Capitol Hill Ocean Week convenes virtually with a focus on a more racially equitable and just ocean and Great Lakes movement

Silver Spring, Md. – June 1, 2021 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation welcomes members of the ocean and Great Lakes community, environmental and racial justice advocates, government and industry leaders, members of Congress, and philanthropists to a virtual 20th Anniversary Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), the nation’s premier ocean and Great Lakes policy conference.  

When:  June 8-10, 2021, 11 am to 5 pm  ET // 8 am to 2 pm PT // 5 am to 11 am HT


Who: The conference, with an audience of more than 2,000 registrants, will feature more than 80 experts, policy makers, community leaders and stakeholders. The conference is convened by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.Capitol Hill Ocean Week is an opportunity for people who are passionate about the environment, specifically ocean-Great Lakes-climate action, to gather and discuss how to deepen justice and equity in our field. And we will learn from many of the leaders who have been at the helm of environmental and climate justice work in ocean and Great Lakes conservation and others who are just getting started. 

CHOW will offer 11 high-level plenaries along with partner breakout sessions and in-depth discussions. CHOW will also showcase the work of ocean and Great Lakes partners through a virtual exhibit hall and offer an engaging video gallery and an interactive networking lounge. 

The Ocean Awards Gala, held annually to recognize ocean and Great Lakes conservation leaders, will follow the CHOW conference the evening of  Thursday, June 10th. The Ocean Awards will  celebrate the dedicated individuals who advocated and campaigned to protect the culturally and biologically diverse Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the establishment of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Agenda and Session Descriptions (and see below)

Plenary Speakers List

CHOW is a free event, made possible by the support of our funding partners, and is open virtually to the public. Registration is now open for Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2021 here:

Find more information on speakers, panels and other CHOW features and frequently asked questions, visit

For information on covering CHOW as a member of the media, access to panelists or sessions, or any other questions, please contact Chip Weiskotten,, 518-669-3936.

About Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2021

Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), convened by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, gathers people from across the U.S. and around the world to engage in dialogue on how to sustain the health of our ocean and Great Lakes, and especially for all who call these places home and depend on them for their livelihoods. This year, we  will hear from people working on this issue in communities across the country, listening to learn from their perspectives on how to grow a more racially equitable and just ocean and Great Lakes conservation movement. 

The conference is free and open to the public. 

Why is CHOW 2021 focusing on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI)?

Systemic racism is expansive and persists in our  laws, policies, and institutions, resulting in  inequitable outcomes for communities across this nation. CHOW has always been a place to convene people who care about our ocean and Great Lakes to have meaningful conversations.  This year, it  offers opportunities to reflect, listen and learn to better understand how each of us can  be stronger advocates. 

Achieving bold, lasting change in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes policy will require us all to listen to the wisdom, perspectives and values of the communities carrying the greatest burdens of environmental inequities. CHOW 2021 offers an opportunity to examine how exclusionary practices and systemic racism negatively impact conservation, science, and policy. And, how anti-oppression and anti-racism work  will improve the health and quality of life of people, as well as the  sustainability of our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes and the communities that depend on them.

The CHOW 2021 program will explore how the environmental racism and climate injustices people and communities experience perpetuates disproportionate climate burdens, making them more vulnerable to the climate crisis. It will also explore how leaders across the nation are advancing local, regional, and national efforts to identify potential strategies to address the consequences of a rapidly warming planet.  This is an opportunity for people who are passionate about the environment, specifically ocean-Great Lakes-climate action, to gather and discuss how to deepen justice and equity in our field. And we will learn from many of the leaders who have been at the helm of environmental and climate justice work and others who are just getting started. Only in learning can the conservation community  advance the commitments necessary to grow a more racially just and equitable movement. 

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is not a leader in this space, though we see our role as a convener and in time, an active ally. As an organization, we are at the beginning of our own internal work. We are learning and taking accountability for the work we haven’t done to date in this important space. 

Welcome and Opening Ceremony

Tuesday, June 8 from 11:00 am to 11:10 m ET

CHOW 2021 will begin with an opening ceremony, as six leaders offering traditional blessings and tributes to their lands, communities, and the waters that sustain them.  


CHOW Opening Plenary – Centering Justice and Equity in Ocean and Great Lakes Conservation

Tuesday, June 8 from 11:10 am to 12:10 pm ET

To support the health, well-being, and sustainability of humanity, our ocean and Great Lakes depend on the actions we take now and require the knowledge, perspectives, and values of the communities most affected by environmental racism and climate change.  Achieving justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion requires the marine and Great Lakes community examine its  decision-making and power structures to ensure  access to the resources, benefits, and opportunities that come from those structures. CHOW’s opening plenary will look at the historical lack of inclusion and the failure to center justice and equity in ocean and coastal conservation. The plenary will discuss how the broader ocean and Great Lakes community can work together toward collective action and equitable outcomes in the future.

Providing for Communities: Food Security and Justice

Tuesday, June 8 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm ET

From subsistence fishing in the rivers and coasts to offshore commercial fisheries that span entire ocean basins, people depend on the ocean and Great Lakes for sustenance and for culture.  Access to healthy, sustainable seafood depends on water quality and also a family or individual’s income. This session will focus on the experiences of communities working on sustainable food systems and strategies that can be deployed to expand access to food security and address injustices in their waters.

Improving Resource and Climate Policy Engagement in the U.S. Territories Sponsored by Yamaha Rightwater Foundation

Tuesday, June 8 from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm ET

Home to more than 4 million people, the islands of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, American Samoa and Guam sit on the frontlines of a rapidly accelerating climate crisis. There, the islands and the communities that live on them face disproportionate climate impacts because of their size, low elevation, relatively remote geographical location, and concentration of coastal infrastructures. Yet, they remain on the periphery of U.S. ocean and climate policy.  The panel will discuss the specific ocean and climate issues facing island communities including public health, ocean and climate impacts, management of natural resources and how these islands’ people are rising to meet the challenges in their own communities.

Resilient Coastal Communities

Sponsored by: National Marine Manufacturers Association

Tuesday, June 8 from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm ET

As seascapes and coastal landscapes experience a rapid change as the climate crisis accelerates, communities are working to define the future of their health and livelihoods to ensure survival. This panel will highlight the individuals working to protect the quality of life in their communities. Participants will share their experiences, and the strategies that  communities are developing to prepare for and address the climate crisis.

Blue Introspection: Examining Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) in Ocean and Great Lakes Policy, Science, and Conservation Sponsored by: COMPASS

Wednesday, June 9 from 11:00 am to 12:10 pm ET

How would marine and freshwater science, management and policy change if our workplaces reflected the racial and ethnic diversity of our nation? This plenary will examine the commitment to JEDI  efforts within federal, research, and nongovernmental institutions and agencies and strategies that will be necessary to accelerate the hiring of Black, Indigenous and People of Color, as well as other historically excluded communities within the fields of science, policy and conservation.

Eye on the Horizon: Representing Culture in Protected Waters

Wednesday, June 9 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm ET

Protected areas need to represent the full breadth of experiences of people living in the United States and honor co-design and co-management with Indigenous and local communities. This session will highlight efforts to make our National Marine Sanctuary System and marine monuments more inclusive of all people. 

Indigenous and Local Knowledge and Wisdom for Strengthening Conservation Sponsored by: The Marine Mammal Commission

Wednesday, June 9 from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm ET

Indigenous knowledge and wisdom strengthens our understanding of the planet and improves decision-making.  National and global discussions often fail to consider this knowledge and wisdom. Indigenous and traditional communities need allies and funders who support their efforts to develop their own organized systems that increase their presence while developing the capacity to respond to the needs of Western science. The panel will highlight examples of how communities and scientists use  indigenous and local knowledge and wisdom to address ocean and Great Lakes health and climate impacts.

Exploring the Intersection of International Policy and Communities 

Wednesday, June 9 from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm ET

Climate change and sustainable development are a common concern to humankind. The Paris Agreement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the Convention on Biological Diversity recognize that the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities should be respected, promoted and considered in policy agreements. This plenary will focus on how these international mandates and discussions provide a key platform for building access and power into policy-making. 

Opportunities for Federal Policy to Deepen Justice and Equity

Thursday, June 10 from 11:00 am to 12:10 pm ET

In 2022, the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of major environmental legislation, including the National Marine Sanctuary Act (part of the Ocean Dumping Act), the Coastal Zone Management Act, and Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Congress is also considering legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act and address climate change and the ocean. This plenary will examine federal legislative and executive policies that can move us towards a deeper integration of justice and equity principles.

Building Back Bluer

Thursday, June 10 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm ET

Federal, state, and local policy can promote a just transition to a sustainable blue economy by making infrastructure more resilient and investing in nature-based solutions; fostering job training and creation in blue industries such as restoration; and, supporting access to our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.  This panel will focus on how to build back bluer to support the U.S. economy and competitiveness. 

CHOW Closing Plenary – Deepening Collaboration in the Ocean and Great Lakes Conservation Movement

Thursday, June 10 from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm ET

Building off the conversations of the past three days, members of the CHOW Advisory Committee will explore what priorities emerged that can form the basis of an agenda to deepen justice and equity in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes conservation, science and policy? What does collective action look like?  Who needs to be part of the conversation? What roles need to be established and elevated to expand access to decision making efforts and to resources?  


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve America’s maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at

Capitol Hill Ocean Week is the nation’s premier ocean and Great Lakes policy conference. Convened by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation every June, Capitol Hill Ocean Week brings together national and global stakeholders to address pressing science, conservation, and management issues facing our ocean and Great Lakes. Learn more at



 Chip Weiskotten

Director of Strategic Communications