Ocean Health on the Horizon with Ocean Planning Efforts and Limits on Carbon Pollution

Earlier this week, my son’s preschool class read a poem that, to me, strikes a special chord. 

If you haven’t read it in a while “Where the Sidewalk Ends” encourages us to “Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black” and walk toward a place where “grass grows soft.”

And I think that perfectly fits the historic news announced Monday – the Environmental Protection Agency’s new limits on carbon pollution

Explaining climate change to a three-year-old was out of the question so I told him how a decision had been made to help protect the Earth’s health and everyone that lives here. And it will help the entire planet – while much of the focus has been on the affect that this carbon pollution limit will have on land, this action is also excellent news for our oceans.

Scientists have discovered that our oceans absorb carbon dioxide, which helps slow global warming. However, we now know that our industrialized world is dumping too much carbon into the oceans – more than it can handle. Here’s the basic chemistry: carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater forming carbonic acid, and increasing amounts of this weak acid is progressively making our oceans more acidic. As the pH of ocean waters decreases, many shellfish and corals have a more difficult time building their shells. Since shellfish form the base of the ocean food chain, impacts there could ripple upwards fast, resulting in problems for those animals – including us – who dine on seafood. Reducing carbon pollution will help stem ocean acidification and prevent catastrophic changes in the ocean environment.  

Only a healthy ocean can continue to provide the food, jobs and recreation we want and need. We must address carbon pollution. And we must also take action to ensure that as our ocean waters struggle with serious problems like climate change and ocean acidification, we don’t overwhelm our oceans’ ability to take care of us. That requires planning ahead to protect ocean health as increased shipping, offshore wind, sand mining and other uses escalate. If we fail to plan, we are essentially planning to fail.

President Obama just declared June to be national oceans month, stating: “Americans look to the oceans as natural treasures, a source of food and energy, and a foundation for our way of life … This month, we reaffirm our responsibility to keep our oceans and coastal ecosystems healthy and resilient.”

Here in the Mid-Atlantic, representatives from the states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, federal agencies with ocean responsibilities, the Shinnecock Indian Nation and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council have been working hard to develop a coordinated ocean plan to guide protection of our region’s ocean resources and their sustainable use.

All of us who love the ocean have an important role to play in development of this new plan. Watch this video to learn more about the online toolkit that’s been developed to help planners understand all of the various uses – like fishing, shipping, boating and energy – happening offshore and consider signing up to participate on a webinar on July 1 and the first Tuesday of every month after that to learn more about how to use the online tools.


“Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein 

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

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