Marine Policy in Monterey!

As a scientist endlessly embroiled in the pursuit of data, it can be easy at times to lose sight of the role of your beloved numbers in the decision making process. While policy and management are often tossed around as catch phrases in biology, it can be hard to find the time to take a deeper dive into learning how these decisions are actually made. As a marine biology graduate student with a passion for conservation, however, I believe it is important for me to think about how my work might fit into management and the creation of policy that will protect and preserve marine ecosystems.

Fortunately, this past summer I was able to attend a two-week Marine Policy course at Hopkins Marine Station in beautiful Monterey, California. The course was run through the Center for Ocean Solutions, which is an amazing collaboration between Stanford University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and it was specifically coordinated by the Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education (MARINE). As the only student from Hawaiʻi, I was also able to work with other graduate students who were from California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, and Virginia and who studied law, policy, and marine science. This truly interdisciplinary environment left me inspired and excited to continue seeking out collaborations to achieve lasting solutions for our threatened marine habitats.

View from the classroom at Hopkins Marine Station!
Harbor seals lining the coast on my walk to class!

One of the first things we learned about in the course was that each state has a Public Trust Doctrine which requires that “all public natural resources are held in trust by the State for the benefit of the people” (Hawaiʻi State Constitution, Article XI.1). While this may seem intuitive, the Public Trust Doctrine can actually be quite powerful, and some are even arguing for the implementation of an equivalent mandate at the federal level (Turnipseed et al. 2009). This concept becomes particularly important, and interesting, where water is concerned. In most states, including Hawaiʻi, the public has a right to access the shoreline up to the mean high tide, or “below the upper reaches of the wash of the waves” (UH Sea Grant, HRS §§ 115-4, 115-5, Revised 2010). Living on Oʻahu, where much of the shoreline has been developed, the scope of the public trust doctrine is particularly intriguing to think about. If you are interested in knowing more about public access rights on the coast in Hawaiʻi, you can read more here –!

Another aspect of the course that I found particularly engaging was the discussion of community based management and stakeholder engagement. One of the points emphasized in the course was the importance of including all affected individuals in the ecological problem solving process. An often repeated mantra was to check in early and often. Making sure stakeholders are on board with proposed management decisions before they are implemented prevents miscommunications and promotes personal investment in conservation projects. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. If you have been involved in the creation of a management plan from the beginning and feel that your interests and concerns have been addressed, you are going to be far more invested in seeing the program succeed. For example, implementing the Marine Life Protection Act, enacted in California in 1999 to improve the state’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), was a herculean attempt at collaboration and public engagement, but it resulted in the establishment of a well designed network of 124 MPAs (Kirlin et al. 2013). Backed by a legal mandate, this process took seven years, countless volunteered hours, public-private partnerships, scientific support, and a tremendous amount of funding; however, the result—a 13% increase in state protected waters—was arguably worth it (Kirlin et al. 2013). To check out a map of all the protected areas and learn more about them, head over to the California Department of Fish and Game’s website!

While I could go on forever about all of the amazing things I learned in this course, I just want to touch on one last thing. We were lucky enough to be inundated with Arctic researchers in the course at all levels ranging from the students to teachers to guest speakers, and coming from a coral reef centric world of marine science, this was a real treat! We even got to hear from Beth Kerttula, who served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives on behalf of Alaska and as a Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions Fellow. More recently in 2014 she was appointed Director of the National Oceans Council by President Barack Obama. The National Oceans Council is tasked with implementing the National Ocean Policy, which will promote conservation of marine resources for years to come. Given her current position and her personal experiences as an Alaskan, it was fascinating to hear her perspective on marine policy in the Arctic. With all of the recent media attention surrounding Shell’s decision to halt drilling in the Chukchi Sea and President Obama’s cancellation of Arctic drilling rights auctions, I feel particularly lucky to have been able to meet one of the Arctic Ocean’s most influential voices.

Lastly, one of the best parts of my trip was getting to do my first cold water dive at Monterey Bay’s famous San Carlos Beach Park, which included getting an underwater view of kelp, mating sea hares, sea otters, and harbor seals!

Me (far left) experiencing post dive bliss with some colleagues!

All in all, I could not be more grateful to the Center for Ocean Solutions and Stanford University for giving me the chance to join their course this summer, and I would highly recommend it to any other marine science graduate students who are curious about marine policy and passionate about conservation!



Kirlin, J., Caldwell, M., Gleason, M., Weber, M., Ugoretz, J., Fox, E., and Miller-Henson, M. (2013) California’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative: Supporting implementation of legislation establishing a statewide network of marine protected areas. Ocean & Coastal Management 74:3-13.

Turnipseed, M., Crowder, L., Sagarin, R.D., and Roady, S.E. (2009) Legal bedrock for rebuilding America’s ocean ecosystems. Science 324: 183-184.