It’s an exciting summer for the ocean, and we’re not just talking about Shark Week. President Obama proclaimed June 2015 as National Oceans Month, and, in mid-June, Capitol Hill Ocean Week here in Washington, DC, featured a series of displays and symposia highlighting the multifaceted wonders of the ocean and the challenges of conserving and managing ocean resources.
This week marks the anniversary of a significant milestone in the journey to improve ocean governance in the United States: five years ago, on July 19, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the first National Ocean Policy and a Federal interagency National Ocean Council (NOC), which we co-chair, to implement it.
To honor this anniversary, we offer some reflections here about the importance of the National Ocean Policy in helping the Nation meet its stewardship responsibilities for the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, and the work that the NOC and its partners across the country have done to make this Policy a reality.
Supporting Sustainable Ocean Management
Reconciling the diverse needs and interests of the many stakeholders who rely on the Nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes is no small feat. Yet, in just five years, the National Ocean Policy has led to considerable progress in four key areas of ocean management: collaborative governance, data management, stakeholder engagement, and Federal-agency coordination.
The National Ocean Policy is built on a collaborative-governance approach to strengthen ocean and coastal management, which provides local communities with the flexibility to manage their ocean and coastal resources in a way that best meets their needs. The NOC works collaboratively with states, tribes, Federal agencies, and existing regional ocean partnerships working in major U.S. marine regions in order to carry out this approach. This summer, the NOC is working to expand the role of its Governance Coordinating Committee (GCC), a group of local elected officials and ocean policy staff from coastal regions across the United States. Members of the GCC will serve as ambassadors to ocean and coastal communities around the country and will advise the NOC on future ocean policy efforts.
Making better-informed decisions about marine planning and resource management requires effective data management, which includes ensuring that data gets into the right hands. The National Ocean Policy calls for the United States to strengthen its ability to acquire and provide needed marine data. Today, data portals supported by individual regional ocean partnerships allow scientists, managers, stakeholders, government leaders, and any member of the public to easily obtain and use information about the marine environment. These portals provide, among other resources, visualizations of ocean resources and potential conflicts in the use of these resources. Managers can use these visualizations to identify how, under existing authorities and mandates, to best balance economic development in the Nation’s oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes with needed marine ecosystem protection and restoration.
Although the entire country benefits from the Nation’s maritime resources, coastal communities rely most heavily on these resources economically. That’s why a third milestone of the National Ocean Policy is stakeholder engagement – empowering primary end-users to decide what management approaches make the most sense for them. The NOC and its partners regularly engage with a broad range of stakeholders through public listening sessions, comments periods, and other mechanisms, which allows coastal regions to make better, more-informed decisions. The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan (Implementation Plan), released in April 2013, was developed after careful consultation with ocean and coastal stakeholders from many industries, sectors, and regions, and continued dialogue with these stakeholders remains a top priority for the National Ocean Council in carrying out the Policy.
While sub-national governance bodies create and act on regional marine plans, Federal agency coordination is essential in setting national-level priorities. Dozens of Federal offices and agencies play a role in ocean and coastal management, and the National Ocean Policy improves coordination among them. The Implementation Plan laid out a series of 214 actions to be completed collaboratively by various Federal agencies. As of today, nearly half of these actions are complete, and nearly three-quarters are on pace to be completed on time.
In March 2015, the National Ocean Council released the Report on the Implementation of the National Ocean Policy, which highlights Federal accomplishments to date in achieving more efficient, streamlined, and integrated ocean-related decision-making at the Federal level. One notable accomplishment is the creation of a rapid-detection system for harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes, a system which is now helping communities and responders anticipate and prepare for potential disruptions to local water supplies. Another accomplishment is the development of an interactive sea-level rise mapping tool to help city officials plan for future flood risks in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. This tool is currently being piloted for use in other parts of the coastal United States. Federal interagency coordination is better for business and industry, better for local communities, and better for the ocean’s well-being.
Building a National Ocean Policy Legacy
The National Ocean Policy has led to real progress on tackling some of the most pressing challenges facing the Nation’s oceans. Under the Policy, the NOC and its partners have coordinated and strengthened efforts to address issues including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that threatens U.S. fisheries and fishermen, harmful algal blooms that risk poisoning water supplies and marine life, ocean acidification that will damage the marine resources on which humans depend, and more. The Policy has also accelerated sub-national planning processes. By the end of this Administration, the nation’s first regional marine plans will be finalized in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
We invite you to help celebrate the landmark five-year anniversary of the National Ocean Policy and the National Ocean Council by spreading the word about the Nation’s oceans and why they matter. Whenever you’re enjoying a plate of oysters, swimming at the beach, or going deep-sea fishing, take a moment to think about how you want to leave the Nation’s marine environment for future generations – and consider what you can do to help achieve that!
Christy Goldfuss is Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Dr. John P. Holdren is Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.