January 2014 Issue
Implementing National Ocean Policy, Cleaning Up and Monitoring the Ocean
If 2012 was a tropical storm in terms of ocean funding, 2013 was a hurricane. Republicans in Congress continued to push back against the implementation of President Barack Obama’s National Ocean Policy, looking at ways to defund or delay it. Additionally, the sequestration forced many ocean-related agencies to further cut their budgets. The government shutdown in October forced NOAA to temporarily close many of its programs, interrupting vital research and disrupting many local economies.
Yet, despite these obstacles, we still saw many ocean policy successes in the past year.
National Ocean Policy
The biggest ocean news of 2013 in Washington was the April release of the White House’s Final Implementation Plan of the National Ocean Policy. This plan demonstrates the president’s commitment to promoting the economic strength of our ocean economy while simultaneously ensuring we promote the long-term health of our greatest natural resource.
The plan does not create new regulations; instead it focuses on improving coordination between the various ocean-related government agencies at the local, state and national levels. Grounded in science, the plan takes an ecosystem-based approach to effectively manage the ocean. This science-based approach will improve our ability to plan smartly to grow our ocean economy, promote ocean health and ensure widespread access to the benefits our ocean resources have to offer. The plan also promotes the importance of coastal and ocean data collection systems to make sure that science is accurate.
At the very end of 2012, President Obama signed the Marine Debris Act, legislation I offered to permanently fund NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. This legislation provides the Marine Debris Program with the ongoing funding it needs to combat the 14 billion pounds of trash that end up in our ocean each year.
Additionally, the legislation redefined marine debris as any trash that ends up in our oceans, not just debris that originates from a boat. This new definition will allow NOAA to better develop strategies to reduce the amount of trash in our oceans.
With permanent funding now in place, NOAA was able to spend 2013 combating the growing threat of marine debris. The problem has had a detrimental effect on aquatic ecosystems, impacting 267 species and killing more than 100,000 marine mammals each year. Marine debris damages local economies dependent upon healthy beaches for tourism, damages marine vessels and creates numerous obstacles for the fishing industry. The problem only grew worse with recent natural disasters including the tsunami that hit Japan and Hurricane Sandy that affected the U.S. northeast.
This year, the increasing levels of ocean acidification have forced Congress to look for new solutions to solve the issue. Ocean acidification is the result of increased carbon emissions and land-based runoff absorbed by the ocean. The problem was not on anyone’s radar 5 to 10 years ago, but thanks to a better scientific understanding, we now know it is one of the biggest threats facing our oceans. Ocean acidification is not a problem in the distant future; it is right here, right now.
Ocean acidification has already had an impact on our economy. Due to weaker shells, the $270 million West Coast shellfish industry experienced significant production failures and near collapse. On the East Coast, the industry is reporting weaker shells as well, prompting Maine to pass a resolution that recognizes the growing problem.
I am working with other members of Congress to update the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act to better deal with ocean acidification. In the meantime, we have increased funding in fiscal year 2013 to tackle the issue and plan even more funding for fiscal year 2014.
What Lies Ahead
With rising levels of ocean acidification, growing amounts of marine debris and numerous other threats facing our oceans, 2014 will be a crucial year in the effort to better manage our marine environments. The best tool we have to fight these threats is through Obama’s National Ocean Policy.
For too long, the management of our oceans was handled by a confusing and often competing mix of federal agencies. This plan finally gets all of the relevant federal agencies on the same page, allowing them to coordinate their missions and provide for more efficient stewardship of our oceans. It also opens the lines of communications between the federal government and the states and local communities that are directly impacted.
This is where the real strengths of the National Ocean Policy lie. As we move the discussion away from the politically charged atmosphere of Washington to the regions where true implementation can occur, our country will begin to feel the real effects of the new policy.
By working together and taking a holistic, science-based approach to the management of our marine ecosystems, we will not only build a stronger economy now but will ensure the oceans’ long-term sustainability to benefit future generations.
I look forward to continue working to implement President Obama’s plan in 2014 and beyond.