Commentary: Protecting coastal ecology not just for the birds

This state’s economy depends on coastal waters and shorelines. Those areas need our protection.

By Trina Bayard

For The Herald

As a resident of Washington and a bird lover, I care about our coastal areas and marine environment. When my family heads to the beach, we’re always on the lookout for local seabirds like rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemot, or even the elusive tufted puffin. These birds depend on healthy fish populations and clean water, just like we do.

Seabirds need a healthy coastal habitat and an abundance of fish to thrive. But healthy ocean ecosystems don’t just support birds; they help drive Washington’s coastal economy.

In the United States, the ocean and coastal recreation economy is booming. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey found that almost 49 million adults participate in ocean and coastal recreation and spend more than $141 billion in ocean recreation-related goods and services. That spending supports more than 3.1 million jobs, $409 billion in business income, and $135 billion in household incomes.

At the same time, our commercial, recreational fishing and seafood industries generated $212 billion in sales impacts in 2016, contributing $100 billion to gross domestic product, and supporting 1.7 million full and part-time jobs.

The Washington economy also greatly benefits from healthy oceans and coasts. Recreational services in the Puget Sound and along the Washington coast, such as fishing and birdwatching, rely on vibrant ecosystems that support a diversity of fish, birds and other marine life. The seafood industry, including the crab, Pacific cod and shrimp fisheries need healthy oceans and strong management to remain sustainable.

We need to ensure that coastal ecosystems will remain vibrant in the face of climate change. By doing so, we can sustain profits from coastal recreation into the future. If we ignore the economic risk of climate change, we threaten the nearly 127,000 jobs and $10.2 billion in GDP that make up Washington’s clean coast economy.

Not to mention, Washington has the 16th highest birdwatching participation rates in the entire country. Those participants contribute to the $41 billion that is spent on birdwatching in the U.S. every year.

Our state is already showing leadership in how to transition the maritime industry to a low-carbon future through the Maritime Blue Strategy. But we need our federal elected leaders to do more. Congress can and should prioritize ocean-related climate adaptation and mitigation measures to promote healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems that will help safeguard against the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. These include the restoration of coastal habitats that provide a buffer from storms and sea level rise, stopping offshore drilling, protecting marine sanctuaries and monuments and ensuring our fisheries are sustainably managed.

We are lucky in Washington to have congressional champions like Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer leading the way to protect the ocean, address climate change, and ensure that the communities and industries that depend on healthy oceans and coasts can continue to thrive. Sen. Cantwell has championed legislation to stop offshore drilling off the West Coast, improve readiness for coastal hazards like tsunamis and earthquakes, and to address ocean acidification. She has a strong ally in Rep. Kilmer, who has supported funding for important programs related to coastal resiliency and preparedness, marine debris, monitoring ocean acidification, and improving fisheries science.

I’m proud to have elected officials who recognize that the fight against climate change will require a range of actions. We need to use every tool available to protect our coasts, our communities and our way of life. Our environment and our economy depend on it.

Trina Bayard is director of bird conservation for Audubon Washington, a state office of the National Audubon Society.

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