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Ocean Currents

An Ocean-Powered Recovery for Our Economy

The ocean can help address the economic impacts of the pandemic and the environmental impacts of climate change

NOAA wetlands oysters coast
© NOAA

While the ocean is appreciated for many reasons such as its natural beauty, raw power, healing abilities and the cool animals that call it home, we often forget an additional impressive ocean attribute. I’m talking about the livelihoods and jobs it creates. I grew up near Santa Monica, California and volunteered at an aquarium underneath its world-famous pier (yes, this one), so I get that tourism is a big industry, but that just touches the surface of what the ocean provides. Fishing, shipping and renewable energy are just a few of the other engines that power coastal economies.

Through those sectors and activities, the ocean can address some of today’s biggest global issues: the economic impacts of the pandemic and the environmental impacts of climate change. In 2018 alone, the ocean provided the United States with $373 billion in goods and services and 2.3 million jobs. At the same time, protecting and restoring just the coastal wetlands, mangroves and other “blue carbon” ecosystems in the United States over the next thirty years would be the equivalent to taking 3.5 million cars off the road. Let’s lean into that. Right now we can conserve and restore coastal ecosystems to protect our communities from climate change damages such as rising sea levels and ocean acidification. These investments also help spur more economic growth for our ocean and coastal communities.

NOAA wetlands oysters coast
© NOAA

This wouldn’t be the first time the United States has made these investments either. Here’s an oyster reef restoration project located in Florida’s St. Lucie estuary that was funded the last time the United States government facilitated an economic recovery in 2009. Not only did projects like these provide fish habitat, improve water quality and protect the coast from erosion, they also created jobs and helped our blue economy! And people really wanted them. When $167 million was made available for coastal restoration projects like these, more than $3 billion worth of proposals came rolling in. Of the projects that did get funded, we saw more than 2,000 jobs created and $260 million in economic benefits. Right now is a critical time for even more projects like these.

We should also invest in clean, zero-emission shipping and port technologies that combat climate change, strengthen our economy and reduce the air pollution and negative health impacts on port-side communities, often populated by people of color. If global shipping was its own country, it would be the sixth-worst greenhouse gas emitter, topping all of Germany! As we build back our coastal communities, now is the time to invest in cleaner shipping and port infrastructure so we can address climate change and build healthier coastal communities and a healthier ocean.

Estuary restoration
© NOAA

So while we’re all hoping for a “return to normal” sometime soon, I hope that we get to something better, where there will be more wetlands and mangroves to protect our coasts and store carbon as well as more ports powered with clean electricity instead of fossil fuels which have been polluting neglected neighboring communities.

To help us get there, and faster, you can take action here. We are just starting, but with so much attention turning towards climate change and justice, I am confident we can make things better for everyone.

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