Ocean policy in action: report from the state legislature

Ferry boat in Puget Sound at sunset


The 2019 legislative session has come to a close here in Washington state and we are proud that the Aquarium took an active role in advocating on behalf of the Salish Sea and the many incredible creatures that call it home. More than 2,000 bills were introduced in this Washington state legislative session. The legislators were very busy and so were we!

Key victories for our ocean

All four of the key orca recovery bills passed! New laws to help protect our struggling southern resident orcas were a priority for us and for state lawmakers this session. The new laws will:

  • Increase the distance between boats and southern resident orcas, add a go-slow zone around the orcas and create a license program for commercial whale-watching operators. These protections from vessel noise and disturbance will make it easier for orcas to forage and find prey.
  • Prevent toxic pollution by working to reduce certain chemicals that could harm sensitive species like orcas and vulnerable populations like kids.
  • Protect habitat for Chinook salmon—the primary food source for orcas—and forage fish by increasing the state’s ability to enforce existing habitat protection laws.
  • Reduce oil spill risk by establishing tug escort requirements for more oil tankers in the waters around the San Juan Islands.

We also took a key step toward reducing plastic packaging in Washington! A bill passed that requires an assessment of the amount, types, management and disposal of plastic packaging sold into the state. The report must include draft legislation for plastic packaging stewardship. We look forward to supporting that bill in the 2021 session.

What did the Seattle Aquarium do? We went to Olympia to testify in support of three bills and joined letters to legislators on several more. We worked closely with our partners on the Reusable Bag Bill and the Orca Emergency Response package and held multiple press conferences. We also sent out our first three action alert emails. Thank you to everyone who contacted their legislators—showing constituent support was crucial to getting these important bills passed!

More work to do

The Reusable Bag Bill did not make it to a final vote. There was a lot of positive press and the word got out about the benefits for ocean health that would come from eliminating thin, single-use plastic bags. The Seattle Aquarium’s Youth Ocean Advocates also did a great job advocating for this bill. Passing a bill can often be a process over more than one legislative session. We will be working with partner organizations and all of you to get it passed the next time around!

The Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act, which we endorsed, did not quite make it across the finish line either. There was some funding in the budget for an Environmental Justice Task Force. We will continue to lend our support to the organizations leading these important environmental justice efforts.

Next, we will be turning our attention to federal policy and will participate in Capitol Hill Ocean Week in Washington, DC in June.

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