Seabirds and Fisheries Get a Virtual Lift in Congress from Audubon Advocates

Grassroots members attend Audubon's annual forage fish fly-in and speak to legislators about the importance of healthy fisheries.

In late July, Audubon staff, chapter leaders and members, students, and volunteers tuned in from across the country to National Audubon Society’s virtual Seabird Action Fly-in to tell members of Congress about the threats facing seabirds and the need for policy action.

The five-day event immersed participants from ten states and all four flyways in advocacy trainings, forage fish webinars, social media activities, virtual seabird watching, and legislative appointments.

During a series of eighteen Zoom meetings with key members of Congress and their staff, participants asked lawmakers to promote and advance policies and funding programs that support seabirds, maintain a robust Magnuson-Stevens Act that protects fisheries around the U.S., include climate impacts and language into fisheries management, increase protections for marine species like Black-footed Albatross and Brown Pelican caught unintentionally, enhance essential fish habitat protections, and fully fund or increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs that protect fish and coastal habitats.

Karen Hyun, vice president of coasts and interim deputy chief conservation officer at Audubon, says the most rewarding part of last week was seeing an enthusiastic and united group of participants, no matter if they were tuning from their living rooms, home offices, or in the middle of habitat restoration work in the field. In addition to filling up virtual meeting rooms, advocates made their voices heard via online actions and social media—more than 6,000 people told Congress to protect seabirds and more than 10,000 people tuned into Audubon’s seabird webinars on Facebook.

“The really neat thing about our organization is the dedicated participation at all levels. You have our national team dealing with advocacy and campaigns, regional offices focused on the same items and on the ground restoration work, and chapters and key partners doing a little bit of everything,” says Hyun. “It takes that entire suite of people to have success. This is the time where we adapt and seeing all these people in action, during a whole week where we are focused on seabird related issues shows the power of our network.”

Student advocates and fly-in participants Jenni Fuller and Sree Kandhadai embodied that enthusiasm and power from the Audubon network. Though this was their first fly-in, the two felt well equipped in the environmental advocacy arena. As members of Detroit Audubon and San Diego Audubon Society, respectively, Fuller and Kandhadai are engaged in chapter programs that coincided with the theme of last week: seabirds. Fuller, a graduate student at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, is currently assisting Detroit Audubon with Black Tern research. Kandhadai is a sophomore in high school and heard about the fly-in through her involvement in San Diego Audubon Society’s advocacy program.

“I had field work throughout the week so I felt an extra sense of responsibility. In order to better protect seabirds, people in positions of power need to collaborate with scientists on sound laws and policies that address their decline and crisis,” says Fuller.

Hyun, Fuller, Kandhadai, and others’ efforts were felt throughout Capitol Hill last week. Senators and representatives in attendance, like Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) commented that Audubon is “doing such great work” and events like these “really make a difference.” Since this was Audubon’s first virtual national fly-in, Hyun says last week’s efforts will help inform similar events in future and Audubon’s policy priorities for this Congress, or the next.  

“Attending a virtual event like this is so easy and accessible. Think about what you are passionate about and look for ways you can make a concrete difference,” says Kandhadai. There comes a point where you need to take action to protect the things you care about—and for me that is birds.”