UCSD CALPIRG Students Rally to Advocate for Marine Protected Areas

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Melanie Khachatryan

Students in the UC San Diego California Students Public Interest Research Group Chapter gathered on March 2 to rally and spread awareness for increasing ocean protection within California. The advocates gathered on campus near the Sun God statue to bid farewell to fellow colleagues heading to Sacramento the following day for an environmental lobbying conference. 

Students took part in creating posters to take on their Sacramento trip. The posters displayed phrases and messages including, “Stop Dropping Trash Where We Splash,” “The Ocean Is Not Your Carnival,” and “Governor Newsom Protect Marine Areas.” 

During the press conference, undergraduate students and guest speakers expressed their devotion to promoting marine conservation efforts. The students organized a speaking engagement with UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor Octavio Aburto-Oropeza to share his research on Marine Protected Areas and their benefits. Without exception, the speakers all emphasized that state recognition of the issue was necessary to amplify their voices of multiplying MPA establishments within California. 

CALPIRG Board Member and John Muir College sophomore Rachel Tseng narrated the central message of their activism.

“We want to expand Marine Protected Areas from 9% to 30%,” explained Tseng. “We need to prevent industries such as oil drilling and fishing from interfering. Because California is the leader in protecting oceans, it’s important to make this a culture and identity for our state.” 

Tseng said the organization seeks to push this policy forward and for changes to be implemented by this spring.

Multiple students spoke about their deep attachment to the ocean and their commitment to safeguarding it. 

“I am a San Diegan and have lived by the ocean my whole life,” CALPIRG Vice Chair and Revelle College senior Parsa Seyedi said. “Since I’m a student, I want to use my power to work with other students and gain my community’s attention.”

Aburto-Oropeza conveyed the significance of increasing Marine Protected Areas to the audience. 

“The US has about 1,000 Marine Protected Areas,” he explained. “Only a tiny fraction, less than 2%, are fully protected. Out of these 1,000 MPAs, just 50 of them represent 98% of the oceans that the US is protecting.” Aburto-Oropeza continued by reiterating the crucial role of MPA expansion for the future of marine life. 

Within the last quarter, the UCSD CALPIRG Chapter united to celebrate a restriction on styrofoam takeout containers in San Diego. This quarter, members and volunteers seek to refocus their main campaign towards ocean protection. They have already collected 1,500 signatures in support of their cause. 

CALPIRG social media coordinator and Muir College freshman Mekayli Claros delved into the relevance of safeguarding marine life for future generations. 

“Our oceans are so vital to life on this planet and we would be nothing without them,” Claros said. “People don’t care enough about it to stand up and make a statement. Since we are students, they don’t expect us to be this passionate; but we want to prove them wrong.”

According to National Geographic, the establishment of MPAs ensures biodiversity and habitat preservation against oceanic threats including pollution, climate change and fishing. Therefore, CALPIRG volunteers seek to triple the current number of MPAs. 

Campaign coordinator and Sixth College sophomore Toby Ngo discussed the rationale for their upcoming Sacramento trip. 

“Our yearly journey to Sacramento is a lobbying effort for our campaigns,” Ngo said. “Right now, for our ‘Protect Our Oceans’ campaign, we are aiming to get the attention of Governor Newsom, which is not easy. Gaining as many signatures and signs of support as we can is crucial in getting him to increase Marine Protected Areas.” 

Following the press conference, CALPIRG chapter leaders guided the audience to a designated letter-writing station, where they could write letters to be hand-delivered to state representatives during the Sacramento trip. For additional details on how to stay engaged, follow @calpirg_ucsd on Instagram or visit calpirgstudents.org.

Photo by Melanie Khachatryan for the UCSD Guardian

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on March 14 at 12:33 am to correct the spelling of Octavio Aburto-Oropeza‘s name.