The Inland Ocean Movement

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Erin Sams Cooper, a Colorado-based environmentalist, floodplain specialist, ocean advocate and family friend. Erin serves as an advisory board member for the Colorado Ocean Coalition, an organization working to promote ocean conservation by engaging inland communities with land-to-sea stewardship. She explained to me why it’s so important for Coloradans (and other inland residents) to care about the ocean and shared with me how the Colorado Ocean Coalition is “saving the seas from a mile high.”

What is the ‘inland ocean movement?’

The inland ocean movement is about developing a land-to-sea connection that people can relate to in their daily lives, even if they don’t live directly on the coast. It’s about helping people understand that the river near their home, or passing through their closest major city, eventually drains to the ocean, and how we live affects the quality of that water. Our energy use, our diets, and so much more all connects to the health of the oceans and the environment.

How do people’s actions in inland states affect oceans?

What we do to rivers—especially in Colorado, since we are a headwaters state— eventually impacts the ocean. The pollution we add to the air matters too, since inland air pollution affects the entire planet. If we have excess carbon dioxide in our air, it moves into the ocean, which is a giant carbon sink. This process, known as ocean acidification, causes chemical changes in ocean water that impact the biological development of certain organisms.

In what ways can individuals promote ocean health?

Pay attention to your energy consumption and be conscious of how your diet impacts the environment. Those are two big ways that people can have a direct daily impact. The consciousness that goes into what you order at a seafood restaurant or thinking about the resources used in meat production. These are all important daily decisions that we make, and if we stop to think about them as opposed to just eating what our culture is used to eating, we can influence the markets and have a bigger impact.

What are some of the best sustainable seafood restaurants in Colorado?

At the Colorado Ocean Coalition’s annual holiday fundraiser last year, the food was catered by a Boulder-based restaurant called Wild Standard. They strive to specifically source sustainably-caught seafood from small fisheries. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is a great tool that consumers can use to make sustainable choices in their seafood consumption. (You can download the free Seafood Watch App here). 

What is the Blue Vision Summit?

Every other year we gather a group to go to Washington, D.C., for the Blue Vision Summit, an ocean policy and advocacy conference. We speak with our congressmen and congresswomen on the Hill as part of an inland ocean delegation. The last time we were in D.C., we had the second largest delegation next to California. The Coloradans were there, stirring up Capitol Hill, talking about sustainable seafood, ocean conservation… all this good stuff. Now, at every Summit, it’s expected that there’s a large inland ocean contingency. This year should be a really good turnout.

How can people in Colorado get involved in the work that the Colorado Ocean Coalition is doing?

A great way to get involved is to check out the Ocean Rangers program hosted in your area.  You can learn what programs and what initiatives the organization is focusing on and about how you can contribute.

What are some future goals of the Colorado Ocean Coalition?

Our goal is to grow the Colorado Ocean Coalition to a national organization, the Inland Ocean Coalition, with managed regional chapters in inland communities. We also hope to collaborate with NOAA as an inland ocean partner with the National Marine Sanctuaries program.

What’s the best ocean adventure you’ve ever been on?

The coolest ocean adventure I’ve ever had was going to the Maldives for a few days and experiencing the pristine coral reef environment. I got to dive a wall off of a small atoll and it was breathtaking.

If you’re a Nicholas School student who would like to attend the 2017 Blue Vision Summit May 9-11 in Washington, D.C., contact the Ocean Policy Working Group at