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September 24, 2002 Media Advisory

“Serious Trouble for Our Oceans,”
U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy Mid-Term Report Says

Commission Sets Course for New, Comprehensive National Ocean Policy

Call for Advance Copies of Report and Interviews

Washington, D.C. – The oceans are in trouble. Our coasts are in trouble. Our marine resources are in trouble . . . all, perhaps, serious trouble, according to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, as it submits a mid-term report this week to President Bush and Congressional leaders.

“The troubles facing our oceans and coasts present the nation with new and exciting opportunities in ocean management. We must seize the moment to make significant changes not only for today, but for future generations,” said Admiral James D. Watkins (USN) Ret., Chairman of the Commission.

The Commission, established last year, has a Congressional mandate to develop a comprehensive national ocean policy that will guide U.S. interests and have a long-lasting impact on the future of the world’s oceans and coasts. Its final recommendations will be presented to the President and Congress in June 2003. As it prepares to begin deliberations on recommendations, the 16 Commissioners have laid out in the mid-term report some key observations and challenges based on its initial public meetings.

  • Management of coastal areas is inadequate. Dramatic increases in population and pollution along shorelines clearly indicate that the nation’s capability to manage our coasts is inadequate and yet more critical today than it was 30 years ago when Congress enacted the Coastal Zone Management Act … but what would be required to enhance that capability?

  • The depletion of fish stocks continues. Marine fishery management has an uneven, and often poor, record. Scientific advice has been ignored all too often at the expense of fisheries and the long-term sustainability of the fishing industry. Reform is needed . . . but what kind?

  • Ocean pollution is a growing problem. Much of it caused by non-point sources, such as farming practices, urban runoff, and air pollution deposition. The sources are numerous and dispersed while the solutions are elusive and challenging. All Americans should be able to enjoy clean and healthy beaches and wholesome seafood . . . but what can be done?

  • Ports and marine transportation infrastructure need expansion that is economically and environmentally sound. Over 95 percent of the cargo volume moving into and out of the United States is by ship, and this is expected to double by the year 2020. Our ports and marine transportation infrastructure must have the capacity to handle this increase in a manner that protects and conserves critical coastal and marine resources through environmentally sound planning ... but will we be able to establish a process to determine this proper balance?

  • Ocean and coastal observing and prediction systems are outdated and underutilized. Through greater understanding of the oceans, we can better position ourselves to predict droughts, with their devastating effect on agriculture; hurricanes and storm surges that affect coastal areas; and public health threats now shown to emanate from a warming ocean. With modern technological advances, we have the opportunity to develop truly integrated ocean and coastal observing and prediction systems … but will we seize the opportunity?

  • The link between climate change and the oceans is not fully understood. Significant climate changes have been known to occur in periods under 10 years and profoundly altered the landscape of large regions of the Earth. Although the oceans clearly play a crucial role in controlling climatic events, this is not understood in sufficient detail to predict or take action in a timely fashion … but what can we do to strengthen our scientific understanding of this link to lead to more informed public policy actions?

  • Particularly important features of our ocean and coastal environment may require special protection for future generations of Americans. Many have stressed the need to protect and restore coral reefs and other ecologically unique and important coastal and estuarine habitats and to preserve marine biodiversity. Protection of these areas requires a more effective and coordinated approach to avoid long-term damage … but will we be able to develop and accept those protections?

  • Jurisdictional and legal confusion and ambiguity are not uncommon in coastal laws. Growing litigation, regulatory confusion and delay, and uncoordinated policy exacerbates multiple use problems. Balancing the economic and ecological health of the oceans is made more difficult in some cases by this lack of coordination … but how can laws and policies be better coordinated?

  • The nature and impact of the interactions and relationships of all Americans with oceans is not fully understood. The oceans affect the lives of all Americans —landlocked as well as coastal. In turn, all Americans affect the oceans wherever they may live. It is unclear whether we have devoted adequate resources to ocean science and technology to address these and other oceanic and atmospheric matters … if we have not, what would be a responsible education, management, and investment strategy?

“The Commission fully expects to make recommendations to answer all of these challenges,” said Watkins.


Kate Naughten



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