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An Ocean of Opportunities

Fri, 01/21/2005 - 6:01am

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy completed a two and a half-year study of the world's oceans last September and submitted its report in December to President Bush with 212 specific recommendations for protecting the seas. This report (mirroring the results of the private Pew Oceans Commission report of 2003) is the first comprehensive analysis of the oceans in 35 years. Bush followed this up in late-December with an executive order creating a cabinet-level Committee on Ocean Policy.

The cabinet committee is directed to establish priorities and provide improved communication between the numerous government and state agencies that now have authority over the oceans, along with the collection of continued information on ocean and atmospheric conditions. Heading the committee is James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Establishment of this committee is the correct first step. The Administration has adopted a go-slow approach, however, that may discourage some conservation groups looking at the commission's recommendations for $4 billion worth of initiatives. Obtaining funding for this level of response, however, is unlikely in the current era of large federal deficits.

The Commission's report states “the oceans affect and sustain all life on earth...but humans influence the oceans with pollution, depletion of fish stocks, and habitat destruction and degradation.”

It is difficult to imagine anyone allowing the continued degradation of our oceans, yet it is equally difficult to envision being able to solve both the technical and the socio-political problems over-night. The mere fact that there were hundreds of recommendations from the Ocean Commission implies the breadth and complexity of the problems involved.

A strong continued response to solving ocean issues is obviously the surest and most efficient approach to improving ocean conditions. A steady stream of small initiatives will be more effective than large omnibus treatments. Some of these are already underway, like a funded initiative to preserve coral reefs and efforts to coordinate research between government, academic, and private organizations. Others need to be started like support for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the U.S. has not signed.

There will be no lack of groups pushing to make changes. Using the Commission report as a basis, conservation and special interest groups will push for a number of new initiatives in the new Congress this year that reform fishery management councils, and support stronger government responses to ocean problems. Many of those proposals that involve financial support will be automatically tempered with this year's tight fiscal environment. But the general mood of the Congress and the Administration alike will be one that supports the improvement of the oceans' problems.

Continued research will only add to the information already provided and support additional initiatives for improvement. And for that, we must thank the members of the Commission on Ocean Policy for their research, work, and insights.

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