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The National Ocean Policy Turns Five!

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Today we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the National Ocean Policy (NOP), which aims to protect, maintain and restore ocean health while supporting sustainable uses in our oceans.

Healthy, productive oceans and coasts contribute significantly to our quality of life and to our economy. To maintain ecosystems that flourish, we are faced with complex challenges that the NOP is working to address. Across the nation, traditional industries, such as shipping, are expanding and new industries, such as offshore wind energy, are emerging where existing industries, like fishing, have been active for generations. In addition, stressors such as increased development along our coasts, ocean acidification, and sea level rise threaten ocean health.

Traditionally, the way we manage our ocean and address these concerns is through a single species, single sector or single-issue approach. We are often reactive to an individual conflict or development rather than being proactive about where certain ocean uses are appropriate. Making matters more complicated, there are over 140 laws managed by over 20 federal entities with jurisdiction over the ocean. The NOP seeks to address this challenge through ocean planning.

Ocean planning is a science-based process that gathers information on ocean uses and the environment and brings together stakeholders to plan for our future in a holistic manner.  This approach allows us to move away from the species by species and sector by sector management into considering the needs of ecosystems – the biological, chemical and physical needs of our ocean environment. For example, we can now start asking questions such as how do we account for all our ocean uses and their cumulative impacts on the environment? With ocean-related commerce generating $282 billion a year, how do we balance economic industries with the health and needs of our ocean? And, how do we ensure environmental resilience for long-term sustainability?

As you can tell, we have a lot of questions. Ocean planning is the key to answering them.

The NOP calls for better coordination of research and data to achieve our ocean management objectives in federal waters (out to 200 miles off our coasts).  However, each region has the flexibility to coordinate with the states and local citizens on its unique needs.

The regions currently conducting ocean planning are the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, West Coast, Caribbean and Pacific Islands. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are leading the pack on planning, and by the end of next year, they will finalize their first-ever ocean plans.

In fact, the Northeast recently released a draft outline for its ocean plan along with groundbreaking scientific data that will characterize the region’s ocean resources and marine life, and how humans interact with them. Additionally, an assessment that characterizes the natural resources, infrastructure, economy, cultural resources and future trends of the Northeast will soon be released and a similar assessment will be mirrored in the Mid-Atlantic. Also of interest to industry and conservation alike is the practical work being conducted to outline best practices for gathering public input to guide development in marine waters, an important concern for many citizens and businesses.

These are new and exciting times for our ocean. We hope you will continue to follow and engage in the ocean planning processes as they progress around the country.

Join Ocean Conservancy in wishing the National Ocean Policy a Happy 5th Birthday!

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