Our ocean makes up more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface; its health drives the future of our planet. The ocean generates half of the Earth’s oxygen, provides a critical source of protein and a way of life for billions of people, contributes trillions of dollars to the world economy, and is home to much of this planet’s life. And of course, our ocean is a time-honored place to escape the stresses of everyday life alongside crashing waves.
Standing at the shoreline, the ocean looks vast and capable of absorbing anything thrown its way. But the reality is different. As a recent report made clear, our ocean is faltering. And it’s going to take all of us working together to solve crushing problems harming marine life like pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.
That’s why I’m grateful for a new bipartisan bill, the Regional Ocean Partnership Act, which is advancing in the U.S. Senate as S. 2166 (sponsored by Senator Wicker and co-sponsored by Senators Jones, Cassidy, Collins, Cantwell, Markey, Kennedy, Murphy, and Merkley) and a nearly identical bill, H.R. 5390, in the U.S. House of Representatives (sponsored by Representative Crist and co-sponsored by Representatives Palazzo, Lowenthal, Smith, Carbajal, Pingree, and Fitzpatrick).
Regional ocean partnerships (ROPs), comprised of state and federal agencies, fisheries managers, and Native American tribes, help better coordinate shared responses to critical ocean issues that extend beyond individual state boundaries. This coordination is particularly critical in the era of climate change, and as demand for offshore resources increases.
Built from the ground up, partnerships like the Northeast Regional Ocean Council and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean help develop cross-jurisdictional ocean management solutions and conduct regional research. For example, Mid-Atlantic partners have been working to improve our understanding of climate change’s impact on the region’s fish and shellfish populations and have helped lay important groundwork to identify indicators of ocean health that can help us know how well-prepared our ocean systems are in the face of coming climate changes.
ROPs play leading roles in the creation and upkeep of regional ocean data portals. These portals, like the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, display maps—created from scientific community and stakeholder data—which show the natural areas that help keep our ocean system functioning and existing and proposed ocean uses. The portals allow for improved understanding of ocean use synergies and trade-offs. These data portals are valuable tools providing all of us, from state to federal managers, businesses to environmental planners, the information we need to make better-informed and quicker decisions.
ROP work has widespread appeal and bipartisan support, but regions need a consistent funding source to continue. Expanded federal support for regional work would help strengthen state-led collaborative efforts and allow for greater stakeholder engagement. By formalizing Regional Ocean Partnerships and establishing a new funding stream dedicated to the ROP work, S. 2166/H.R. 5390 advances the smart, effective efforts to conserve ocean health underway across the country.
Opportunities for state and federal coordination will only continue to increase in the face of our changing climate, and formal recognition of the ROPs and establishment of a separate, new funding stream to consistently help advance ROP work is needed. Join NRDC by contacting your representatives to add your voice to those in support of S. 2166/H.R. 5390.
Our ocean needs all of us working together. The Regional Ocean Partnership Act helps foster this collaboration, and needs our support.