Zoning for Oceans: Balancing Our Competing Needs in the Seas

The time when we could do anything we want anywhere we want in the oceans is over
By The Editors
Scientific American

For decades the seas off U.S. shores have been roiled by controversies over where to drill for oil, how to reel in overfishing, and whom to blame for toxic streams of continental runoff. A failure to manage these problems effectively has already put the nation’s oceanic realms in serious jeopardy. And now we are inviting new industries to stake their own claims on the blue frontier. To generate clean energy from wind and tides, we need permanent installations. To grow more food, we need offshore farms.

Without a plan to manage these proliferating activities, they are very likely to exacerbate the existing shambles. President Barack Obama turned a spotlight to this challenge in June, when he charged an interagency task force with detailing the country’s first national ocean policy. Its official report is due out this month, but a draft hints at a bold way of reconciling our competing needs and interests, both economic and environmental: zoning U.S. waters (which extend 200 nautical miles from the coast) much the way we zone our cities and public lands [see “Ocean Overhaul,” by Sarah Simpson].

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