Blue Marble Planet lover Lea Haratani dives deep
“A lot of people attack the sea. I make love to it.” —Jacques Cousteau
Lea Haratani has had a lifelong passion for the ocean, and every day she tries to show it. Some days, it means not eating fish. Other times, it’s all about taking a walk on the beach—or diving off the coast of Belize with Jim Simon, the vice president of one of the nation’s largest ocean conservation organizations, Oceana. She might also be found circulating petitions against offshore drilling with her children at Bookshop Santa Cruz, or organizing a fundraising event for Oceana at the Saint Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco.
But more often than not, Haratani shows her Cousteau-like love for the ocean by settling in with a stack of grants at her desk at the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County (RCDSCC) in Capitola, where she works as a Communication Specialist.
“My earliest memory of the ocean was when I was three,” says Haratani, who obtained a degree in natural resources conservation studies from UC Berkeley. “I remember standing on the beach, hearing the sound of waves, observing the vast expanse of water, and feeling overwhelmed by its beauty and power.”
To commemorate June as the 100th anniversary of Jacques Cousteau’s birthday, RCDSCC launched a new program called the Land to Sea Connection. RCDSCC focuses on land-based threats to ocean health and, in the last five years, has restored more than 30 miles of critical in-stream habitat for ocean-going Coho salmon and Steelhead trout on the Central Coast. It also works with local farmers in the Pajaro Valley on reducing nutrient and pesticide use adjacent to the Monterey Bay. Because of the RCDSCC’s educational programs, thousands of students ages 9 to 18 better understand the land’s connection to the ocean through Watershed Cruz’n curriculum and field experiences.
Building on this body of work, the RCDSCC is planning to collaborate with local marine organizations, including Save Our Shores, in an effort to maximize the effectiveness of marine conservation by concentrating on the land/sea relationship. The RCDSCC works mostly with under-represented agriculturalists and private landowners to help protect, conserve and restore Santa Cruz County’s limited natural resources. Jim McKenna, RCDSCC Board president, says they secure and distribute many conservation grants within the county to a wide range of nonprofits.
“It’s now or never,” says Haratani. “Our coral reefs will be gone in 20 years due to acidification of the ocean.” Her top three tips for ocean conservation are to decrease consumption of plastic, to support local nonprofits, and to use less energy and water.
Past RCDSCC projects have radically reduced the run-off to the ocean, but Haratani seeks to create a stronger impact on ocean conservation through partnership with nonprofits and by designing very specific goals, like plastic reduction. “We can do more with less by working together,” she says.
Haratani is speaking from experience. Prior to joining RCDSCC, she spent a decade working at Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), where she created an environmental education and compliance program for hydroelectric power plants. She taught 350 powerhouse foremen and their crews about environmental regulatory compliance.
Her life took a turn when she was diagnosed with breast cancer: After surviving the disease, her commitment to the oceans became stronger than ever. “It’s been an incredibly freeing experience,” she says. “I have gotten it down to what really matters for me: my kids and the ocean. I am deeply committed to protecting the sea—my energetic lifeblood. It was weird to think about learning to scuba dive recently in Belize. I realized that the worst thing that could happen was death, and I already had faced this.” The ocean is visible from the windows of her historic Westside home, where she now lives with her son Holden and daughter Kamila.
On June 26, the Surfrider Foundation and Save Our Shores joined the nonprofit organization Hands Across the Sand in meeting at Main Beach and Cowell Beach to host the local portion of a global protest against near- and offshore oil drilling. Haratani wrote a commemorative poem for this event titled “For the Gulf.” In a simple, symbolic action, Hands Across the Sand brought people together in a unified plea for ocean conservation—joining hands on beaches throughout America in a statement of protecting coastal economies, oceans, and marine wildlife.
In addition to Haratani’s work at RCDSCC, she serves as vice chair of the Ocean Council for Oceana. She also recently worked with local Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, securing Oceana’s advocacy sponsorship for the world premiere of his Ocean Voices project. At the June 3 event, Nichols presented Cousteau’s grandchildren, Fabien Cousteau and Celine Cousteau, with a 100 year-old clay marble as a remembrance of our “blue marble planet” and their grandfather’s 100th birthday.
Holding the marble out at arm’s length, Nichols asked the audience to envision being in a space shuttle, looking back at Earth. “From about a million miles out,” he said, ”Earth—our home—would look about the size of this small blue marble. That blue marble you see is your only home and it is blue because of the ocean. On this blue marble we call Earth, every being who ever lived was born and finished their lives. It’s here where we make our stand. Now.”
For Haratani, making a stand is just the beginning. “I really feel that my role at Oceana brings attention to Monterey Bay’s importance, and also gives us, as a region, better representation through D.C.-based lobbyists,” she says. “Oceana is comprised of the most sincerely committed people I know in the environmental movement. At RCDSCC, with the new Land to Sea Connection program, I want to strengthen these connections. It’s time to take action for future generations—only one-tenth of 1 percent of the ‘eco’ dollar goes to 71 percent of the earth—the ocean. Each day is a day to make a difference.”
Ocean lovers like Haratani look on as America experiences the worst environmental disaster in its history, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One wonders, as we enter July with oil still gushing in the Gulf, what would Jacques Cousteau do?
If you’re interested in RCDSCC’s ocean-related programs, call Lea Haratani at 464-2950, ext 10.