The world’s oceans have shown increasing signs of distress in the form of floating garbage islands, a growing number of dead zones, and a climate change symptom known as acidification.
Dead whales have washed ashore this summer, that showed signs of malnutrition from a dwindling food chain in some ocean regions.
On July 19, President Obama issued an Executive Order to establish a policy to protect oceans, coastlines, and the Great Lakes. Ocean Champions claimed the president’s pen-stroke established a policy for oceans similar to the Clean Air act for air and Clean Water Act for water.
Ocean Champions statement:
The President made healthy oceans a national value, and laid out a vision of healthy, safe and productive coasts and oceans for ours and for future generations. This vision now becomes the operational mission of the 20 federal agencies that manage our oceans and coasts, and they will be required to coordinate their efforts under a mandate to protect, maintain and restore ocean health.
This paradigm shift seemed to happen so fast, but it was years in the making. On June 12th, 2009, Obama charged the Interagency Task Force to make recommendations for this policy and how to implement it, and to define a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning. The Task Force, led by CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, did incredible work over the course of the year, engaging a broad array of stakeholder groups and citizens, and delivering the well framed documents that were finalized July 20.
The President’s policy comes from the Final Recommendation of the Ocean Policy Task Force, which resulted in the creation of the National Ocean Council.
However, experts at the Center for Biological Diversity think the new policy doesn't go far enough:
“The policy announced on this week is a good and necessary step toward coordinated planning and conservation, but we have yet to see if it will translate into good management,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of oceans. “We need continued public participation to secure better assurances that decisions under this policy are based on sound science and are made with conservation and restoration as a primary goal and the precautionary principle in mind.”
According to Makashita, the Obama administration’s proposal creates a governance structure for the management of the oceans and sets out a program for marine spatial planning, which, like zoning on land, would designate certain areas for diverse uses such as drilling, fishing, shipping and protection. But the proposal lacks guarantees for conservation and biodiversity protection. And the overwhelming need for prevention of climate change and ocean acidification is also overlooked by the policy. Instead the Obama administration focuses on adapting to these changes, while completely ignoring what we need to do to avoid allowing them to escalate into potentially devastating environmental transformation.
After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, both organizations agree that it is critical to move forward with protections for the ocean’s ecosystems, wildlife, seabirds, and marine life.
***Jean Williams 2010
Primary sources press release from Center for Biological Diversity and Ocean Champion's News letter