4 Reasons Why a Government Shutdown is Bad for Our Ocean

A government shutdown will severely limit NOAA from helping our ocean, communities and marine wildlife

In the halls of Congress, legislators are at a standstill on funding the federal government for the next fiscal year (FY24). No funding agreement by the deadline (October 1) means the government, including agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shuts down. These events have far-reaching effects well outside of Washington, D.C., putting undue stress on people, our economy and our ocean.

Specifically for NOAA, a government shutdown keeps staff from the vital work they do every day to understand, manage and conserve our coasts, ocean ecosystems and marine mammals. While some essential functions, including weather forecasting and nautical services for shipping, will continue, many other functions will be severely delayed or halted altogether. NOAA has a contingency plan that outlines what stays open, what gets closed—essentially, a shutdown could mean that NOAA will go from 11,500 civilian employees down to less than 100.

Here’s a look at the top four reasons why a shuttered government is bad for our ocean:

  1. A government shutdown will delay important initiatives to address climate change. 

After a record-setting hot summer for the ocean, NOAA’s leadership to address the impacts of climate change has never been more important. Yet a shutdown would stall many efforts to do so. NOAA will severely slow or completely halt the review, approval and distribution of funds from grant programs as well as for projects outlined under the Inflation Reduction Act. NOAA will also stop processing permitting applications during a shutdown, including critical offshore wind environmental permits that would delay these projects even further.

  1. A government shutdown would stall fisheries management.

For fisheries in federal waters, a government shutdown will likely cause a suite of delays and inconveniences. With most fisheries staff furloughed, stock assessments, and National Environmental Policy Act reviews, as well as meetings and coordination with the nine U.S. Fishery Management Councils, will come to a halt. Progress on implementing regulations and conducting important data collection used in long-term ocean planning will be slow to none. And importantly, funding from the Inflation Reduction Act for climate-ready fisheries initiatives will not be distributed at all.

It’s important to note, some fisheries management services will still operate, even at a reduced level, including U.S. Coast Guard services and law enforcement patrols to ensure overfishing does not occur.

  1. A government shutdown will result in fewer resources for cleanup after a hurricane.

While NOAA’s services to monitor our weather systems and provide warnings on weather issues like hurricanes and tsunamis are considered essential and will still operate, other programs, which come into play after disasters, will run with a shoestring crew. For example, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, which helps clean up after disasters, including removing derelict vessels and other large debris, will be unable to do its job.

Additionally, the primary federal fund for disaster recovery, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has reached a very low level, which is of great concern, and FEMA may not have enough funds to direct if multiple or large disasters occur during a shutdown. 

  1. A government shutdown will put a hard stop on NOAA’s ocean research.

NOAA’s research vessels, which conduct research on a range of topics all over the open seas, will be ordered to return to port. This means some research, such as studying the effects of climate change on our oceans, as well as testing new technologies to monitor and protect marine mammals, will be severely disrupted. It’s also worth noting that many online resources that host NOAA-sourced data will be closed, making these resources unavailable to researchers, students and decision-makers.

Tell Congress we need the government to be open for business, with an ocean agency that is funded at the highest level, in order to conserve our ocean and coasts.

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