A Sea Change We Can Believe In

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Published on June 16th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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On December 21, 2008, President Obama said, “Science holds the key to our survival as a planet.”

And then he backed that up by appointing Jane Lubchenco to head up NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Dr. Lubchenco is one of the most distinguished marine ecologists of this century, and I’m thrilled to see her take the helm.

Now there’s even more good news for oceans: on June 12, the Obama Administration announced plans to establish an interagency ocean policy task force that will help better protect the health of our oceans through more efficient ocean planning.

The Nature Conservancy is already actively involved in an exciting new approach to ocean conservation called marine spatial planning, and we’re hosting a series of workshops about the topic around the country.

Marine spatial planning is about mapping the most critical ocean places for people and for nature, and using map overlays to identify compatibilities and conflicts.

We think it holds a lot of promise for untangling complex issues and ensuring that the ocean continues to provide the kinds of goods and services that people want and need. So much depends on healthy and sustained oceans: seagrasses, sea horses, whales, nice things delivered by ships from distant lands, fish chowder, offshore wind energy… the list could go on.

The workshops are also helping us get critical feedback on a project that Conservancy staff and partners have been working on for two years — a comprehensive assessment of the locations of marine habitats and species along North America’s Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to the Bay of Fundy in Canada. During the next month or two, we will be working with partners to further summarize the maps and data to reveal potential solutions for today’s marine conservation challenges.

As the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Joint Ocean Commission made clear, coherent and sustainable ocean resource management has been stymied by incomplete coordination within and between the over twenty different federal agencies that are concerned with ocean resource management and science. These agencies have different and sometimes overlapping missions and there has been no consistent federal ocean vision and policy to harmonize their efforts for the good of the ocean. Policy analysts call this a “silo problem.”

At the closing moments of one recent workshop, a happy cheer for the ocean erupted when an email was received from Obama’s lead environmental policy shop, the Council on Environmental Quality. The email contained an official memorandum from President Obama directing all the federal agencies with an interest in ocean issues to participate in a task force to develop recommendations for a National Ocean Policy and to include a framework for agency coordination and implementation strategies within 90 days.

Within an additional 90 days, the task force will be recommending a new framework for effective marine spatial planning.

This is the change we have been waiting for, and we will have all hands on deck to help as needed.

(Image: Gulls flock in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Ami Vitale.)

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