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Ocean Currents

Working Towards an Accessible Ocean for All

Our beaches should be a safe place for everyone

OceanImageBank_DavidGross_87
© David Gross/ Ocean Image Bank

June is a big month for the ocean. First, it’s officially National Ocean Month, which is an opportunity to reflect on what the ocean means to us and how we can help protect it. I am thrilled to see colleagues, partners and ocean advocates like you from around the world share their commitments to our ocean today on World Ocean Day. It is truly a special day.

But June has a deeper connection to our ocean than simply “official” designations. It’s a month where so many of our fellow Americans head to the beach to enjoy the ocean. It marks the first full month of summer, the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacations for many. It’s also a month where we celebrate freedom, hope and human rights with LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Juneteenth.

We talk about “our ocean,” and we envision an ocean that is for all of us. But the truth is that the ocean’s benefits haven’t been freely enjoyed by everyone. There is a long history of exclusion, especially among the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities that we celebrate this month.

I encourage you to read more about some of the ways racism and injustice have intersected with our ocean and coasts, including the theft of coastal lands from the Gullah Geechee Nation and the history of segregated beaches. However, in the face of discrimination, our ocean and beaches have also been a safe haven for marginalized communities, such as Virginia Key Beach, which was accessible to Black communities in the time of segregation, and Fire Island’s Cherry Grove, one of the first gay beach towns in the U.S.

In light of a painful part of our collective history, I’m especially glad to see groups fighting for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities to reclaim beaches and coastal waters for their access and enjoyment. From coast to coast, there are groups like Brown Girls Surf, a Latina-led group in Oakland that’s empowering hundreds of girls and women of color to be “water women;” Black Sand Surf Collective, which has been described as an “honest response to what it felt like to be Black in the ocean;” and Queer Surf Club, which was founded two years ago to connect queer surfers around the world.

These groups inspire me and remind all of us that we can’t take access to the ocean for granted, and we must each do our part to ensure that everyone can enjoy the ocean’s boundless beauty and benefits. This is one reason that Ocean Conservancy is sponsoring the Liberation Paddle Out 2022, organized by Black Surf Santa Cruz in celebration of Juneteenth.

This National Ocean Month, I am humbled to think of all the ways our ocean has represented both an oppressive symbol and a beacon of hope for communities around the world. This tie is a crucial thing to consider for anyone working to protect our ocean—including us here at Ocean Conservancy. That’s why we have prioritized measures that diversify our staff and Board of Directors, improved our hiring practices to make them more equitable, sponsored fellowships and organizations that promote diversity in our field, expanded our education programs around ocean justice and more. I know these are small steps on a larger path, and I am honored to work alongside our incredible staff and partners in pursuit of our vision of a healthier ocean, protected by a more just world.

Together, we can work to conserve our ocean, and make our ocean—and the institutions working to protect it—accessible and welcoming for everyone. At the end of the day, we—and our ocean—are better off in a more just and equitable world.

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