President Obama has announced the creation of a 23-member federal task force to establish a comprehensive US Ocean Policy that “will incorporate ecosystem-based science and management and emphasize our public stewardship responsibilities.” Led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, members of the task force include the Navy, Coast Guard and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The task force has been divided into five working groups on public engagement, policy, governance, implementation and marine spatial planning. An initial report came out in September and includes prescriptions for the content of a unified Ocean Policy. Public meetings have been held and a blueprint for implementing the Policy is scheduled for publication by year end.
AWI welcomes this ambitious initiative, and we hope that it will result in a roadmap for saving our oceans. While we depend on the oceans for food, energy, raw materials, trade, health, recreation, and security, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve marine ecosystems and their inhabitants. To date, our actions have brought about the near collapse of marine ecosystems. Climate change is causing ocean acidification, sea level rise, storms of increasing severity, loss of polar ice caps, and fundamental changes in ecosystem structure and function. Further, the introduction into the oceans of contaminants, disease, alien species, noise, and debris; overfishing; harmful algal blooms and dead zones; increasing vessel traffic; adverse effects of oil, gas, and mineral extraction; and ill-managed coastal development also pose serious risks to marine ecosystems.
To address these mammoth challenges, including their cumulative impact, the Ocean Policy must be comprehensive and meaningful. It must call for restoration and reparation where damage has been done and precaution where risks of future damage may be unknown or unacceptable. It must call for coordination among stakeholders and it must engage, educate, and inspire the public about the wonders and values of the sea. It must ensure that we sustain the oceans, as they sustain us.