“You don’t have to see the ocean to protect it.” This has been my favorite phrase since I moved to the mountain region of Boulder, Colorado, where I started the Colorado Ocean Coalition (COCO) in 2011. People ask, “What does the ocean have to do with us? We live hundreds of miles from the sea.” I often say, breathe; now take another breath and one more. Two of those three breaths came from the ocean.
The Ocean Starts Here!
Living in landlocked Colorado, it can be a challenge to see that the ocean starts here. When you think about the water cycle, however, it becomes clear. As rain and snow fall on the mountains of the Continental Divide, that moisture either goes to the west, down the Colorado River to the Sea of Cortez, or to the east where the creeks and rivers merge with the Mississippi River that flows to the Gulf of Mexico. When people say that there is no connection between living in the mountains and the ocean, I say, “Follow the water–it tells an interesting story.” (painting – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Thomas Moran, wikicommons)
One of the ways that we can take care of mountainous areas is also an important way that we can take care of our ocean: by protecting the health of our local watersheds. In a sense, the headwater regions of all the rivers on earth are the beginning of our ocean, making the link between mountains and sea a very close one. How we take care of our mountains, inland communities, and local watersheds has a large impact on the health of our ocean.
As the Colorado River flows west toward the ocean, it’s a rare occasion that it reaches the tidal zone of the Sea of Cortez. 2014 was the first year in more than six decades that the waters of the Colorado River, actually reached the sea. Since the early 20th century, we have dammed and diverted the mighty Colorado River to the point that there is little of it left by the time it reaches the river’s delta in Mexico. (photo – knau.org)
On the eastern side of the divide, water flows and picks up enormous amounts of pollutants as it travels through the heartland–everything from animal farming waste, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, to urban pollutants including oil, sewage, plastic, and trash. This deadly mix combines with the waterways that feed the Mississippi River, and by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, the water has so many pollutants that it causes one of the largest dead zones on Earth. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that in the summer of 2017, the dead zone was the largest ever recorded at over 8,776 square miles–nearly the size of New Hampshire.
The ocean belongs to all of us–not just coastal communities. Given the tremendous number of problems facing the ocean, I wanted to provide opportunities for inland communities to engage and take a positive role in its protection. That was the spark for starting the Colorado Ocean Coalition, and over the past six years it has gained real momentum.
There are now eight Inland Ocean Coalition chapters throughout the county and one in Canada. As new coalitions formed, there was a bit of pushback to be under the umbrella of Colorado, so in 2017, we formed the Inland Ocean Coalition with the mission of creating an inland movement that builds land-to-sea stewardship.
To be Stewards of Our Oceans
Each Inland Ocean chapter advocates for the ocean by carrying out the vision to inspire an inland community to be stewards of our ocean. Chapters have the opportunity to replicate programs that were established in Colorado, and at the same time, provide ideas and programs to be shared across the network. Each chapter is unique but they all share the goal of empowering volunteers to create a cultural shift and ignite engagement around water and ocean issues.
In 2017 alone, the Inland Ocean Coalition and chapters worked with over 150 volunteers who tabled at events and concerts, showed ocean themed movies with panel discussions, led and participated in creek and beach clean-ups, campaigned to eliminate single use plastics, tracked issues and wrote letters supporting ocean and water protection policies, and led the Inland Ocean Delegation to Washington, DC, to meet with legislative leaders. Through these efforts, we reached over 172,000 people with land-to-sea messaging.
Engagement, Shared Information and Encouragement!
The key to growing the Inland Ocean Coalition is finding that person or group of people who feel that they can make a difference, but they don’t want to do it alone. We provide the framework for engagement, share information, and encourage all of our chapters to learn from each other. If you care about the ocean and want to get involved, we just might have the perfect opportunity for you.
International Mountain Day
The Inland Ocean Coalition will be celebrating International Mountain Day this year on December 11. In order to take care of our ocean, we must take care of our mountains, and vice-versa. Like much of the rest of the planet–including our ocean– mountains are under threat from climate change, habitat and species loss, exploitation, and overuse.
Water is the great connector between land and sea, and it is there that we work to protect the mountains in which we live, our local watersheds, our ocean, and ultimately the planet as a whole.
By Vicki Nichols Goldstein, Founder and Director, Inland Ocean Coalition
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