Youth Leaders from 19 States Share Perspectives on 30x30 at NOAA Youth Town Hall

Guest post by the EarthEcho Youth Leadership Council

Young ocean activists from 19 states and Washington D.C. united virtually on Saturday, February 26, for the EarthEcho Youth Action Network Meet-Up: NOAA Town Hall. This first of its kind event provided a unique opportunity for young leaders to share their insight, recommendations, and perspectives on the America the Beautiful vision and goal of protecting 30% of America's ocean by 2030 (30x30) with senior leadership from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Through the event, attendees joined special guests including the National Ocean Protection Coalition's Program Director, Erin Eastwood, NRDC's Deputy Director for Oceans, Lisa Suatoni, and Azul's National Policy Associate, Carlos Ochoa, to learn about the key pillars of America the Beautiful, before teaming up with their peers from the EarthEcho Youth Leadership Council to finalize comments to share with the NOAA team.

The Town Hall discussion kicked off with opening remarks from NOAA Administrator, Dr. Rick Spinrad, and NOAA Senior Advisor, Dr. Letise LaFeir, as well as EarthEcho founder, Philippe Cousteau, before moving into an engaging discussion on achieving the ambitious goals outlined in the America the Beautiful framework.

Through this conversation, youth leaders emphasized the following priorities for the NOAA team to focus on when implementing the America the Beautiful vision:

  • Effective protection: Research shows that large Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with no-take restrictions are significantly more effective than small or less protected MPAs. NOAA should support the creation of highly and fully protected MPAs, with an emphasis on quality as well as quantity.
  • Geographical representation: Protections are currently highly concentrated in tropical waters and some temperate waters, but NOAA should aim to protect a large variety of marine habitats. Safeguarding habitats that sequester the most carbon per unit area (e.g., seagrass beds and mangrove forests) should be a key priority in the face of the climate crisis.
  • Equity: We ask that NOAA separately consider and measure the target to provide equitable access to nature in addition to targets for environmental protection. Moreover, NOAA should prioritize protection of sites that hold cultural and historical importance for indigenous tribes, as industrialization and development have led to the degradation of these sites. We also ask that NOAA create and translate multilingual marine education materials and conduct outreach to inland audiences to ensure that everyone has equal access to knowledge of, education about, and engagement with the ocean.
  • Youth engagement: We hope that the youth who will inherit the results of today’s ocean policies continue to be included as stakeholders, advisors, and liaisons in this discussion and that youth engagement is institutionalized. We support the creation of youth engagement position(s) related to conservation initiatives such as America the Beautiful. NOAA could consider leveraging unique pathways to staff this position, such as through the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, or through the creation of an Intergovernmental Personnel Act position. We appreciate your focus on keeping youth engagement a priority across your leadership team.

A special thank you to the team at NOAA, DOI, and CEQ for their support of this event and prioritization of youth leadership in achieving the goals of America the Beautiful.