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Ocean Protection Campaigns

Our Ocean Protection Campaigns address a variety of issues that impact ocean ecosystem health and health issues for ocean recreation.  Ocean ecosystem health is important to sustain and improve the ocean’s incredible capacity to control climate change by sequestering CO2 and to protect the health of marine mammals and fisheries.

We currently have two active campaigns:  the Chumash Heritage National Sanctuary and Restore the SLO Creek Estuary.

Protecting the Ocean’s Ability to Control Climate Change

Overall, the ocean sequesters a significant amount of the carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere, helping to slow the rate of climate change. However, the ocean's ability to sequester carbon is not unlimited, and ongoing increases in atmospheric CO2 levels are leading to ocean acidification, which can have negative impacts on marine ecosystems.  Here are a few ways that the ocean sequesters carbon:

  1. Surface ocean uptake: The ocean absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere at its surface. This occurs via simple gas exchange between the air and water, and the dissolved CO2 becomes part of the ocean's carbon cycle.
  2. Biological Pump: The ocean's biological pump sequesters carbon by transporting carbon from the surface to the deep ocean. Phytoplankton, the tiny organisms that float on the surface of the ocean, and sometimes consume CO2 through photosynthesis, and they are then consumed by zooplankton, which in turn are eaten by larger organisms. As these organisms die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean, taking the carbon they contain with them. This process is called the "biological pump."
  3. Physical Pump: The physical pump transports carbon from the surface to the deep ocean through physical processes such as upwelling and downwelling. Upwelling brings nutrient-rich deep water to the surface, which stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, while downwelling carries carbon-rich surface water to the deep ocean, where it is sequestered.
  4. Solubility Pump: The solubility pump occurs when CO2 dissolves in cold, dense water and sinks to the deep ocean. This process helps to move carbon from the surface to the deep ocean, where it can remain sequestered for long periods of time.

There are several factors related to carbon sequestration that are harming the ocean, including:

  1. Ocean Acidification: As the ocean absorbs more CO2, it becomes more acidic. This can harm marine organisms such as corals and shellfish, which struggle to build their shells and skeletons in more acidic conditions.
  2. Warming Waters: Warmer waters can reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the ocean, which can harm marine life. It can also affect the ability of the ocean to sequester carbon, as warm water holds less carbon than cold water.
  3. Overfishing: Overfishing can reduce the abundance of marine organisms such as phytoplankton and zooplankton, which are crucial for the ocean's carbon cycle.
  4. Pollution: Pollution from land-based sources such as fertilizers and sewage can stimulate the growth of harmful algal blooms, which can deplete oxygen levels in the water and harm marine life.
  5. Habitat Loss: Destruction of coastal habitats such as mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes can reduce the ocean's ability to sequester carbon, as these habitats are highly efficient at storing carbon.

The ocean's blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes, sequester atmospheric CO2 through a process called carbon sequestration. Here's how it works:

  1. Photosynthesis: Like plants on land, blue carbon ecosystems use photosynthesis to convert atmospheric CO2 into organic matter. The process involves capturing the energy from the sun to transform CO2 into organic compounds such as sugars, which the plants use as energy to grow.
  2. Carbon storage: Blue carbon ecosystems are highly efficient at storing carbon. The organic matter produced through photosynthesis is stored in marine plants and the sediments beneath them. These sediments can accumulate over thousands of years, trapping carbon for long periods of time.
  3. Sediment stabilization: Blue carbon ecosystems also stabilize coastal sediments, reducing erosion and promoting sedimentation. This helps to maintain the carbon stored in the sediments, as well as provide habitat for a range of marine organisms.

Overall, human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and land-use changes are leading to increased carbon emissions and climate change, which is having significant impacts on the ocean's ability to sequester carbon.  Blue carbon ecosystems are a crucial part of the global carbon cycle, helping to sequester significant amounts of atmospheric CO2. However, these ecosystems are under threat from climate change, pollution, and habitat loss. Protecting and restoring these ecosystems is essential for mitigating climate change and preserving marine biodiversity.  Protecting and restoring marine ecosystems and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are crucial for preserving the ocean's ability to sequester carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change.  The key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is rapidly transitioning to clean energy sources.  See our Climate and Clean Energy Program for more information on clean energy solutions.

Marine Sanctuaries

One important way to protect our oceans is through the use of Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs. MPAs are beneficial for the oceans and the planet in many ways- they protect our kelp forests, which are both critical habitat and provide environmental services such as water filtration, shoreline armoring, and oxygen production; they allow fish to grow and spawn in safety; and can help degraded ecosystems regrow.

In the U.S. we have a system of Marine Protected Areas called National Marine Sanctuaries. The NMS system is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and currently includes more than 620,000 square miles of marine environment.

The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would be the first Indigenous-led NMS- right here in San Luis Obispo County! Indigenous peoples steward 80% of the world’s biodiversity, and recognizing their traditional rights and contributions to protecting our planet is critical for environmental justice and true sustainability. 

More information about the work SLO Surfrider has done to support the designation of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary can be found here

Restore the SLO Creek Estuary

An estuary is a place where a river or creek flows into the ocean. These areas are subject to variable water salinity (as freshwater mixes with saltwater) and often have a great deal of sediment at the mouth of the river, creating mudflats or marshes. Many organisms are specially adapted to live in estuarine environments, where the mixing fresh and salt water creates brackish water. 

Estuaries are critical pieces of our ocean world. They provide habitat, breeding grounds, and feeding areas for many species- most of the fish and shellfish eaten in the United States, including salmon, herring, and oysters, complete at least part of their life cycles in estuaries (source).

In San Luis Obispo County, we have three major estuaries: the Morro Bay Estuary, which is part of the National Estuary Program, the Pismo creek estuary, and the San Luis Obispo Creek estuary in Avila beach. 

The San Luis Obispo Creek estuary has been developed: a golf course sits along the banks of the creek near the mouth, contributing to erosion of the banks due to a lack of deep-rooted plants such as the trees and native plants that would have been found in the estuary prior to development. Now,  Avila Beach Resort, owner of the Golf Course, intends to build a mega-resort on the golf course that would be the largest lodging, entertainment, and hospitality complex on the beach front in California.

Surfrider opposes these developments. Healthy estuaries depend on functioning ecosystems, not golf course grass. Additionally, increased human activity would mean increased runoff- from pesticides and other chemicals being used to maintain the grounds, as well as a likely increase in plastic waste and other trash littering the estuary during and after events.

Urge Passage of the Ocean Life Recovery Act by the CA Senate!


The Ocean Life Recovery Act (AB1407) was recently approved by the state assembly and was sent to the state senate on May 25, 2023. This bill seeks resources to propose 5,000 acres of kelp forest, 16,000 acres of eelgrass meadows, and 9,000 acres of natural oyster beds to the California coastal ecosystem by 2050 to recover and restore what was lost, boosting the near shore economy, and address climate crisis through interagency coordination and funding. For more information, check out (AB 1407 (Addis/Laird) Factsheet.pdf - Google Drive)


On May 25, 2023, AB1407 received sufficient support to move to the state senate where it is being reviewed now.


Sample talking points for written or verbal comments:

  • As a Surfrider member and/or coastal recreation user, I strongly support AB1407, the Ocean Recovery and Restoration Act.
  • Thanks to climate change, pollution, and coastal development, it is now more important than ever to protect the marine ecosystem of California by restoring its’ vital habitats. Consisting of about 1,100 miles of coastline, California strongly benefits from protection and restoration of this vital asset.
  • In addition, AB1407 will benefit our economy by restoring essential tourism, fishing, and research.
  • Restoring these ecosystems will directly address climate change and offset excess carbon, promote communal well-being between humans and nature, and provide resources to varied coastal communities such as indigenous peoples that rely on these resources for food, ceremony, and medicine.

Surfrider SLO supports revising the California Coastal Act Revision (SB704, Min)

In 1974, The California Coastal Act was passed which established the California Coastal Commission, which helps plan and regulate the use of water and land in coastal zones. This commission seeks to enhance, protect, and preserve the California Coastline. However, within this act, there was an “industrial override” provision, which authorizes established industrial development (e.g., oil and gas facilities, such as offshore drilling) to override the safety and protective guidelines set forth by this act. As a result, offshore drilling continues to grow off of California’s’ coast, increasing destruction to established ecosystems and increasing risk of catastrophic drilling events to nearby waters, such as spills and pollution.

 SB704 has been created to promote two goals. Primarily, this act would remove the “industrial override” clause for new or expanded oil and gas facilities, so that any new or expanded facilities would have to comply with guidelines set forth by the California Coastal Commission. Secondly, this act seeks to promote offshore wind development with the aid of scientific experts to promote safe renewable energy sources to California.

 For more information, see Surfriders’ Fact Sheet and the bills Full Text.

 When the time comes, we will need YOUR help to inform the California Senate why this bill is important! Join our newsletter so you don’t miss any call to action by emailing Brian Milne, our Volunteer Coordinator.


Questions? Reach out to for more information or to get involved in the campaign to protect the San Luis Obispo Creek estuary!