While the clock ticks away through the House Republican shutdown of the federal government, political gamesmanship translates into real impacts to our environment, oceans and the resources we rely on. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency we depend on to understand and protect our oceans, is working with a skeleton crew, and many of the services we count on are being disrupted.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the NOAA website is operating at minimum capacity; in fact, when you try to access standard information about ocean or coastal pollution, for example, you are redirected to a page that informs you there is no website to be found at http://governmentshutdown.noaa.gov/.
Most significantly, many essential ocean science and monitoring activities have come to a halt. Many fisheries laboratories at NOAA are closed, except a few that must be open for activities such as keeping animals alive. Important research collection from cruise ships has also stopped as most government cruises have been docked. Apparently, ships that were out in the middle of a research cruise were directed to head to the nearest port with directions that all scientific crews must return home. This is a huge loss of critical data and colossal waste of money.
We rely on NOAA to help manage our fisheries as well. To do this, NOAA conducts fishery stock assessments that provide fisheries managers with the information that is used in the protection of our nation’s fish stocks. During the shutdown, stock assessments are not being conducted. In addition, independent fishery surveys that feed into stock assessments are not occurring. These independent surveys are the gold standard for data collection and are the backbone of knowing how sustainable our fisheries really are. A disruption to this data collection could have far reaching impacts.
And it isn’t just marine science and fisheries data that are being slashed. Offshore renewable energy projects are grinding to a halt as well. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) manages the development of offshore energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. During this shutdown, offshore renewable energy activities, including leasing federal land for offshore wind projects and management of environmental assessments, have stopped. No new environmental studies can be initiated. These environmental studies generate information that we need to protect our health and environment.
As we wait for this stalemate to end, it’s worth remembering how much we rely on the federal agencies to help protect and manage our precious resources. And politics is no excuse for suspending these critical programs.