Local youth and river/ocean lover, Grace, recently interviewed the Colorado Ocean Coalition’s founder, Vicki Nichols Goldstein, to discuss her organization and the reasons why an inland community can affect the health of our oceans.
Colorado – The Inland Ocean
By: Grace C.
An ocean in Colorado? Well, we are all downstream. In Colorado, we have a special responsibility when it comes to protecting water quality. That’s because we’re a “headwater state,” which means that the snowfall in our mountains is a major source of water for eighteen states and parts of Mexico. (Colorado the Headwater State) I had the chance to go to the Making WAVES conference and learn about what the Colorado Ocean Coalition (COCO) is doing to help not only our water, but the water that flows to other states and eventually the ocean. In fact, Colorado is so important that Rep. Mark Stone from California named Boulder a ‘California Inland Ocean Community.’ Vicki Goldstein from COCO says that, “The health of the ocean is connected to the health of our rivers and waterways. By being good stewards of the water that we have we make the ocean and the planet better places too.” The truth is, no matter where you live your day to day activities end up having an effect on not only your local water supply, but the waters downstream and eventually the ocean.
At the conference I had the privilege to listen to people who love the ocean give lectures about how we can help it. I learned a few things I didn’t know before, like what really happens to plastic in the ocean, how to make trash into art, how to reduce plastic pollution and how I can help the ocean. One amazing opportunity that I had at the conference was to hear and meet Mr. Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the legendary Jacques Cousteau. Mr. Cousteau talked about his Mission 31 and his organization called Plant a Fish which strives to help people protect and marvel at the world around them. His lecture was all about protecting the ocean, “planting marine life and plants in ecologically stressed areas and educating local communities about the ocean.” (Cousteau) I also heard Stephanie from Green Apple Supply talk about plastics in the ocean. Plastic, once thought to take thousands of years to break down, actually breaks down quite fast in the warm ocean water, but it doesn’t go away completely. Instead it turns into tiny bits of plastic that fish eat and then they die, sea birds also eat the plastic as well as larger marine fish and mammals. The plastic can get so bad that it disrupts algae and plankton growth and that makes the whole food web go out of balance. But, plastic is not the only culprit that makes it to the ocean from our water supply. A lot of chemicals and microbeads make their way into our local watershed. Chemicals from pills we take and things we put into our lawns get flushed into the system. Microbeads, which are found in bath and beauty products, also get flushed or washed into the system. The sewage treatment plants are not equipped to take out all of these chemicals and plastic pollution and it ends up getting washed downstream to the next community. If you think that a few pills and microbeads here and there don’t add up, Mrs. Goldstein from COCO has this to say, “The water quality gets worse as it flows downstream. 5,000 square miles at Gulf of Mexico is a dead zone, that is the end of our watershed. This means that nothing lives there, the plastic, fumes and chemicals from upstream make this area a place where nothing grows.“
Recently I interviewed Mrs. Goldstein from COCO, here’s what she had to say about COCO, the ocean and our water supply. What is COCO? COCO is the Colorado Ocean Coalition and is a project of the Ocean Foundation, a non-profit organization. She started COCO because she, “discovered that there was no other ocean oriented organization in the middle of our county that connects our rivers and actions to the health of our planet.” She realized that everyone needs to be involved in the health of the ocean, not just people who live near it. This is especially true since “80% of all of the plastics and trash that end up in the ocean come from inland communities like ours.” When I asked her about things that people in Colorado could do to help the ocean, she said, “We need to reduce our plastic consumption and discontinue using products that contain microbeads.” Our sewage facilities are not equipped to handle the amounts of trash, chemicals and microbeads that we are putting into the system. This pollution gets washed downstream to the next community and so on until it reaches the ocean. As far as how well we are doing in cleaning our water before it goes downstream, Mrs. Goldstein says, “Boulder has done a lot of effort in pioneering extracting things from the water system, but other communities are behind in this area.”
I came away from the conference with some ideas about starting plastic bag recycling on my street and looking into using bags to make plan. I made a video about things you can do to help the ocean, I had the chance to raise money for Save The Whales and to volunteer with Riverwatch. I got to talk to scientists, artists, lawmakers and people who love the ocean. From my interview I gained valuable information about how to inform people about their local watershed and what we are doing right, and wrong, to our water supply. What I realized is that knowledge is power. People are ignorant about their local watersheds, they don’t realize the impact that their daily lives have on those who are downstream and ultimately the ocean and our planet. By letting people know about plastic pollution, chemical pollution and getting lawmakers involved we can make changes about what goes into our water supply. Our actions can not only affect our local rivers, streams and lakes, but every community that receives our water. No matter where you live, your choices have an impact on the health of the ocean. Eventually all water leads to the ocean and the ocean is life, so let’s keep it clean and healthy.
“Colorado Ocean Coalition.” Colorado Ocean Coalition. Web. 1 Mar. 2016. <http://coloradoocean.org
“Colorado The Headwater State.” Growing Your Future. Colorado Foundation for Agriculture. Web. 1 Mar. 2016. <https://www.growingyourfuture.com/civi/sites/default/files/ColoradoHeadwaters_State.pdf>.
Cousteau, Fabien. “Plant a Fish.” Fabien Cousteau. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.
Notes from Making WAVES conference 2013
Phone interview with Vicki Goldstein from Colorado Ocean Coalition on March 2, 2016
All photos used with permission from Liese Carberry