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January 2014 Issue

Time to Chart a New Course For the Health of Our Oceans

By Norman Y. Mineta
Co-Chair, Joint Ocean Commission Initiative;
Former Secretary of Commerce, Transportation

We are an ocean nation, and it is our responsibility to ensure proper management of our ocean resources. The health of our oceans and coasts is inextricably linked to the health of our economy—whether through tourism, fishing, energy development, storm protection or transportation—as well as the quality of life for millions of coastal residents. However, expanding uses of our oceans and along our coasts, coupled with changing conditions of our climate, are putting more pressure on the oceans than ever before. Unfortunately, these pressures jeopardize the ability of our oceans and coasts to continue to provide the goods and services Americans need and enjoy.

Addressing the Problems
In early 2013 the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a bipartisan group of senior leaders representing diverse interests in our oceans, convened a group of more than 100 leaders representing ocean- and coastal-related industries, environmental advocacy organizations, science and educational groups, and state and federal government representatives to address concerns about these growing pressures. Informed by input from that meeting, the Joint Initiative developed and released its latest report, 'Charting the Course: Securing the Future of America's Ocean,' available at http://t.co/8fMxoHYevO. The report identifies realistic and actionable recommendations for the presidential administration and Congress to implement in the next two to four years. The recommendations focus on four priority actions.

Action one is to enhance coastal communities' and ocean ecosystems' resiliency to dramatic changes underway in our oceans and on our coasts. The human, economic and environmental tolls of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and other severe weather events have been devastating. In addition to these disasters, our coastal communities and ocean-related industries are hurt by chronic changes, including sea level rise, ocean acidification and the loss of critical habitat. To address the impacts of these changing conditions, the administration and Congress must provide solutions to enhance the resiliency of our coastal communities and ecosystems. This includes supporting research to better understand and assess these changes, restoring important natural features, such as sand dunes and wetlands, and upgrading critical man-made coastal infrastructure, such as ports, roads and bridges, and wastewater treatment facilities. In addition, the Joint Initiative recommends increased support for the construction and operation of ships, buoys, cabled observatories, planes, underwater observing and monitoring hardware, and other necessary infrastructure so that we can better understand the changes underway in our oceans and protect the resources on which coastal and ocean industries rely.

Action two is to promote ocean renewable energy development and reinvest in our oceans. With two successful offshore wind lease sales this past summer and more to come, the U.S. has an opportunity to be a leader in promoting ocean renewable energy development as a safe, environmentally responsible and economical energy source. In order to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy and other renewable energy sources, the Joint Initiative calls on the administration and Congress to provide adequate financial and tax incentives for companies working to develop these technologies. The Joint Initiative also supports the establishment of a dedicated ocean investment fund that would use a portion of the revenues from offshore commercial energy projects—including oil and gas, and wind energy—to support ocean and coastal science, management and ecosystem restoration efforts to help managers and commercial interests make the best possible decisions up and down the coasts.

Action three is to support state and regional ocean and coastal priorities. Because ocean ecosystems span jurisdictional lines, it is imperative that federal, state and tribal governments work collaboratively at a multistate or regional scale to ensure more effective ocean management. One way to increase that kind of collaboration is through regional ocean planning, which enables more effective coordination of data across jurisdictions, greater engagement of ocean and coastal stakeholders, and improved decision making about ocean and coastal resources and priority economic drivers. Private sector engagement is critical to the success of these efforts and can lead to new partnerships and opportunities, resulting in less conflict among competing uses. The Joint Initiative calls on the administration and Congress to provide additional financial and technical assistance to support the continued success of these regional efforts.

Action four is to improve Arctic research and management. The changing conditions in the Arctic will mean increased commercial activities and exploration that will impact that unique and fragile ecosystem. While this provides new economic opportunities to the region, we must ensure that such activities are carried out in a safe and responsible manner. To address this need, the Joint Initiative believes we need to make critical improvements to Arctic observing systems and infrastructure. In addition, the administration and Congress should increase funding for federal agencies such as the Coast Guard, Department of the Interior and NOAA so that commercial entities can operate safely in the region and ensure effective disaster response. While the U.S. continues exploring economic opportunities in the region, so, too, are other Arctic countries. The Joint Initiative believes that the U.S. can be an international leader in the Arctic when it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015 and by acceding to the Law of the Sea Convention.

Moving Forward
From providing food for millions of Americans, to transporting goods, to being a source of clean energy, our oceans and coasts will always be integral to our country's economic stability and growth, as well as to the ecological health of the planet. If we are to ensure the long-term sustainable use of our oceans, we must manage them carefully through strong science and sound policies.

The continued health and productivity of our oceans is important to everyone. We encourage you to become engaged at the national, regional and state levels to be part of ensuring that our oceans continue to be productive and beneficial to all.

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.