Making a Splash: Animal Advocates Flood Capitol Hill to Shore Up Support for MMPA

On November 15, a coalition of nine environmental and animal protection groups, including AWI, hosted a Lobby Day and reception on Capitol Hill to celebrate—and defend—the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) on its 45th anniversary. Scientists, business leaders, local government officials, and marine advocates from coastal states came to DC to walk the halls of Congress and ask legislators to resist efforts by the fossil fuel industry to weaken the MMPA.

The day began at 8 a.m., with the intrepid teams of citizen lobbyists—each with a leader experienced at meeting with federal legislators—gathering to get their assignments. Actor and singer Miranda Cosgrove and Representative Don Beyer of Virginia energized the MMPA defenders with their inspirational messages, praising those who came from as far away as California (like Cosgrove) and Oregon for their commitment to protecting marine mammals.

Dr. Naomi Rose (pictured above) of AWI led the Florida contingent, a key state in the battle against opening up the Atlantic coast to seismic surveys for oil and gas deposits. The state has several marine mammal friends, including Senator Bill Nelson. Other Florida legislators, however—such as Representative Daniel Webster, who has voted to weaken the MMPA—promote extractive industries at the expense of whales and dolphins.

The Florida group had professional divers, students, scientists, community organizers, and a city mayor who was also a veteran of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. This diverse group was able to emphasize that fisheries, the military, and many others are as concerned as environmentalists about the possibility of an Atlantic coast echoing with seismic airgun blasts and eventually dotted with oil platforms, drills, and pumps. As for Florida’s all-important tourism industry, the prospects of an oil spill are terrifying.

As one citizen lobbyist repeated at every office visited, “Florida is what it is—attracting visitors from around the country and the world—because of its natural resources, including its whales, dolphins, and manatees. Harming these forever for a few years of oil profits makes no sense for the state at all.” Ten hours (and almost eight miles of walking!) later, more Florida legislators than before might just agree with that view.

The day ended with a packed reception, attended by members of Congress and their staff, regulatory officials, and marine advocates. The program featured more passionate calls to protect marine mammals from Cosgrove, as well as from Dr. Lee Talbot, one of the original authors of the MMPA and still an active conservationist in his 80s, and Representative Jared Huffman of California, an amazing champion of the environment and its wildlife. AWI will work hard to ensure Florida and all the states say no to drilling and a resounding yes to defending marine mammals!