Growing up Latina, in a borderland city 12 hours away from the water, the ocean became my annual sanctuary. Every year, my family took a vacation to the Texas Gulf Coast blasting Selena albums on our way to Corpus Christi or South Padre Island. I remember making sandcastles, searching for seashells, reading a book, and just enjoying the view of the water.
Over the years, there was a noticeable increase in trash, less seashells, and more pollution in the beaches. I slowly started to feel out of place, uncomfortable, and concerned about the area’s health. Being deprived of a clean, healthy ocean, especially during the pandemic, has been a challenge, for myself and underserved communities throughout Texas.
President Biden’s recent executive orders had several ocean protection provisions, including addressing the climate crisis, reducing pollution and protecting 30 percent of America’s oceans by 2030. Latinos across the U.S. have deep connections to the ocean, and Hispanic Access Foundation supports fostering those connections with the policies in the executive order. They will preserve the ecosystems on which we depend, provide safe havens to help wildlife adapt to climate change, and sustain natural systems that store carbon.
Over the summer, HAF published "Nuestro Océano y la Costa: Latino Connections to the Ocean and Coast" to demonstrate the depth of Latino involvement in the ocean and coast: the economy, recreation, and Latino cultural heritage. We did this to illustrate the stake Latinos have in ocean health, especially when it comes to threats from pollution, acidification, sea-level rise, and a worsening hurricane season.
Our report looked at polling across the United States, and found Latinos are more worried about climate change than other demographics. They are also more concerned about pollution, and support reducing it. Latinos are more likely to find the ocean important to their emotional well-being, and 73 percent agree ocean health is essential to human survival. Lastly, both inland and coastal Latinos love all forms of water recreation.
Texas, the state with the second-most Latino population, is the largest contributor to the U.S. marine economy by GDP. Texas’s activity in the Gulf Coast accounts for 23 percent of U.S marine goods and services, from fisheries, commerce, recreation and tourism. But climate change has destroyed habitats associated with the livelihoods we earn from our ocean, as well as our quality of life and safety.
Not only is the ocean’s health important to Latinos, but we are keenly aware that threats to the ocean represent threats to our communities.
Our research found almost a quarter of coastal residents are Latino. Unfortunately, due to economic instability, lower access to healthcare, home insurance, and emergency response messaging, Latinos are especially vulnerable to hazards like sea level rise, storms, and flooding. Damaged ocean habitats mean damaged fisheries and reduced tourism, leading to job loss, especially for Latinos who make up a large portion of the hospitality and marine construction industries. Beach and fishery closures also disproportionately cause health problems to Latino populations, since they are less likely to be aware of advisories, and may rely on fishing for food security.
The physical health risks are only one a part of overall well-being. As has been driven home during the pandemic, the ability to get outside and enjoy nature is necessary for physical and mental health, while on the other hand, natural disasters and climate risks can cause depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This is important because Latino communities and other communities of color across the country are facing a Nature Gap – meaning they have less access to beaches and natural areas. According to the report from Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress, 67 percent of Latinos live in “nature deprived” areas, with limited access to the outdoors. To undo the Nature Gap’s harm, we must create new protected areas and restore degraded lands and waters.
For all these reasons – access, health, recreation, pandemic relief, jobs, disaster resilience, and spirituality, Latinos care about the ocean. It is important for Texan and national policymakers to support ocean, coastal, and watershed-wide conservation efforts that impact Latino communities.
The Biden administration’s executive orders will help mitigate climate change, sustainably manage fisheries, improve coastal resilience, and move toward protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. These policies get at the heart of forming a clean, healthy, and protected ocean. By supporting the executive orders, Latinos are raising their voices to protect the ocean we love, and also protecting our homes, health, family memories, and livelihoods. These policies create a future where more Latinos can relax and spend time with their families on the beach, without the growing concern for the ocean’s future.
By Brenda Gallegos in the Caller Times