Changing Planet

Happy Anniversary to Vital Ocean Policy

Pacific Ocean. Photo Credit: Franco Folini/Flickr Creative Commons
Pacific Ocean. Photo Credit: Franco Folini/Flickr Creative Commons

It was just three years ago that President Obama signed the Executive Order establishing the National Ocean Policy. We’ve come a long way so far, and we are starting to realize the policy’s considerable promise.

As I’ve written about before, the National Ocean Policy and the subsequent Implementation Plan are historically significant. President Obama recognized that a healthy ocean is a productive ocean and thus   established the policy to ensure that we work together to balance use and conservation.

This policy directly addresses the key challenge of our time:  how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us. The ocean, of course, is at the center of every aspect of this challenge—food, energy, climate and protection of our natural resources.

Our ability to manage impacts on the ocean will make a crucial difference in making this planet work for 9 billion people. As the ocean is asked to provide in so many ways, it is inevitable that we need to prioritize, coordinate and optimize. That’s where the National Ocean Policy—a set of common-sense principles to help protect our ocean resources—comes in.

This anniversary offers an opportunity to look ahead. Here’s what things could look like decades from now, thanks to the National Ocean Policy:

Better decision-making due to smart ocean planning. The policy is a way to untangle the web of existing ocean regulations: more than 140 laws by over 20 different federal agencies. There will be no new laws established due to the policy—it’s simply an important tool in our toolbox that can assist our federal and state agencies, tribes, industries and citizens in tackling mounting challenges. In the future, the vital services and information that both communities and companies alike already rely on—like data collection, monitoring and mapping—will be coordinated and readily available, all thanks to the National Ocean Policy.

Thriving businesses, communities and economies. Whether it’s ensuring vital fishing is protected when siting offshore wind leases or helping shellfish farmers combat against ocean acidification, the National Ocean Policy will help businesses and communities continue to grow. One study showed that there’s potential for more than 70,000 jobs through the manufacturing, building, operating and maintaining of massive offshore wind turbines in the Mid-Atlantic region alone. And the National Ocean Policy will help ensure all ocean users have their say. It’s simple: the policy makes smart business sense.

Improved coastal habitat health. Thousands of acres of wetlands and other coastal habitats will have been protected and restored with the assistance of the National Ocean Policy. This restoration protects us against hurricanes and storms, and the return of wildlife and fish to these areas will boost business in the surrounding communities. The millions of tons of trash and debris that litter beaches and foul ocean waters will have been dramatically reduced by prevention, reduction and removal methods developed through the provisions of the policy.

Increasing hope for the Arctic. Increased research will begin to achieve a balance between oil exploration, shipping and commercial fishing on the one hand, and the required conservation measures on the other.

The National Ocean Policy will have a profound effect on the future of our ocean. And as the ocean goes, so do we.

Andreas Merkl is the President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, which educates and empowers citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean. From the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico to the halls of Congress, Andreas leads the organization’s efforts to tackle the ocean’s biggest challenges with science-based solutions. With a background in environmental science, resource economics and business, Andreas is particularly interested in determining the ocean’s rightful role in answering the central question of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us.

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