In the age of the internet, smartphones and 24/7 media encapsulating so many Americans' time, talents and interests, it is quite refreshing (and rare!) to come across those who are deeply interested and invested in their own states, towns and communities. There is much to be learned about the places we call home -- our history, our environment, our culture, our civic life, our government and much more. Enter author David Helvarg and his brilliant and engrossing new book The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Sea, a comprehensive account of California's coastal history. With a deft journalist's touch, Helvarg weaves a tapestry of "the Golden State" both past and present, mixing history, biology, adventurism and activism. The tale is woven with interviews and the authors own unique personal experiences and relationships.
From California's original Native American tribes, to foreign explorers like Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake, to early Spanish and Yankee settlers, to its unique marine life such as sea lions, white sharks, the returning gray whales and the endangered white abalone, to the fearless surfing community, bustling navy towns and more, there is much to learn and appreciate about the state of California's coastal lifestyle. Helvarg, an ocean denizen himself, writes: "Though mostly unstated, it's understood that California, stretching between arid Southern deserts and damp Northern forests would, without the Pacific Ocean, be little more than a long, skinny clone of Nevada."
Few people truly understand how intricately critical the oceans are to life on the earth as well as David Helvarg. Even fewer know how fragile a variety of conditions are in the oceans which cover over 70 percent of the earth's surface and are all too regularly disturbed and damaged by man's many effusions and predations.
In California, this struggle is highlighted by the state's environmental movement. An ongoing conflict marks California's long history with the oil industry, from the early oil boom to modern-day offshore drilling. (And recall the Cosco Busan oil spill in 2007, when 53,000 gallons of oil polluted the San Francisco bay.) Helvarg writes: "Today twenty-six oil platforms still operate off the coast of California along with four ten-to twelve-acre artificial islands called THUMS (for Texaco, Humble, Union, Mobil, and Shell) in Long Beach harbor that are disguised to look like resort islands, including drilling rigs camouflaged as high-rise apartments and landscaped walls, waterfalls, and palm trees surrounding the oil-production facilities at the center of the islands."
On the bright side, California has basic regulations and an oil spill response mechanism; things that, if in place there, could have made a significant difference in theGulf of Mexico in 2010 when BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded causing long-lasting environmental damage to that region -- four thousand times the size of the Cosco Busanspill. (Helvarg notes that California sent many of its response vessels to help with the clean up after that Gulf catastrophe.)
As they say, actions speak louder than words, and fortunately David Helvarg's love of the sea expands beyond his writing. His organization, the Blue Frontier Campaign, based in Washington D.C. is a marine conservation group that works to build a collaborative and united "seaweed activist" community to fight for healthy oceans, coasts and the people whose lives and livelihoods critically depend upon ocean preservation. There are currently over 2000 organizations, state and federal offices working on marine issues. Blue Frontier aims to bring those entities together to engage with one another and the political and lawmaking processes.
Blue Frontier also plays a role in the promotion of the National Ocean Policy as part of the Healthy Oceans Coalition, a collective of groups and individuals working to promote full implementation of the policy first recommended by a commission appointed by George W. Bush and later adopted via an executive order signed by President Obama.
For those who live in the state of California or those who merely would enjoy taking a literary trip there to escape the brisk December chill, The Golden Shore is a well-written and researched guide to our country's most populous state and it's enduring, symbiotic relationship with the vast Pacific Ocean.
Copies of The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Seaare available from independent bookstore Politics and Prose.