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Exploring ocean access disparities in California: a personal odyssey


My name is Kennedy Flavin, the sole deaf graduate student at UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. My journey into ocean access disparities began with a childhood fascination with the coastal world, ignited during an 8th-grade capstone on Overfishing. Now, as I undertake my thesis on the environmental justice implications of access to California's coasts, I am privileged to share the wealth of knowledge accumulated during my summer internship at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.


This summer, I delved into a literature review exploring Marine Protected Areas and access to the California coast through the lens of Equity and Environmental Justice (EEJ). My exploration encompassed over 90 pieces of literature, unraveling the intricate challenges faced by communities in accessing our oceans.


A pivotal revelation emerged as racism surfaced as one of the leading factors behind inequitable coastal access in California. Despite legislative efforts like the California Coastal Act, disparities persist. Affluent, white, and senior residents enjoy closer proximity to coastal access, obstructing public entry. Underserved communities grapple with extended travel distances and higher costs, painting a stark picture of environmental and social injustice.


To comprehend the roots of these disparities, I delved into historical events that continue to shape challenges in accessing the California Coast. From Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 impacting Japanese Americans to the 1930s repatriation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, historical injustices echo through time. Safety concerns of people of color in natural areas trace back to a history of exclusion and violence, exemplified by the dismantling of Bruce's Beach in the 1920s.


Surprisingly, even the seemingly inclusive surfing culture bears exclusionary aspects. Its historical ties to white dominance, exemplified by instances like the theft and lynching-like display of the board of Andrew Sherlock Mills, underscore the persistent problem of racism on beaches.


Understanding the nuanced preferences and challenges of diverse beachgoers is imperative. UCLA's statewide poll and beach surveys shed light on a spectrum of needs expressed by different demographics. Income disparities significantly influence coastal visits, with those earning over $60,000 annually more likely to visit. The economic importance of beach recreation, contributing billions to California annually, highlights the classic case of distributive justice.


In the realm of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the intersection with EEJ reveals challenges in fair benefit distribution. Indigenous and underserved communities face marginalization during MPA decision-making processes, stressing the urgency for inclusivity and representation.


In conclusion, my exploration into ocean access disparities has unearthed a complex interplay of historical legacies, racial inequalities, and economic imbalances. I ended up writing over 50 pages, something I thought I wouldn’t be able to do! As we strive for a more equitable future, addressing these disparities becomes paramount, fostering inclusivity and justice for all beachgoers, irrespective of their background.


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