What’s So Scary about a National Ocean Policy? Only That We Could Be Doing More.

During this week two years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster was still dominating the news.  And as our staff surveyed the Gulf, inspecting the impacts of gushing oil, it was already becoming clear that systemic problems with how decisions are made in the ocean contributed to this disaster.

So when on July 19th, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a National Ocean Policy, it was a bright spot shining through the murky waters.  The Ocean Policy and the National Ocean Council it created will use a set of common sense principles to protect important marine habitat, help clean up our nation’s beaches and foster emerging industries and jobs.  It’s a way to untangle the web of existing ocean regulations and protect coastal communities and the economy. This policy wouldn’t have stopped the oil disaster, but it could provide a better path forward for a thriving, healthy ocean that also meets our economic needs.

Unfortunately, as we mark the two year anniversary of the National Ocean Policy, not enough has been said about a group of critics using a coordinated campaign of scare tactics and misinformation to try to drum up opposition for a common sense policy that is simply about coordinating existing programs that manage and protect the ocean, beaches and coastal economies.

So what’s so scary? Has anything happened that is worth being afraid of?

  • People are talking. A national workshop was held, and the regions that want to move forward have invited the federal agencies and ocean stakeholders to engage in the initial stages of smart ocean planning. For example, states in the Northeast held a workshop this spring to establish a planning and engagement process and start a discussion about goals for the region.
  • Maps and Data are being publicized. A National Data portal has been established, and the National Ocean Policy is in the process of making Federal data resources, as well as tools to view and interpret the data, available to the public. Several states and regions are developing Ocean Atlases to look at all their ocean information comprehensively.
  • A draft implementation plan was released.  The plan includes steps like improving the efficiency of ocean and coastal permitting processes, improving water quality and providing locally tailored forecasts and vulnerability assessments of climate change impacts on coastal communities.

These are not world-ending developments.  If anything, we can and should be doing more to move the National Ocean Policy forward because better coordination can help avert the truly scary ocean disasters.   Contrary to the critics, the laws already exist to do the actual work of governing, the National Ocean Policy simply serves as a coordinating blueprint that takes into account all of the moving pieces.

We need to move forward, not backward.  Regions that want to move ahead with planning need support and funding.  They shouldn’t be held back because of partisan bickering. A final Implementation Plan for the National Ocean Policy will be released this summer with action items that will provide guidance for those regions that want to invite the National Ocean Council to assist with research, education, planning, management and monitoring.  It addresses things that matter to the public and ocean users, like ocean acidification, dead zones, marine debris, ocean observing systems and sea level rise.

It’s time to get to work.  This policy is good for our ocean and the people who depend on it.

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