– Knight Ridder Newspapers

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Everything was perfect. The waves crashed, the sun shone, the pelicans flew overhead and the TV cameras rolled as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled his new plan to protect California’s oceans Tuesday on the bluffs of Point Lobos State Reserve in Carmel, Calif.

Then a reporter asked him about the state’s controversial stem-cell ballot measure and he endorsed it – instantly drowning out his ocean news.

Nevertheless, Schwarzenegger’s appearance signified an important environmental trend. Over the past year, California has set a new pace on ocean protection for the nation, putting in place a tidal wave of polices to preserve ocean wildlife, limit cruise ship pollution, establish “no-fishing zones” and reduce beach contamination – while Washington, D.C., has largely sat idle.

“In the last year, this legislature and this governor have done more to produce bold, visionary ocean policy than every other state, the president and the Congress combined,” said Warner Chabot, vice present of the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group in San Francisco. “Slam dunk. No question.”

The Golden State’s “blue revolution” of 2004 has been years in the making. Observers who track marine policy cite a pro-environment governor; a growing body of science showing collapses in the world’s fisheries; the popularity of aquariums – particularly Monterey Bay Aquarium, which last week celebrated its 20th anniversary; and the release of two prominent national studies sounding the alarm about a crisis in the health of America’s oceans.

California’s very identity is tied to its coast – from the Beach Boys to “Baywatch” to Santa Cruz surfers. Roughly 70 percent of the state’s 36 million residents live within an hour of the ocean. Tourism is a $78 billion industry in California.

“This is a perfect example of where the environment is not a partisan issue,” said Terry Tamminen, a Democrat and Schwarzenegger’s secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. “There is no “D’ or “R’ next to our kids’ name when they go to the beach.”

Among the developments this year:

-Eight ocean bills pushed by environmentalists made it to Schwarzenegger’s desk. They ranged from limits on trawl net fishing to rules requiring water quality tests at beaches in San Francisco Bay. He signed all eight.

-California became the state with the strictest rules on cruise ships. Two of the bills banned cruise ships from dumping sewage or waste from sinks, showers and laundries in state waters out to three miles. A third banned cruise ships from incinerating garbage.

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-State leaders raised $2.5 million from Bay Area foundations to keep alive a program that will create a network of marine protected areas along the coast where fishing is limited or banned to restore rockfish and other depleted species. Already last year, California established the nation’s largest such marine reserve in state waters around the Channel Islands.

-Ocean issues jumped in the public’s interest when the Monterey Bay Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to exhibit a great white shark for longer than a few weeks. The shark, a small female caught accidentally in a fishing net, has drawn 200,000 visitors since Sept. 15 – a 50 percent increase from normal attendance – and has been featured in Time magazine, CBS News and other national media.

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-California created a Cabinet-level Ocean Protection Council in the governor’s office to coordinate scientific research, fish restoration and pollution prevention. It is funded by $10 million in offshore oil drilling royalties. In doing so, California became the first state to put in place the recommendations of the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. In reports over the past year, both panels recommended marine reserves, reduction of runoff pollution and the creation of high-level government agencies to better coordinate ocean policy.

“We’ve got very good science now, and that is contributing to the belief that we have a responsibility to act,” said Leon Panetta, the former California congressman who chaired the Pew commission. “If we don’t act now, we aren’t going to have much to pass on to our children.”

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President Bush has not acted on the commissions’ recommendations. He is the first president since 1972, when President Nixon established the national marine sanctuary program, not to establish a single new sanctuary – an aquatic areas where oil drilling is banned for wildlife protection.

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To be sure, Schwarzenegger angered environmentalists by vetoing bills this year that would have limited air pollution from ships in Los Angeles harbor and would have required chemical ships to have tugboat escorts.

Also, some observers say tough decisions such as diverting more water from agriculture to rivers, removing dams and curbing industrial pollution remain unaddressed.

“The actions so far have been encouraging,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations in San Francisco. “But cruise ships are nothing more than offshore feedlots that produce a lot of sewage. Regulating them was fairly easy. Telling farmers to use less pesticides is much harder politically.”

Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, noted that scientists have taken a more active public role in recent years pointing out marine problems. The aquarium itself has shifted its mission from education alone to advocacy. It has handed out 4 million “Seafood Watch” cards, for example, guiding shoppers about which fish are least endangered.

“The condition of the ocean has taken a real downward dive in the last 20 years,” she said. “I think that those of us in California who support these ocean protection measures are hopeful we’ll set an example and other states will follow our lead.”



(c) 2004, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).

Visit MercuryNews.com, the World Wide Web site of the Mercury News, at http://www.mercurynews.com.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Monterey Bay Aquarium

AP-NY-10-23-04 1428EDT



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