The Passing of a True Coastal Hero

Today’s guest blogger is Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s coastal resources director

California lost a coastal hero this week, but it is a life to be celebrated. After a long battle with lung cancer, Peter Douglas passed away. I found out about this loss Tuesday morning, on my way to a meeting to celebrate our new South Coast marine protected areas and to strategize on ways to make implementation of these critically needed underwater parks as successful as possible.

Driving from Los Angeles to Crystal Cove, there were signs of Peter all along the way: projects he improved through leading his staff to prioritize coastal protection; access points he helped open; and a San Onofre State Beach that would look quite different if the proposed toll road leading to it wasn’t defeated under Peter’s leadership a few years ago.

Peter’s dedication and focus on coastal protection was extraordinary. He began his early career by co-authoring a state ballot initiative, Prop. 20, that created the Coastal Commission in 1972. A few years later he helped write the Coastal Act to formally create the Coastal Commission and establish goals and means to protect coastal resources and critically evaluate development along California’s coast.

Under his decades of leadership as the executive director of the Coastal Commission, he facilitated access to hundreds of miles of coastline by opening up dozens of coastal accessways along our coast, he curtailed industrialization of Southern California’s shores by defeating projects like the Cabrillo liquefied natural gas terminal off Malibu’s coast, and affected many other proposed projects. He will long live on as an environmental leader and coastal champion.

After a day of MPA meetings, Tuesday concluded with an event at MacGillivray Freeman Films, the producers of many inspirational IMAX films about the ocean’s wonders. The evening event opened with a moment of remembrance for Peter, and everyone among the group reflected on his inspiration. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the Administrator of NOAA and another incredible ocean hero, gave a moving speech that night. She encouraged the group of California ocean advocates, researchers, and educators to continue our engagement on new and challenging issues, and tirelessly work to find innovative solutions to the problems facing our coasts and oceans. Her words are exemplary of the type of leadership Peter provided over the past several decades. In a night dedicated to Peter, I think it rang especially loud to all of us.