2018 State of the Coast

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport, Ore., is a primary example of the importance of Oregon's pristine coast. The State of the Coast showcased current programs to protect and support the coastal ecosystem.

Coastal conference focuses on programs designed to support, enhance coastal life

Oct. 31, 2018 — The Oregon Coast is widely acknowledged as one of the premier destinations for outdoor activities in the country. The state’s combination of spectacular ocean vistas and towering Ponderosa pines nestled along the Pacific Ocean draws millions of visitors a year to the area, as does native wildlife and friendly and welcoming residents.

 The natural beauty and abundance these visitors experience while spending time here translates into hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue for businesses, counties and cities across the state.

The importance of Oregon’s coastal communities to the overall health of the state was made clear last week when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed Executive Order No. 18-28. The order directs state agencies to protect Oregon’s coastal economy by preventing activities associated with offshore oil and gas drilling.

 “Oregonians have a long and proud history of standing up to defend our state. And at a time when the Trump administration is trying to allow oil rigs to be built off nearly every coastline in America, I’m tired of waiting for the federal government to come to its senses and realize that this is a terrible mistake,” Brown said in a statement released at the signing.“ This executive order will make it clear to oil and gas speculators that Oregon is not for sale.”

 Brown’s proactive assertion of state sovereignty in the area of energy exploration and production is a direct response to an executive order signed by President Trump in April, which encourages offshore oil and gas exploration and production in federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf, which includes waters off of the Oregon coast.

“Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas resources, but the federal government has kept 94% of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production,” Trump said. “This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in wealth.”

The need to maintain the states’ special mix of forests, mountains, seashores and wildlife is clear, according to Brown, who cites the significant economic and cultural assets that could be jeopardized if the president’s plan to increase offshore oil drilling is implemented.

The protection afforded by Brown’s order is important, not only for the fiscal benefits gained from visitors, but also for the historical and cultural aspects of the region that may be compromised.

Brown also pointed out that many locations along the coast hold special significance for Native American tribes. These groups are sovereign entities, recognized by the state and federal government, and any development that impacts that sovereignty is a violation of law.

Other reasons given by Brown include the 22,000 jobs and $2 billion created by the coastal tourism and recreation industry annually and the historic accessibility of all 363 miles of Oregon’s coast to the public.

According to Brown, the Oregon Coastal Management Program has a unique oversight responsibility to determine the best ways to protect and enrich Oregon’s coastal assets. Her inclusion of this program in her order implies the program would be integral to the process of determining the viability of any federal attempt to extract oil or gas from Oregon’s coastal waters.

The timing of Brown’s order was significant in a smaller, but meaningful way. The order took effect two days prior to the 2018 State of the Coast Conference and one week before the mid-term elections on Nov. 6.

 The State of the Coast was held Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Hales Center for the Performing Arts at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay. It was sponsored and coordinated by the Oregon Sea Grant branch of Oregon State University (OSU).

Jaime Doyle is a member of the Sea Grant Extension faculty and was part of the team that coordinated this year’s conference.

“There is such a positive energy from participants at State of the Coast! They are excited to learn and connect with others around coastal topics. We see this enthusiasm for our coast, for the marine environment and for our coastal communities, as a key piece of the future of our coast, and we are thrilled to provide a space that can help to cultivate this passion,” Doyle said. 

According to Doyle, there was a panel specifically on Oil and Gas off the Oregon Coast.

“We try to cover timely issues at State of the Coast, and while we could not have anticipated that Gov. Kate Brown would have issued an executive order banning offshore drilling two days before the conference, it speaks to how relevant that panel was,” she said.

 Sea Grant Oregon states that its mission is to serve as a catalyst that promotes discovery, understanding, and resilience for Oregon coastal communities and eco-systems.

Sea Grant also manages the Visitor Center at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport as an ocean and coastal learning center for all ages.

The State of the Coast Conference brought together a wide array of individuals involved in one way or another with life on the Oregon coast.

The schedule of speakers and workshops was extensive, with many presenters speaking about topics ranging from family fishing traditions to the disappearance of eelgrass from estuaries along the Oregon coast.

The keynote speaker for the conference was science author and lecturer Sam Kean. Kean is an engaging and humorous speaker, highlighting during his discussion the many unusual situations he has encountered researching and interviewing subjects for his four books, all dealing with different aspects of science.

Kean is also a frequent contributor to shows broadcast on National Public Radio, appearing as a guest on popular science-oriented shows Radio Lab, Science Friday and more main stream shows like All Things Considered and Fresh Air.

His latest release is “Caesar’s Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us.”

Kean began his address by discussing some of the interesting cases cited in his book, “The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons,” which looks at the strange and often confounding circumstances that alter or color the information we receive from our five senses.

The next speaker at the event was Bob Bailey, until recently the manager of the Oregon Coastal Management Program. His affinity for his work was obvious in the brief update he gave on the change in leadership at his former organization and projects now underway.

An afternoon workshop highlighted the issue of energy exploration and production off of Oregon’s coast. One of the points made was the research that indicates the amount of oil available for collection here is minimal, in comparison to other areas, and the cost of obtaining that oil would be prohibitive.

One of the more intriguing presentations of the day discussed the ongoing work being done at the Pac Wav energy center in Newport. The location is operated by staff and researchers from OSU and has been approved by the state to host a series of tests for evaluating the different ways of collecting and storing the energy generated by waves.

OSU has received $40 million from the Department of Energy for this program and the first tests should begin in early 2020.

The State of the Coast Conference is a tangible example of the growing importance OSU is playing in the development and understanding of the many interconnected scientific aspects of coastal life in Oregon.

OSU is working closely with the Hatfield Marine Research Center, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other state and federal entities, to determine the best way to maintain and support the coastal eco-systems that generate high levels of interest and large amounts of revenue for the state each year.

Doyle believes the growth of the State of the Coast conference will continue as more families and individuals discover the natural beauty of the state’s coastline.

“The diversity of break-out sessions hopefully had something for everyone. It’s a jam-packed day, and we get complaints that there are too many great sessions, that people want to attend them all. From a planning perspective, that’s a great problem to have,” she said. “Every year we have grown our student science and art exhibits, and this year has been our best yet. Attendees really love engaging with the students, and the students’ excitement about their work is contagious, helping more people to learn about and experience the coast in new ways.”