To read the Spanish version of this story, click here.
When Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš became active in ocean conservation a dozen years ago, one of the first things she noticed was how few Latinos were engaged in the cause.
What’s more, she found there wasn’t much effort being spent to get Latino communities involved.
“There was no outreach. I mean, there was absolutely none,” Marce recalls.
Marce was deeply concerned about absence of Latino voices from conversations and decisions about how to protect oceans. She was also baffled conservation groups had largely ignored a population with growing demographic and political clout.
About one in five people living in the U.S. – roughly 62 million – are Latino. Latinos are the nation’s fastest-growing - and second-largest - demographic group.
As the Latino population increases, so too does the number of Latino lawmakers. A record number Latinos were elected to Congress in November. The number of Latinos elected to state legislatures has grown to more than 500, another record.
“We are a fifth of the whole country. If we want to make a difference on issues as important as ocean health, we need to be talking to Latinos and involving Latinos,” Marce says.
Determined to mobilize this diverse, growing and overlooked community, Marce founded Azul in 2011. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to building grassroots support in Latino communities to conserve Marine resources.
I am trying to engage as many Latinos as possible as ocean champions.
Since its launch, Azul has helped score some big conservation wins including securing a California ban on the sale and possession of shark fins and a ban on single-use plastic bags.
“I am trying to engage as many Latinos as possible as ocean champions. Our job is to make it easy for folks to take action on behalf of ocean protection,” she says.
“Latino policymakers are coming from these communities. But nobody in the conservation movement was talking to them. And [conservationists] kept losing legislation and not knowing why.”
By working directly in Latino communities, Marce and her team found strong support for ocean conservation. There was an untapped energy for activism. One campaign, called Latinos Marinos, focuses on recruiting ocean advocates to raise their concerns with California state legislators. It started with seven people in 2016. More than 90 participated at Azul’s Ocean Day event in 2019.
“It takes a long time to really build those relationships and build that trust in communities,” Marce says. “But the conservation movement is becoming less insular and exclusive – and more open and inclusive.”
While Azul saw the passion for marine conservation firsthand in Latino communities, the group wanted to know if that support extended to the broader population.
Azul, a Walton Family Foundation grantee, commissioned a national poll on ocean issues to gauge Latino views on ocean conservation.
Ninety-one percent of Hispanic/Latino voters are concerned about conserving the ocean.
The poll was conducted by Barreto Segura Partners Research among 1,900 registered Latino voters. It found 91% of Hispanic/Latino voters are concerned about conserving the ocean. Nine in 10 believe in protecting the environment to protect their communities. And three out of four support stricter regulation of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities, even if that means paying more for fewer fish.
“Holy smokes, we were blown away by the support we found,” says Marce. “I was hopeful that we were going to have good numbers, but I wasn't expecting this.”
Pollsters found that support for environmental issues were highest among Spanish-speaking Latino households. While 51% of respondents from English-speaking households cited environmental issues as very important to them, that number was 72% in Spanish-speaking households.
The poll results can help policymakers understand the depth of support within the Latino community for measures that protect ocean health and wildlife, Marce says.
The findings also show conservation groups the folly of ignoring Latinos. And they dispel any perception Latinos were apathetic about the environment, Marce says.
The results “provide a roadmap” for Azul and other groups to do more effective engagement.
“It tells us we need to invest a lot more in Spanish language materials and outreach because that's where our strongest advocates are going to be,” she says.
Among the poll’s other insights:
• 86% of Latinos cited climate change as a health and safety risk to all people;
• 85% agreed the government should implement the strongest possible protections for oceans even if it is costly;
• 86% believe the government has a responsibility to preserve the ocean and public lands for the enjoyment of future generations;
• 96% cited issues like pollution and climate change as being personally important to them.
“I think this information creates an opportunity to ignite more action across the board,” Marce says. “Obviously people want to be part of a winning team. People can see there is support for oceans conservation. Our hope is they can see this movement is strong and will want to join us.”