Research Library

11 June 2020

Nuestro Océano y la Costa: Latino Connections to the Ocean and Coast

Publishers: Hispanic Access Foundation
Author: Cirse Gonzalez
Topics: Advocacy, Climate Change, Conservation, Latino Involvement
Geographic Focus: National

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The ocean sustains us – individuals, communities, the global society - physically, mentally, spiritually. It regulates our weather and climate, provides for every other breath we take, nourishes us and inspires us. Across seas, people, ideas and goods have traveled, connecting us with each other, with culture and with land. We find solace on its shores, seek pleasures on its waves, and will cure each other employing secrets from the deep.  

Practically speaking, the ocean keeps us safe, fed, clothed and employed. Its coral reefs protect us from storms, as do the adjacent wetlands that filter our waters. There isn’t a facet of our life that isn’t touched by the ocean. 

Yet, we continue to threaten this balance; and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the ocean responds, and it continues to threaten us.

We are changing our ocean. We are polluting it with plastic. We are melting its floating icecaps and provoking it ashore. We are elevating its temperature. Slowly, and steadily. In turn, coastal communities are ever more susceptible to the results: sea level rise, flooding, and coastal disasters. 

These same communities are experiencing significant growth in Latino populations, many of which are among the most vulnerable to coastal threats increasing in severity and frequency.

Combating these threats to the ocean and ourselves using the inherent social capital in these communities is, however, presently complicated by the fact that we know so little about the communities themselves, and that so little is done to involve them in related work.

What we (don’t) know

We know that the U.S. Latino connection to the ocean and coast is strong, historical and intimate. From indigenous settlement to the present day, the ocean has given and taken away, alternately providing food and flood, salary and storm. While vulnerable to nature and vulnerable to the man-made issues carried in its currents and waves, we know that Latinos value our ocean and coasts, and the resources they foster; and we know that Latinos are becoming increasingly concerned with the environment. Moreover, we know that Latinos acknowledge the myriad of reasons to steward our seas; a sentiment that is recognized as fervently in the headwaters as in the tidewaters.  

We know that water, like language, binds Latinos nationwide – connecting inland communities to the shore, physically within watersheds; professionally, as with occupations like agriculture; and tangibly, through recreation and tourism. 

We know that there are existing initiatives dedicated to exploring and fostering the Latino connection to the outdoors and natural resources, including those addressing broad environmental issues like climate change. We also know that there are organizations connecting underrepresented populations, namely coastal youth, to the ocean through science-based education initiatives.

And yet, while Latinos remain a consideration in these efforts, there exist very few endeavors, studies, programs or otherwise, that focus on understanding the Latino-specific connection to the ocean and coast, and/or implement this understanding in their approaches. In the same vein, these initiatives focus on limited sectors of the population, ignoring opportunities to connect with Latinos in industries like service and defense, which are closely linked to the resource - and where a significant portion of Latinos are employed. 

Integrating a nuanced relationship between Latinos and their waters is paramount to successful Latino outreach efforts and first requires addressing significant gaps in our understanding. With this understanding, we can more effectively, for instance, combat barriers to access and address disempowering perceptions, as well as assess our approaches in engaging this target audience in planning processes. While the Latino population continues to grow along the coast, proportionately, their numbers aren’t reflected in studies on coastal access; and it’s not for lack of desire. Understanding their relationship to the coast can help us explain why.

Notably, we don’t know what untapped potential lies in Latino stewardship, political engagement and/or exploration of our seas; we have barely begun to integrate and analyze Latino voices and perspective. 

But we’re learning. And we’re recognizing that we have to do it together. 

Moving forward

HAF recommends a strategy predicated on four pillars of growth: understanding, empowerment, engagement and advocacy, each with specific recommendations focused on Latino community:


  • Recommendation 1: Further research on Latino-specific attitudes, perceptions, values, motivations and resource use regarding the ocean and coast, especially as they relate to vulnerable communities (including climate migrants and temporary workers), is needed to determine: 1) what their relationship with the ocean/coast looks like physically, mentally, emotionally, socio-demographically (including identification of any barriers to entry); 2) how they perceive that relationship evolving (particularly with respect to climate change and increased stressors, as well as with any acculturation experienced as a part of immigration to the U.S.); and 3) how, as a society, we might best equip them for when they arrive.

  • Recommendation 2: Identify and designate new heritage sites and protected areas that preserve the Latino past and/or reflect the Latino present, acknowledging its varied history and identity with respect to coastal resources for future generations.


  • Recommendation 3: Incorporate culturally aware participatory approaches in coastal decision making and land use planning to empower Latino communities.

  • Recommendation 4: Outreach and education efforts focused on the ocean and coast should target those whose service – in hospitality, defense, agriculture, etc. - has an impact on aquatic health.

  • Recommendation 5: Support and strengthen pipelines for Latinos in ocean, coastal and educational careers – from academic to vocational - using immersive methods predicated on cultural understanding and leadership development, including methods that expand awareness of these opportunities.

  • Recommendation 6: Support and connect existing groups though coalitions that leverage the inherent social capital in knowledge transfer, shared experience and influential actors.


  • Recommendation 7: Create Latino-specific outreach efforts and organizations to engage a diversity of Latino community members in ocean and coastal issues.

  • Recommendation 8: Engage Latino communities in ocean and coastal issues through actionable practices including Hispanic Access Foundation’s AVER (Ask, Vote, Educate and Reduce), Let’s Sea Campaign.


  • Recommendation 9: Support watershed-wide and ocean and coastal advocacy efforts that have direct impact on Latino communities, through coalitions of advocates with Latino diversity to promote equitable and innovative solutions.  

This report provides the background on issues relevant to the Latino connection to the ocean and coast, and paves the way for more of the stories, culture, traditions and lived experiences that will help inform and tailor the most effective approaches and practices for the cultivation of resilient environments and communities.

The Spanish version of this report is available here

Last modified on 16 July 2020

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