The following is a guest essay by Kevin Essington, director of government relations and communications for The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island.

The ocean freighter, nearly as long as three football fields and weighing as much as all the cars in the city, ties up at the Port of Providence in Rhode Island. This freighter is delivering home heating oil for the state.

Tugboats and tenders gently guide another freighter into the port an hour later. Recreational boaters glide back and forth in the foreground. It’s a typical scene in a typical American port: over 8.4 million people work in ports in America.

Our oceans are central to our economy. And not just for shipping, but for food, energy, medicine, and fun. Tourism alone is a $6.6 billion industry here in the Ocean State.

Isn’t it time we gave something back to the oceans?

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Olympia Snow of Maine have teamed up with their colleagues from the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes and the Pacific to introduce a bill that would establish the National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO).

NEO could provide over $1 billion a year for protection, research, and restoration grants all across our oceans and Great Lakes without raising taxes or impacting other important marine programs.

Rather, NEO would be funded by revenues generated by impacts to our oceans, such as royalty fees for offshore oil and gas development and fines from pollution violations.

The needs for this funding are numerous. Consider the plight of the Northeast Corridor of Amtrak, which carries hundreds of thousands of passengers just ten feet or so above Long Island Sound in some places. If seas rise 2 meters in our children’s lifetime, as a recent report suggested, then this very busy train line is in for some major delays. NEO would provide funding for relocating critical infrastructure away from the threats of sea level rise.

And consider the situation further offshore. One answer to reducing pollution from fossil fuel power plants is to build wind power farms 20 miles from land.

These stretches of ocean or lakes are not empty, but are in fact very busy; fishing, shipping, boating and diving occur almost everywhere on open waters.

Planning for renewable energy development promotes jobs and a cleaner environment, and NEO would provide the funds needed to get it started.

Of course, our understanding of the oceans remains dim in many places. In order to make the right decisions we need to know how pollutants and nutrients impact our fisheries, how storms might be more effectively buffered by marshes instead of expensive sea walls, and how increasing acidity of our oceans could impact the base of the marine food chain. NEO would provide grants to universities to answer these questions.

We urge Senators from all coastal states to co-sponsor this important legislation. These busy oceans support us all, and occasionally we make mistakes in them. Sometimes they’re small; sometimes they’re at the scale of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Let’s put something good back into the water. Let’s pass the National Endowment for the Oceans Act.

(Image: The Kota Tampan is guided by tug boat. Image credit: wirralwater/Flickr via a Creative Contents license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. i think this is a great idea i live in maryland right on the bay and im fed up of with all the pollution in oceans. this would be a great start to helping solve this problem.

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