As our government officials finally move beyond election season rhetoric and preoccupation, it’s time to start looking forward. For our oceans and all those who depend on them, that means continuing down the path of smart, ocean management that will protect important ecological and economic ocean resources now and into the future.
Earlier this year, we celebrated the two-year anniversary of our first-ever National Ocean Policy, the landmark policy recommended by two bipartisan commissions and set in motion by President Obama. As Juliet Eilperin wrote recently in the Washington Post, this important policy is already clearing up confusion and conflict when it comes to ocean management. By helping coordinate the 27 federal entities that govern our oceans—often with conflicting interests and mandates—the National Ocean Policy is making our government smarter, leaner, and more effective in managing our oceans.
And that means big benefits for all of us. With Americans nationwide looking for economic growth and job recovery, the National Ocean policy gives us a toolkit to help. Smart ocean planning will strengthen our economy by optimizing profits and minimizing losses. A recent study in Massachusetts illustrates this well: in comparison with the business-as-usual approach, smart planning for the siting of offshore wind turbines would reduce losses for commercial fishermen and whale-watching businesses, while generating more than $10 billion in extra value for the wind energy sector by placing the turbines in the best locations.
With all we demand of our oceans—from fishing and tourism to shipping and energy development—it’s important that we minimize these industries’ impacts on each other and on the health of ocean fish and wildlife. Rep. Edward Markey from Massachusetts, the leading Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, perhaps said it best: “opposing ocean planning is like opposing air traffic control: You can do it, but it will cause a mess or lead to dire consequences.”
Soon, the National Ocean Council is expected to release its final implementation plan—a blueprint for how we’ll tackle the major threats facing our oceans, from climate change and ocean acidification to pollution and habitat destruction. This includes making our coastal communities more resilient, as we face rising sea levels and destructive weather events like Hurricane Sandy. Government leaders will also soon release a comprehensive handbook for coastal and marine spatial planning—the “air traffic control” principle that can guide us as we continue to develop our oceans.
So, with the election behind us, it’s time for our elected officials to put the rhetoric aside and come together in favor of government efficiency and responsible ocean planning. Furthering the National Ocean Policy with proper funding and support for implementation, will keep us moving toward healthier ocean resources, more resilient coastal communities, and a stronger economy to benefit us all. That’s the progress we need to see.