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Frank Muller-Karger

Stop drift in oceans policy

In Florida, our beaches and coastal waters attract over 33 million tourists each year. Our marine fishing, boating, tourism, recreation and ocean transport industries bring over $400 billion every year to our state. And nationally, about every one in six of our jobs is related to these marine industries. It is clear that our coastal and marine environments are vital to the economy of our country and state.

Yet our oceans and coasts are governed by more than 140 laws and 20 agencies, each with different goals and mandates. Our coastal ecosystems are threatened by overfishing, coastal development, pollution, climate change and uncoordinated government policies. Many of the serious challenges we face in maintaining the health of these marine ecosystems and economies stem from a fundamental mismatch between the way natural systems work and the way we manage the activities that affect them.

Five years ago, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission recommended to the president and Congress a number of steps that would both rebuild and allow continued use of our natural marine resources in a sustainable manner. Both commissions concluded that we needed an overarching national ocean policy that streamlines the present bureaucratic mess to avoid serious disruptions of marine ecosystems. But this system has not been fixed. Every day it is more difficult to protect the resources that we want to continue using and enjoying.

There are several critical steps that the Obama administration and Congress need to take to move our nation forward and out of the present situation. First, they need to state explicitly that it is the policy of the United States to protect, maintain and restore the health of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and to enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies. This policy should require that federal agencies administer U.S. funding and laws to the fullest extent possible consistent with this national strategy.

A key approach to getting this done is using an ecosystem-based management approach. This considers the effects of our activities on all critical components of coastal and ocean ecosystems, including human and nonhuman species. It means managing resources that span neighboring jurisdictions, such as between federal and state waters, or between state waters. It also means understanding how our activities on land affect our coastal waters, and managing accordingly. This is simply common sense.

A new paradigm for managing our coastal and marine areas also needs to consider the effects of multiple activities on each other, including tourism and recreation, fisheries, transportation, urban development, renewable energy, oil and gas development, and other potential uses. A new national ocean policy should be based on understanding how one activity affects resources used in another activity. Understanding requires strengthening federal investments in ocean and coastal science and a renewed effort in science education, enabling public and management decisions to be based on the best information.

Our nation is now undergoing a crucial transition. We are re-evaluating the core principles that guide our economic and environmental policies. As our leaders steer the nation through this process, they need to recognize that our oceans and coasts maintain a strong economy and high quality of life for all Americans. The present lack of coordination at the federal level has serious impacts. If we don't fix this, the combined effects of all pressures on our ocean and coastal resources will have a negative impact on our jobs and the economy in Florida.

President Barack Obama's Ocean Task Force has released an interim report in which it proposes to use an ecosystem-based management approach that is based on science. The task force is looking for public input on their strategies. The Ocean Task Force's next public hearing is on Monday afternoon in New Orleans. Members of the public can join the meeting from Florida via phone or live Webcast. Public participation in this process is important to make sure that a workable implementation framework is put forward by the task force in their report to the president, due by Dec. 9. Our participation will further encourage the president to implement wise and strong national policies, and persuade Congress to codify these policies in the law. For more information, visit http://www.white

Frank Muller-Karger is a professor in oceanography in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida and a former member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

Stop drift in oceans policy 10/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 6:55pm]
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