When it comes to truly knowing and understanding the ocean, divers have a unique perspective; they experience the ocean's wonders and fragility first-hand. It is that knowledge that has compelled 74 members of the U.S. dive community to lend their support to protecting the National Ocean Policy and the National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO), both at risk in Congress now as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) conference. âª
In that conference, members of the House and Senate are reconciling different versions of a water projects bill. But measures that affect oceans have been added to the bills, and the conferees will have to decide what to do about them. The House bill contains an extreme and damaging provision that would block the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the National Ocean Policy, a policy that ensures our oceans are managed responsibly. The provision, which was passed in a largely partisan vote by the House, would prevent the Corps from implementing key elements of the National Ocean Policy involving smart ocean planning and ecosystem-based management. In contrast, the Senate bill moves ocean protections forward, establishing a much-needed National Endowment for the Oceans to improve ocean health and support ocean jobs and wildlife. NEO would authorize grants to states, regional and tribal entities, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions to support efforts to conserve and restore ocean resources.
In addition, both bills have provisions weakening the basic law that requires review of projects for their environmental impacts. Those changes would make it harder for citizens to comment on and alter damaging projects. âª
Divers know that these negotiations could mean real impacts to marine systems. Sylvia Earle has led more than a hundred ocean expeditions and is currently Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. In 1979, she walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any living human being before or since. Dr. Earle has described our oceans as the “blue heart of the planet.” This week, she joined others — including explorer, environmental advocate and social entrepreneur Philippe Cousteau, Jr. and famed photojournalist Brian Skerry — to send a letter to key members of Congress who are WRDA conferees with a strong message to protect the precious ocean resources they value.
As they immerse themselves in rarely seen marine worlds, divers become essential emissaries for our precious ocean resources. And today they are delivering a clear message to Congress, asking for leadership to protect our oceans and coasts. To answer this call, Congress must protect the National Ocean Policy and support the National Endowment for the Oceans, safeguarding our oceans so that divers can continue to inspire us with their work and stories for generations to come.