what’s already working. In pursuit of ocean justice, we maintain a focus on urban ocean conservation, and grapple with how to shift human behavior, corporate practices, and political will towards sustainability.
The Need for Ocean Justice
Who benefits from ocean exploitation and from conservation, and who gets screwed?
For decades, communities and activists have been fighting for environmental justice. It’s no coincidence that garbage dumps, power plants, pipelines, and Superfund sites are generally found in poor neighborhoods, and often in communities of color. These populations endure disproportionate exposure to toxic air, land, and water. New Orleans, Flint, Standing Rock, and countless others exemplify the need to prevent such communities from bearing the brunt of environmental devastation.
This need for an environmental justice movement extends to the coastline and beneath the ocean’s surface. Threats to ocean health tend to impact marginalized communities first and worst, but no one is immune. A healthy ocean is critical to our well-being, economies, and cultures. Overfishing leads to food insecurity, lost jobs, slavery, and piracy.Pollution leads to unsafe water, unhealthy seafood, dead zones, fish kills, and beaches covered in trash. Coastal development results in privatization and loss of habitats that provide protection from storms. Climate change forces entire communities to relocate due to sea-level rise.
Another future is possible — one of ocean justice — and we will help it emerge. Ocean conservation is a social justice issue.
*Note: Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. (Source: US Environmental Protection Agency)
For more on environmental justice see:
- NRDC: The Environmental Justice Movement) (a brief history)
Coastal cities need ocean conservation
The human population is 7.5 billion and counting, and a large and growing portion of us live near the coast. Most of the world’s large cities are coastal, their growth fueled by ports. So it’s critical to figure out what urban ocean conservation looks like. Since we are headquartered in New York City, we are starting here. Compared to the residents of other coastal cities, New Yorkers are woefully disconnected from their waters.
We are gearing up to host an array of events to educate New Yorkers about the vibrant marine life in the waters around them. We will show them how the ocean affects their lives and how their actions affect the ocean. We need to build an ocean ethos.
The Hudson and East Rivers are cleaner now than they have been in 100 years. Whales are returning to the harbor. Seahorses are living under the piers. Oysters (water filterers extraordinaire) are being replanted. With redoubled efforts, the waters around NYC could once again become resplendent with life.
In the worlds of food (sustainable seafood!), fashion, and art, NYC is a cultural arbiter, but it is not (yet!) a global leader in sustainability and conservation. NYC can learn a lot from initiatives in other coastal cities. And successful ocean conservation efforts in NYC could become a much-needed model for urban ocean conservation across the globe.
- Johnson, AE. 2017. I Never Thought I’d be Marching for Science. Scientific American, blog.
- Johnson, AE. 2016. The Key to Halting Climate Change: Admit We Can’t Save Everything. The Guardian, Op-Ed.
- Jackson, J. and Johnson, AE. 2014. We Can Save the Caribbean’s Coral Reefs. New York Times, Op-Ed.
- Johnson, AE. 2015. How Barbuda Enacted One of the World’s Most Successful Ocean Conservation Efforts. Huffington Post.
- Johnson, AE. 2014. Parrotfish: The Fish that Can Save Coral Reefs. Virgin Unite.
- Johnson, AE and Nibbs, A. 2014. Antigua Observer, Guest Opinion (OpEd upon passage of new ocean laws on Barbuda)
- Johnson AE, and Jackson JBC. 2015. Fisher and diver perceptions of coral reef degradation and implications for sustainable management. Global Ecology and Conservation. 3: 890-899. (Link to high-res version.)
- Hind EJ, Alexander SM, Green SJ, Kritzer JP, Sweet MJ, Johnson AE, Amargós FP, Smith NS and Peterson AM. 2015. Fostering effective international collaboration for marine science in small island states. Frontiers in Marine Science 2:86.
- Jacquet J, Estes J, Jackson J, Johnson AE, Knowlton, N, McClenachan L, Pauly D, and Sala E. 2015. Ocean Calamities: Hyped Litany or Legitimate concern? BioScience. 65(8): 745-746.
- Johnson AE and Saunders D. 2014. Time preferences and the management of coral reef fisheries. Ecological Economics. 100: 130-139.
- Johnson AE, Cinner J, Hardt M, Jacquet J, McClanahan T, and Sanchirico J. 2013. Trends current understanding and future research priorities for artisanal coral reef fisheries research. Fish and Fisheries 14(3): 281-292
- Jacquet J, Boyd I, Carlton JT, Fox H, Johnson AE, Mee L, Roman J, Spalding M, and Sutherland WJ. 2011. Scanning the oceans for solutions. Solutions 2(1): 46-55.
- Johnson, AE. 2010. Reducing bycatch in coral reef trap fisheries: escape gaps as a step towards sustainability. Marine Ecology Progress Series 415: 201-209.
- West J, Julius S, Kareiva P, Lawler JJ, Enquist C, Johnson AE et al. 2009. Natural resources and climate change: a synthetic review of concepts and approaches for management adaptation. Environmental Management 44(6): 1001-1011.
- Jackson JBC, Donovan MK, Cramer KL, Lam VV (editors). 2014. Executive Summary – Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. [Link to full report.]
- Schep S, Johnson AE, van Beukering P, Wolfs E. 2012. The fishery value of coral reefs in Bonaire.
- PhD Dissertation: Johnson, AE. 2011. Fish, Fishing, Diving, and the Management of Coral Reefs. Dissertation for PhD in Marine Biology PhD from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD.
- U.S. Climate Change Science Program. 2008. Preliminary review of adaptation options for climate-sensitive ecosystems and resources. In: Julius SH, West JM (eds) A report by the U.S. climate change science program and the subcommittee on global change research. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, 873 pp.