By Michael Conathan, CAP’s Director of Ocean Policy at American Progress
One of the cornerstone recommendations of both the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy whose reports were published in 2003 and 2005 respectively, was the institution of a national ocean policy to harmonize the responsibilities of the multitude of federal agencies with jurisdiction over some aspect of ocean management. Last year, President Obama announced such a policy and the creation of a National Ocean Council tasked with its implementation.
Particularly in today’s political climate when Bill Clinton’s campaign catch phrase, “it’s the economy, stupid” seems once again to be the order of the day, some may wonder how the oceans fit into the conversation. Well, the reality is U.S. coastal counties are home to more than half of all Americans, generate an estimated $8 trillion dollars per year, and support 69 million jobs. But declining ocean health and a lack of effective coordination among regional groups, states and federal bodies is putting this great economic engine at risk.
In response, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, comprised of members from both ocean commissions, released a report, America’s Ocean Future: Ensuring Healthy Oceans to Support a Vibrant Economy.
Made public last week for World Oceans Day, this document examines the effect of current ocean management practices and calls for full implementation of the National Ocean Policy. As co-chair and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Bill Ruckleshaus said at the report’s roll-out yesterday, “our oceans are in trouble, and they’re not going to get better by just staring at them. It will require intense coordinated effort.”
The report calls for enhanced coordination among agencies and with the general public. Such efforts should acknowledge that all elements of the marine environment are linked and that their management must account not just for a single, stove-piped activity, but also how that action will affect the ecosystem and other potential uses of ocean space.
This approach is a key element of the National Ocean Policy and that will work to strengthen communication and coordination between all those who play a part in ocean management at the local, state, regional and national levels to ensure that ocean economies continue to support American jobs and a high quality of life.
Even in today’s belt-tightening times, we must not forget the age-old adage of business and industry: you have to spend money to make money. Wise investment in the future of our oceans will provide a tune-up for our marine economic engine that will keep it running smoothly for future generations. On the other hand, neglecting routine maintenance and upkeep to save a few dollars in the short run will inevitably prove disastrous later on.
This is why both Ruckleshaus and his co-chair, former Secretary of Commerce and Transportation, Norman Mineta, expressed strong support for a dedicated stream of ocean funding like that proposed by Senators Whitehouse (D, RI) and Snowe (R, ME) in their National Endowment for the Oceans Act.
If we accept the premise that we’re all connected by our oceans and coasts, then state, regional and federal collaboration on ocean management is a logical step to ensuring we manage our resources effectively. Yet, without assured, ongoing financial support such policies will be doomed to failure.
Ocean health is not just an environmental issue; it is a key economic driver for our country. It’s critical that we make the necessary investments to effectively manage and coordinate our efforts to sustain U.S. oceans and coasts so they can continue to work for us and for the economy.
– Michael Conathan