As Americans nationwide pack up and head toward the beach this summer, a timely new report has been issued about ways of improving the management of our ocean resources. With smart, practical recommendations for strengthening the health of our ocean resources and economy, the report offers President Obama and Congress a reason to dive in and take action on behalf of our oceans.
The report was released yesterday by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. Formed in 2005, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative has served as a respected bipartisan effort to encourage ocean policy reform at the national, regional, and state levels. The current co-chairs are the Honorable William Ruckelshaus, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Richard Nixon, and the Honorable Norman Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton.
The Initiative's report prioritizes areas where President Obama and Congress should act to make significant short-term improvements to our ocean management. These categories include making our coastal communities and ocean ecosystems more resilient amid a changing climate; promoting renewable energy development; supporting state and regional efforts to better manage ocean and coastal resources; and improving research and management of the fragile Arctic region.
These recommendations come at an important time, as the ocean faces more stress than ever. Our ocean continues to absorb much of the carbon dioxide pollution being added to our atmosphere, making the water more acidic, weakening the shells of ocean creatures, and harming coral, the backbone of many ocean ecosystems. Excess nutrient pollution is fueling dead zones off our coast, while oil drilling continues to bring the risk of catastrophic spills, as we saw in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The report calls on the Administration and Congress to take action to better measure and assess the threat of ocean acidification, better understand the potential impacts, and develop mechanisms to address the problem. This is incredibly important, as we have yet to fully understand the impacts of our changing ocean chemistry, which could have large-scale impacts on ocean food webs, biodiversity, and overall ocean health. The Administration and Congress need to increase funding for scientific research and monitoring in order to better understand the challenges ocean acidification poses to economically and ecologically valuable marine resources (for example, shellfish resources and coral reefs) and to determine if there are ways to mitigate the impacts.
The report calls on the Administration and Congress to support multi-state regional ocean partnerships. The Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states, together with federally-recognized tribes and federal agency representatives, have recently formed Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) to plan ahead for ocean protection and sustainable management . These RPBs, with input from local governments, industries, fishermen, conservationists and others, will identify which ocean areas are appropriate for different industrial uses and which ocean areas are in need of protection. This kind of advance planning can help protect ocean health as our oceans experience ever more use and development.
Another important recommendation is that the Administration and Congress accelerate ocean renewable energy development by providing adequate and stable financial and tax incentives and a fair and efficient regulatory structure. The report recommends support for state- and region-led efforts that facilitate efficient siting of projects that meet energy objectives while protecting existing uses of the ocean and important ecosystem features.
The Administration has made great strides forward in ocean health by setting in motion the National Ocean Policy to coordinate all federal agencies with jurisdiction over ocean activities into a National Ocean Council and encouraging regions to form RPBs. The Council’s first implementation plan has set in motion actions to address ocean acidification, sea level rise, coastal and ocean resilience, among other efforts.
But much remains to be done. The bipartisan recommendations are a helpful aid as Congress and the Administration move forward to restore and protect our ocean health, strengthen ocean-dependent economies, and safeguard our coastal communities from a changing climate.