At Conservation International, we know that while humans are mostly confined to the quarter of the planet covered by land, we are surrounded — and sustained — by vast oceans.
In addition to supporting incredible biodiversity, oceans provide benefits to people in the form of food, energy, recreation, tourism and desirable places to live. They are also a tremendous economic driver, generating an estimated 69 million jobs and over $8 trillion dollars in wages per year in the United States alone. From renewable energy sources like wave and wind power to offshore aquaculture and deep-sea bioprospecting, our oceans and coasts provide new opportunities for technology developers, manufacturers, engineers and others in a vast supply chain to discover, innovate and develop new economic opportunities around the globe. America can lead this global innovation.
Unfortunately, the health of our oceans is in serious decline; in too many places, coastal water quality is poor, fisheries are stressed, habitats for ocean life are degraded and endangered marine species are struggling to recover. Disasters such as last year’s BP oil spill have damaged the oceans and their inhabitants, which in turn has stressed the communities and industries that depend on healthy oceans.
To turn the tide, our national, state and local leaders must make a commitment to more coordinated management of ocean resources. Our decisions must be based on sound science, and scientific work must be a funding priority in order for us to gain the benefits the oceans can provide.
The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative recently released America’s Ocean Future, a report that calls on leaders to support full and effective implementation of our nation’s first national ocean policy — the National Policy for Stewardship of Ocean, Coasts and Great Lakes — which was established by President Obama in July of 2010. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the national ocean policy has the potential to act as a catalyst for long-awaited and important reforms, including enhanced monitoring, assessment and analysis of the condition of our ocean ecosystems, how they affect and are affected by human activity and whether management strategies are achieving our environmental, social and economic goals. Using these tools to better understand our oceans will help us to more effectively manage these resources and strengthen coastal economies and communities across the country.
As a member of the Joint Initiative’s Leadership Council and an advisor to the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, I believe that monitoring what is happening in our oceans is critical to understanding how the physical, biological, chemical and human elements of ocean ecosystems interact. The Joint Initiative report recommends fully supporting an ocean observation system that would integrate data from sensors at the bottom of the ocean, from buoys on the ocean’s surface and from satellites with remote sensing technology high above the Earth.
The report also emphasizes the importance of better integrating the study of our planet’s climate and ocean systems. We need to have a better understanding of how climate change affects the health of our oceans and marine life in order to develop strategies to mitigate negative consequences on ocean ecosystems and coastal communities. The report notes that “information about climate impacts will be particularly important for coastal areas with infrastructure that is vulnerable to rising sea levels and strong coastal storms, including communities with naval facilities and transportation and energy infrastructure near the coast.”
The development of expanded and improved science, research and education around our oceans is a sound investment in improving our economy. The data and information collected from research activities will be used to inform coastal development, promote sustainable and safe fishing practices, and develop vibrant marine-based recreation and tourism. And promoting the education of our next generation of marine scientists will help us compete in a global economy increasingly driven by scientific and technological innovation.
Our oceans are in crisis, and our national economy is suffering the decline of this important economic engine. For every year that we wait to institute a national ocean policy, we lose jobs and income that rely on healthy oceans, and miles of healthy coastlines for Americans to enjoy. We can do better by supporting the science and policy changes that continuously improve our stewardship of the 70 percent of the world that is our oceans.
Dr. Andrew Rosenberg is Senior Vice President for CI’s Science and Knowledge division and a member of the leadership council of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. Download the recent report, “America’s Ocean Future” (PDF – 5.18 MB).