New National Ocean Policy Will Help Protect the "Blue Heart of the Planet"

Tomorrow evening at the Commonwealth Club of California, the Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco will be discussing the Obama administration's national ocean policy.

Just as we have the Clean Water Act for our water and the Clean Air Act for our air, we now have a bedrock environmental policy like this for our oceans. On July 19, President Obama signed an executive order that created a national ocean policy to protect and restore our oceans and that created a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning.

This is a huge step forward in ocean protection and a cause for hope for all who use and love our threatened oceans. We demand a lot from our oceans - from fishing to shipping and energy development - and we must develop better, more sustainable, ways to manage the increasing amount of industrial pressure and “ocean sprawl” on our seas so that they can continue to provide the food, jobs, and recreation we rely on. The national ocean policy will help coordinate efforts to reduce pollution and protect marine life, so that beaches are clean and fish and wildlife abundant. It will help us combat traditional stresses like nutrient pollution and overfishing and face serious new challenges like ocean acidification.

Thanks to this new policy, the more than 20 different federal agencies that oversee activities affecting the sea (which are governed by more than 140 laws), now have to coordinate their efforts to ensure protection of the oceans. Most Americans understandably think a basic policy like this already existed – just as so many believed companies knew how to safely drill off our shores – but there was no requirement that agencies work together to protect one of our greatest natural resources until now.

Under the executive order, federal and state government, businesses, fisheries managers and conservation groups will soon have the opportunity to work together on “coastal and marine spatial plans” – essentially regional blueprints of offshore areas where industrial uses make sense, and areas that should be set off limits. When marine spatial planning is based on environmental protection, it allows human uses of the ocean to co-exist, while protecting the environment.

Recently, NRDC sat down with famed oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle to discuss the importance of our oceans and the national ocean policy. She described the “blue heart of the planet” – our oceans – as our life support system. Her hope is that the new policy will help us transcend our old ways of thinking that the ocean is mainly a place for commodities and that we will learn to protect and restore the important ecologically essential hotspots in the ocean – like spawning areas and migration paths – that help keep the oceans, and us, alive.

As we begin planning the future of our offshore resources, it’s critical that we keep Dr. Earle’s words in mind. We must ensure that the foundation for all offshore planning is ocean protection because our oceans are the heart of our planet – and what keep us alive.