My Volunteer Journal: Episode 30 – Speaking Up for MPAs and Putting My Big Mouth to Good Use

ocean1I don’t relish the idea of speaking in front of people. This might sound strange coming from an actor, but when I act I’m reading lines, and I’m a character, not myself. Irrational?  Yes, but that’s how I’ve managed to perform over and over again in front of thousands of people. When Heal the Bay contacted me to join them at a public hearing, and speak in support Marine Protection Areas (MPAs)* in Southern California, I thought they were joking. I’m not a scientist, certainly not an ocean expert. At most I am a surfer, and a bad one at that. What could I possibly say to help their cause?

Heal the Bay had joined forces with Bay Keeper, The Ocean Conservancy and other ocean protection groups to make a big appearance at a Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting on July 28th. The meeting would be full of MPA decision makers like the Department of Fish and Game as well as MPA opponents like some private and commercial fishermen.

Because I thought they weren’t really serious about me speaking I didn’t prepare anything to say. I arrived at the hotel where the meeting was being held and marched straight up to the women in charge, “I will cede my time to a scientist so they have more time to speak.” She smiled and handed me a comment card. “That’s kind of you,” she said. “We’ve already had a lot of people cede their time so say anything you would like. We need people to voice their support.”


The meeting was in full swing when I crept into the ballroom. I found a seat in the front row next to an extremely well pulled together woman. She looked like the kind of woman who should speak at these meetings. She was official, had logoed folders and letters, nice business cards, a suit and heals. I had some knitting to practice, a mystery novel, my acting cards with my blog address scribbled on the back, a wrinkled t-shirt and tennis shoes.

As the floor was open to public speakers person after person in support of the MPAs went to the podium to speak. Scientists extolled facts and statistics, cute little kids and grandfathers stated their cases. As the name of each new speaker was read out I prayed that it wasn’t mine. What was I going to say? Don’t call my name. Don’t call my name. Don’t call my name.

But they did call my name. I had to speak after a series of recreational fishermen stood up to say that MPAs would ruin their weekend (Okay, I’m being mean, but if you break it down…). Oddly enough these sports anglers helped me figure out what to say.

My statement was in no way perfect. To the best of my memory I believe I said something like this (the italics indicate what I was thinking at the moment the words exploded from my mouth):

“Hi my name is Raegan Payne I’m the founder and creator of” Founder and Creator are same thing you idiot.

“But I come here today as an El Porto surfer. We are very lucky to surf with a pod of dolphins at El Porto. I love my dolphins.” They are not your dolphins moron and that last statement was unnecessary and silly. Ugg, I look horrible on the monitors.

“If someone told me tomorrow that I had to stop surfing to save the dolphins at El Porto I would do it.” True statement.

“Sometimes, we have to make necessary sacrifices to save something precious because there are some things that once you loose them, no matter how much you want to, you can’t get them back.” Run On. Great use of the word thing.

“MPAs work.” Almost non sequitur, but important. Leave. Sit down.

I don’t think anyone knew I had finished because I didn’t say, “Thank you.” I scurried back to my seat quickly so I could see if there was a place to hide in my bag. My heart was thumping and the entire room appeared to be tilting. Five minutes later I snuck out of the meeting. I had to go home. I thought I was going to throw up.

Some people stopped me as I raced towards the elevator. They said they really liked my statement about personal sacrifice. I did my nervous fast talking thing, handed them a tattered business card, and then I flew into the elevator as the doors opened.

The result of the meeting was that the Blue Ribbon Task Force (sounds state fair organization doesn’t it?) decided that all MPAs in Southern California must, at minimum, meet all the scientific recommendations. This important victory means that if MPAs are adopted in So Cal they will be large enough to be effective.

Several steps still lay in the way of making MPAs a reality here. If you want to help protect marine habitat for future generations go to

* “These underwater parks will help ocean habitats and wildlife recover and thrive, while encouraging recreation and scientific study.” –