Capitol Hill Oceans Week: A Call to Action

Each year, Capitol Hill Ocean’s Week (CHOW) brings together government officials, private businesses, scientists, NGOs, and advocates for a week of lectures, discussions, and panels on various ocean policies, threats, laws, and other issues. This year, the theme, “One Nation, Shaped by the Sea,” served as a reminder to all of us of the interconnectedness of the ocean and our national heritage. 
Midway through Oceans Week, the Joint Ocean Commission released a scathing report card on poor federal leadership, international cooperation, funding, and ocean education. Only state and regional efforts received a passing grade. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the demonstrated potential of the ocean and coast to bolster the economy, we must ask ourselves, “Why is it so difficult to pass legislation or effectively fund federal programs and agencies to clean and protect our marine environment?”
The “Blue Economy” at Work: Cannery Row in Monterey, California. Made famous by John Steinbeck and virtually abandoned after the sardine fishery collapsed in the mid-1950s, the area was reclaimed and rebuilt into a popular tourist attraction by private investors. Now the site of the Edward F. Ricketts State Marine Conservation Area, Cannery Row serves as a place where conservationists, fishermen, and private businesses all work towards a healthy and, therefore, profitable ocean.
Photo Credit: Captain Albert E. Theberge NOAA Corps (ret.), NOAA’s America’s Coastlines Collection

Some point to the recession, others to the fact that the oceans do not appear changed to the general public, and still others to politicians who are fearful of angering constituents with restrictive and regulatory policies. While the factors are many, the way to combat them is simple: education. 
There is a constituency of ignorance on the coast. This month, the North Carolina Senate approved a bill that would ban the use of sea-level rise calculations in future policy and coastal management plans. Virginia lawmakers substituted the term “recurrent flooding” for “sea-level rise” in a bill that authorized a study of encroaching coastal waters. The long-term benefits of sustainable management have become secondary to short-term gains and political infighting. This cannot continue.  We must reconnect the public to the ocean and combat the “bad” science and ignorance that allows the destruction to continue. Education is the most powerful asset we as ocean advocates have. 
We can already see examples and success stories of education and cooperation in California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where effective coastal zone management has seen huge successes. Plans for offshore wind farms, new shipping lanes, marine sanctuaries, and coastal development show great promise for maintaining healthy and productive oceans. If private businesses, government officials, scientists, and ocean advocates can come together at the state level, why not at the federal level? 
Marine Spatial Planning Can Make a Huge Difference: A small change in shipping lanes outside of Boston, MA is expected to significantly reduce baleen whale strikes in the area. By shifting traffic slightly north out of areas with high densities of whales, the needs of both commercial entities and the oceans can be met.
Photo Credit: NOAA
As we look to the future, we must remember that we cannot expect the public or even policy makers to understand the full implications of their actions (or inaction) unless we, the scientists and ocean advocates, educate them. Hopefully, next year’s marks from the Commission will reflect our increased efforts as we work to save our oceans.    
Sunset on the Olympic Coast
Photo Credit: NOAA Sanctuaries Collection

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