New National Policy Strengthens Ocean Conservation
July 19 marked an important day for ocean policy in the United States: after a yearlong process of public meetings, research, and reporting, the Obama Administration's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force released its Final Recommendations. These recommendations call for a new National Ocean Policy and the establishment of a National Ocean Council to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes. President Obama signed an executive order to implement the recommendations on the same day.
The United States has never before had a unified policy addressing the many activities taking place in the ocean, along our coasts, and in the Great Lakes. At the time the new policy went into effect, the country had more than 140 different—and often conflicting—laws pertaining to ocean management, which were overseen by twenty different agencies. The new policy provides a comprehensive structure for governing our interactions with the ocean, with an important focus on sustainability, conservation, and stewardship. Furthermore, it recognizes the interconnectedness of all of our water- and land-based activities, as well as the need to consider the ocean's value more prominently in the country's policies. As the policy states:
America's stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically and intimately linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental changes, social justice, international diplomacy, and national and homeland security. (p. 14)
One of the key aspects of the new ocean policy is its explicit focus on building resiliency in marine ecosystems, communities, and economies—CORAL's core objective. Recognizing the ocean's central role in shaping the Earth's climate and influencing climate variability, in addition to the impact of increasing carbon dioxide levels on marine ecosystem health, the policy calls for the development of strategies that will increase the resiliency and adaptation of marine and coastal ecosystems to climate change and ocean acidification. Specifically, the policy calls for further research and modeling, better integration of ocean and coastal science into the broader climate dialogue, and science-based changes in management to support resiliency.
This new national policy should generate increased support for the resiliency-building activities that CORAL advocates and puts into practice. Of course, the challenge of implementing the new policy efficiently and effectively still remains, and gaining bi-partisan support for meaningful action will be difficult. However, the successful creation of this policy is a crucial first step in improving the country's stewardship of our marine resources.
Photo by Liz Foote / Hawaii