Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2020

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation hosted the first virtual Capitol Hill Ocean Week on June 9, 2020.

It focused on a growing crisis facing our planet: the loss of biodiversity and its impacts on our communities. Ninety speakers from four continents and more than 2,500 participants from across the U.S. and around the world discussed the value of protecting biodiversity in our ocean and freshwater ecosystems and providing meaningful protection; how people, communities, governments, and businesses are working to protect and restore ecosystems and species; and the ways that science and technology are expanding our knowledge and improving management.

We are grateful to our generous sponsors, partners, and all our participants. It is with your collaboration and support that Capitol Hill Ocean Week continues to be a success year after year.

And, mark your calendars for June 9 – 11, 2021 for CHOW 2021. Our focus will be on diversity, equity and inclusion in ocean and Great Lakes conservation.

For questions about the CHOW 2020 archive, or information about future CHOW events, contact

Opening Remarks

Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, opened Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2020 by thanking sponsors, speakers, board members, and volunteers. She emphasized the importance of biodiversity to our spiritual and physical health, highlighting the natural world’s incalculable medicinal value and its importance in providing critical services.

She was followed by inspiring remarks from Senator Tom Udall (NM), Representative Deb Haaland (NM-01), Dr. Neil Jacobs, and Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Senator Udall and Representative Haaland each voiced support for 30×30, an international rallying cry that aims to preserve 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030. Though 30×30 is a quantitative goal, Senator Udall and Representative Haaland emphasized that not all square miles are created equal; we must work strategically to protect areas of highest value. 

Dr. Neil Jacobs followed by highlighting a number of initiatives from NOAA, including a new draft rule for the expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, efforts to expand Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, and progress on two new sanctuaries up for designation: Wisconsin’s Shipwreck Coast and New York’s Lake Ontario. Finally, Dr. Lubchenco called for change in our narratives about ocean conservation, emphasizing that we should neither assume the ocean is invincible, nor should we assume it is broken beyond repair. “[The ocean] is not too big to fail. It is not too big to fix. But it is too big and too central to ignore.” 

Welcome Remarks
Ms. Kris Sarri, President and CEO, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
The Honorable Tom Udall, U.S. Senate, New Mexico
The Honorable Deb Haaland, U.S. House of Representatives, New Mexico-01
Dr. Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, performing the duties of Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
The Honorable Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., University Distinguished Professor at Oregon State University & former U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Plenary Sessions

At a time when 30by30 and other international efforts focus on the quantity of area protected, how can we focus on quality? What does effective protection mean? Panelists addressed these critical questions from different angles. They emphasized the need for a common set of quality standards, the importance of locally-based vs. one-size fits all solutions, the connections between human and ecosystem health, the importance of protecting diverse eco-regions, and the necessity for collaboration across cultures, sectors, and industries. They also reaffirmed just how effective marine protection can be. From increased fish biomass to greater species diversity, protected areas are a powerful conservation tool if they’re used effectively. 

At CHOW, the Foundation announced its partnership with the Pew Lenfest Ocean Program to support the Marine Biodiversity Dialogues. This project will convene experts from around the world to create a science-based framework for identifying gaps in U.S. marine biodiversity protection – helping us prioritize areas where our attention is most needed.

Opening Remarks
Ms. Molly Fogarty, Senior Vice President Corporate & Government Affairs, Nestlé

Introduction to Topic
Dr. Enric Sala, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic

Dr. Kathryn Mengerink, Executive Director, Waitt Institute

Dr. J. Emmett Duffy, Director, Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network, Smithsonian Institution
Dr. Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, Assistant Professor, Oregon State University
Ms. Vera Kingeekuk Metcalf, Executive Director, Kawerak Eskimo Walrus Commission
Dr. Douglas Pearsall, Senior Conservation Scientist, The Nature Conservancy-Michigan

Sponsored by Nestlé

In this plenary, global leaders from across the UN system shared their insights on the ocean-climate-biodiversity nexus, offering a status update on the work that will ensure the health of our global ocean and on what the coronavirus pandemic has meant to these efforts in 2020 — a year that was meant to be the “Super Year for the Ocean.” Speakers stressed the connections between human health and biodiversity, highlighting the linkages between the spread of disease and biodiversity decline.  

Panelists agreed unanimously that initiatives addressing threats to marine biodiversity, especially climate change, cannot be postponed because of COVID-19. Fortunately, key meetings and negotiations are not slowing down, with the Convention on Biodiversity’s Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework among the most anticipated upcoming products. Panelists stressed the need to keep deliberation processes inclusive, open, and transparent despite the pandemic and to use this time as an opportunity to rebuild in a way that brings humans and nature together harmoniously.

Opening Remarks
Elizabeth Cousens, President and CEO of the UN Foundation

Ms. Meg Caldwell, Deputy Director for Oceans, David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Ms. Ko Barrett, Vice Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Ms. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
Dr. Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
Ms. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity
Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean

Sponsored by the UN Foundation

The world’s high seas are a crucial common resource. Unfortunately, they’re also poorly understood and threatened by climate change, overfishing, shipping, plastic pollution and deep-sea mining. In this plenary session, panelists involved in the recent United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea negotiations discussed the status of international discussion on the high seas. They highlighted the need for collaboration, the engagement of new audiences who may not understand high seas issues, clear procedures for designating high seas MPAs based on scientific knowledge, and consideration of marine genetic resources. Panelists also stressed that any arrangement governing the high seas must be equitable for all signatories.

Opening Remarks
Mr. Eugen Babau, Executive Director, The Philip Stephenson Foundation
The Honorable Angus King, U.S. Senate, Maine
The Honorable Jeff Merkley, U.S. Senate, Oregon

Mr. Martin Koehring, Head, World Ocean Initiative, The Economist Group

David Balton, Senior Fellow, Polar Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center
Ms. Kristina Gjerde, Senior High Seas Advisor, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Marine and Polar Programme
Peggy Kalas, J.D., Director, High Seas Alliance
Amb. Michael Imran Kanu, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the United Nations
Ms. Sophie Mirgaux, Special Envoy for the Ocean, Belgium
Dr. Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, University of York

Sponsored by The Philip Stephenson Foundation

We cannot meaningfully protect species and ecosystems if we do not understand where they are. Yet we know more about the surface of the moon than we do the ocean floor. It is estimated that 95 percent of the ocean remains unexplored and 91 percent of ocean species are unclassified. 

The panelists in this session are on the cutting edge of ocean exploration. They have built international networks of investigators to understand marine species distributions and have launched privately funded deep sea expeditions in collaboration with scientists. These explorers are learning more than ever before about what lies beneath the waves and hope to engage the public by sharing the excitement and awe they feel in doing so. They voiced excitement about the new technologies, data-driven approaches, and cross-sector partnerships which are fueling this new age of exploration. 

At CHOW, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation was proud to see the announcement of a new partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Schmidt Ocean Institute, with the goal of mapping, characterizing, and exploring the deep ocean and improving public understanding of these hidden depths. 

On June 12, 2020, the Administration’s Co-Chairs of the Ocean Policy Committee released a National Strategy for Ocean Mapping, Exploration, and Characterization with strategies and recommendations requested by the President that will guide the national ocean mapping and exploration enterprise, unleashing a new era of knowledge and innovation and ensuring continued U.S. global leadership in ocean research. This roadmap will advance key goals, including completing mapping the deep water by 2030 and the nearshore waters by 2040 and exploring and characterizing priority areas of the U.S. EEZ. It also will aid in developing and maturing new and emerging science and technologies, and building public and private partnerships to support these activities.

RDML Timothy Gallaudet, PhD., USN Ret., Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Deputy NOAA Administrator, U.S. Department of Commerce

Dr. Vincent Pieribone, Vice Chairman, OceanX
Dr. Jyotika Virmani, Executive Director, Schmidt Ocean Institute
Dr. Frederick G. Whoriskey, Executive Director, Ocean Tracking Network

Concurrent Sessions

In our increasingly global ocean, collaboration is key. Whether across disciplines or national borders, these speakers affirmed that only through cooperation can the ocean be successfully monitored, studied, and protected. Panelists offered a number of informative case studies in successful collaboration. At the international level, they cited the joint fisheries partnership between Norway and Russia as a good example of nations with shared sustainability objectives coming together despite challenging times. Panelists also discussed the PAN-Environment group, which brings together international experts to study the effects of human activity/mobility on ecosystems in the context of changes wrought by COVID-19. More broadly, panelists affirmed the crucial role of partnership in creating large, multi-use datasets which otherwise would be impossible to produce. Finally, all speakers emphasized the importance of engaging industry in partnership and in conversation about marine conservation. Successful projects are only possible with all players at the table. 

On June 30th, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a report entitled “Solving the Climate Crisis.” Like CHOW’s panelists, the report emphasized the crucial importance of international cooperation and leadership, noting that “the opportunity to advance climate solutions must be a priority for the United States in our multilateral, bilateral, international development, and humanitarian efforts.”

Opening Remarks
The Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senate, Rhode Island
The Honorable Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senate, Alaska and Co-Chair, Senate Oceans Caucus

Dr. Marcia McNutt, President, National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Sara J. Bender, Program Officer, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Dr. Carlos M. Duarte, Professor, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, Director, Shark Research & Conservation Program, University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Mr. Vidar Helgeson, Special Representative for the Ocean, Norway
Dr. Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

New technologies are revolutionizing our approach to marine and Great Lakes restoration and monitoring. Our panelists highlighted a number of these exciting developments, including new ocean mapping systems, DNA barcoding of shark fins to track illegal trading, and use of Artificial Intelligence to identify animal communications (and therefore, animal locations) of protected species. Innovative approaches were emphasized as well – particularly the use of citizen science. Panelists agreed that further data gathering, application of machine learning, and novel technologies would continue to enhance the future of restoration and monitoring efforts.  

Opening Remarks
The Honorable Jimmy Panetta, U.S. House of Representatives, CA-20
The Honorable Brian Mast, U.S. House of Representatives, FL-18

Ms. Josie Quintrell, Executive Director, Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS) Association

Dr. Jim Barry, Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Dr. Jennifer Caselle, Research Biologist, Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Barbara
Ms. Julie Cattiau, Product Manager, Google A.I.
Dr. Demian Chapman, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, Florida International University
Dr. Frank Muller-Karger, Professor, University of South Florida

Sponsored by XPRIZE

Art and media can be powerful tools in bringing biodiversity issues to new audiences and inspiring conservation action. As our panelists pointed out, visual media can be used to reveal even the darkest depths of our ocean. Art and media can also be used to engage volunteers in conservation work, to connect viewers emotionally and empathically with the natural world, and to more holistically communicate one’s experience of nature. Speakers emphasized that intersections between art and science abound and encouraged collaboration in producing conservation outcomes. 

Opening Remarks
The Honorable Marcy Kaptur, U.S. House of Representatives, OH-09

Dr. Barbara Matilsky, Curator of Art, Whatcom Museum’s Exhibit “Endangered Species: Artists on the Frontline of Biodiversity”

Dr. Jonatha Giddens, National Geographic Fellow, Chief Scientist, National Geographic Society’s Exploration Technology Lab Deep-Sea Research Project
Ms. Angela Haseltine Pozzi, Executive/Artistic Director/Founder, Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea
Ms. Courtney Mattison, Ceramic Sculptor + Ocean Advocate, Our Changing Seas Exhibitions
Mr. Ian Shive, Director, Hidden Pacific 3D & Founder, Tandem Stills + Motion, Inc.
Mr. Brian Skerry, Photojournalist and Fellow, National Geographic

What does biodiversity loss mean for us and what actions can we take to turn the trajectory around? In this panel, emerging voices in science, technology, and conservation proposed a number of key solutions. They emphasized the importance of data integration across disciplines, collaboration between the private sector and academia, community engagement,, and the crucial role of grassroots advocacy in accomplishing larger conservation efforts. Speakers also voiced strong support for the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM fields and the need to address widespread gaps in the conservation community writ large.

Opening Remarks
Dr. Peter Thomas, Executive Director of the Marine Mammal Commission
The Honorable Raúl M. Grijalva, U.S. House of Representatives, AZ-03 and Chairman, House Natural Resources Committee
The Honorable Joe Cunningham, U.S. House of Representatives, SC-01

Ms. Kris Sarri, President and CEO, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Dr. Anni Djurhuus, Assistant Professor, University of the Faroe Islands
Ms. Shanna Edberg, Director of Conservation Programs, Hispanic Access Foundation
Mr. Juan Mayorga , Marine Data Scientist, Sustainable Fisheries Group, UC Santa Barbara & Pristine Seas project, National Geographic Society
Dr. Megan Morikawa, Director of Sustainability Office, Iberostar Group
Dr. Erin Satterthwaite, Postdoctoral Scholar, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis & Future Earth

Sponsored by the Marine Mammal Commission

Restoration is a critical tool in helping degraded habitats or species recover from disturbance. In this session, speakers discussed the themes which connect successful restoration projects across a variety of circumstances. These included 1) connection with a broad group of stakeholders and novel partners, 2) considering problems holistically and addressing not just the immediate issue at hand but also upstream/downstream considerations, 3) connecting restoration work with communities – appealing to their values and educating on the importance and benefits of restoration projects, 4) the importance of resiliency, and finally 5) the role of technology in enabling novel solutions to restoration problems. 

Following the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26) introduced the bipartisan Shovel-Ready Restoration Grants for Coastlines and Fisheries Act of 2020 (H.R. 7387) to authorize $3 billion for restoration projects that create jobs and boost the climate resilience of our coastlines.

Opening Remarks
The Honorable Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, U.S. House of Representatives, FL-26

Ms. Nicole LeBoeuf, Acting Assistant Administrator, NOAA’s National Ocean Service

Dr. Aaron J. Adams, Director of Science and Conservation, Bonefish Tarpon Trust
Mr. Vince Cavalieri, Wildlife Biologist, Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Dr. Brice X. Semmens, Associate Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego & Director, California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations
Dr. R. Scott Winters, Chief Executive Officer, Coral Restoration Foundation

Climate change profoundly affects marine and Great Lakes biodiversity. By extension, climate change will also have serious effects on us – especially for indigenous communities and disadvantaged groups. Our panelists stressed the need for adaptation and action. They advocated for flexible management strategies that would allow animals to move inside mobile marine protected areas. They pushed for a 100% switch to clean energy. And they called for a renewed public trust in the scientific community. More broadly, panelists emphasized the immense value of the natural world. Whether defined in economic or spiritual terms, nature is an incredibly valuable partner in the fight against climate change. Taking care of it means taking care of ourselves. 

On June 30, 2020, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released its report titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.” The report calls on Congress to calls on Congress to (1) grow our economy and put Americans back to work in clean energy jobs; (2) protect the health of all families; (3) make sure our communities and farmers can withstand the impacts of climate change; and (4) protect America’s land and waters for the next generation.

Opening Remarks
The Honorable Kathy Castor, U.S. House of Representatives, FL-14 and Chair, House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
The Honorable Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. House of Representatives, OR-01 and Co-Chair, House Oceans Caucus

Ms. Charlotte Hudson, Project Director, Lenfest Ocean Program, Pew Charitable Trusts

Dr. Ralph Chami, Assistant Director, Institute for Capacity Development, International Monetary Fund
Mr. Frank Ettawageshik, Executive Director, United Tribes of Michigan
Dr. Sara M. Maxwell, Associate Professor, University of Washington, Bothell
Eric Schwaab, Senior Vice President, Oceans, Environmental Defense Fund

Sponsored by COMPASS  

The four innovators on this panel are part of a new marine technological vanguard. They are locating ice seals and beluga whales with Artificial Intelligence, using drones and suction tags to understand whale behavior and health, deploying FlowCytobot technology (a robotic underwater microscope) to quantify the ecological and societal importance of planktonic life in the twilight zone, and analyzing environmental DNA to provide a new window on life in the sea. They believe new technologies should be used synergistically and support the development of multidisciplinary, cross-sector partnerships that link different research communities. When harnessed effectively, the power of these new tools will give researchers the ability to solve previously unsolvable problems, provide better data, and facilitate a more complete understanding of the marine world.  

Opening Remarks
The Honorable Joe Neguse, U.S. House of Representatives, CO-2

Mr. Craig McLean, Acting Chief Scientist, NOAA & Assistant Administrator, NOAA Research

Dr. Lars Bejder, Director, Marine Mammal Research Program, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Dr. Francisco P. Chavez, Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Ms. Bonnie Lei, Head of Global Strategic Partnerships—AI for Earth, Microsoft
Dr. Heidi M. Sosik, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Building on Defining Priorities for Meaningful Protection, these speakers presented instructive case studies that elaborated on how we define effective protection. California’s Marine Protected Area Network presented a strong example of collaboration and good science in successful MPA design. The recent expansion of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary showcased cross-sector partnership between scientists, conservationists, and energy companies. And, in Hawaii, community-based subsistence fishers’ successful lobbying for expansion of marine management illustrated the importance of community-based support. Panelists also discussed the need to protect migratory corridors, with whales as a prime example. 

Opening Remarks
The Honorable Jared Huffman, U.S. House of Representatives, CA-2
The Honorable Ed Case, U.S. House of Representatives, HI-1

Mr. Sean Cosgrove, Program Officer, Marine Conservation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Ms. Jenn Eckerle, Deputy Director, California Ocean Protection Council
Mr. Brian Neilson, Administrator, Division of Aquatic Resources, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources
Dr. Ruth Perry, Marine Scientist and Regulatory Policy Specialist, Shell Upstream Americas
Mr. Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation

2020 Honorary Congressional Committee

More CHOW 2020 Content