Healthy Oceans Blog

Collaborations, Implementation and Actions

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On July 19, 2015, our National Stewardship Policy for the Ocean, Our Coasts and Great Lakes will be five years old. The White House recently released the first Report on the Implementation of the National Ocean Policy. The Report details the progress made by the collaborative efforts of the 27 federal agencies with authority over some aspect of our nation’s ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. In sum: America’s ocean economy has been bolstered. Security of our ports and waterways strengthened. Accomplishments vary from improved coastal and ocean resilience to providing local communities with tools to plan for a better future. Of the many accomplishments described in the report, I will highlight five of particular interest.

Ocean Literacy

The National Ocean Policy understands the importance of ocean literacy. The Report recognizes that ocean literacy is an understanding of the ocean’s influence on each of us and how we in turn influence great bodies of water. People are better stewards of oceans with increased understandings and knowledge of marine life connections and interactions. Ocean literacy is increased awareness of opportunities to protect, restore, and enjoy ocean resources. It also avails avenues to engage in issues facing the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. Agencies are developing social media platforms, mobile apps, and other interactive approaches to advance ocean science to students, teachers, and the public.

On a local level, ocean literacy, in Massachusetts reached a high water mark when groups collaborated to engage, educate and broaden a constituency supportive of comprehensive area-based ocean management. Legislators spoke to the public about responsible ocean stewardship legislation from the stairway in the State House. The Honorable Leon Panetta recalled how his grandfather worked at Cannery Row in Monterey. Poor fisheries management caused the sardine fishery to crash and they were all put out of work.

In the State House forty-five organizations presented their ocean-related work at tables draped in blue cloths. High school students from Carver, Massachusetts, pitched in to educate on the merits of inclusive ocean planning. Students manned information tables crowded with ocean artifacts. Students held down a life-sized right whale inflated outside in front of the State House and gained signatures from people passing by. Three ecstatic students ran down a jogger they recognized for a signature. Cameron Diaz signed her name for ocean planning. This very ocean literate day for all was captured in a seven minute video.

I have been working on ocean literacy since my days as a public middle school science teacher with Craig Strang of the Lawrence Hall of Science at U.C. Berkeley, and others of the National Marine Education Association. Here is a link to a podcast where Craig and I talk ocean literacy. We are joined by the ocean-literacy troubadours extraordinaire, the Banana Slugs String Band.

Regional Ocean Planning

The National Ocean Policy recognizes the challenge of balancing the needs of multiple communities with the many authorities of federal, state and municipal agencies along with tribal nations. To grow marine economies, protect and conserve marine habitats, and sustain unique social and cultural identities, the National Ocean Policy promotes the establishment of regional partnerships among the Federal government, States, and Tribes, with substantial public engagement. Five Regional Planning Bodies have been established in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and West Coast. The Regions have committed to the development of Marine Plans in both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic by 2016 in collaboration with the National Ocean Council. The Plans will be the result of much deliberation and research. They will be chock-full of information as diverse as essential habitats for specific marine animals to recreational boat travel patterns. The Plans will present up front all of the issues that must be addressed before a proposed project will be approved. The end result? Developers get a better sense of what costs will be. Agency approval processes proceed more quickly with more questions answered up front.

John Williamson, charter boat captain and former commercial fisherman talked with me in a podcast from his perspective on the benefits of a national ocean policy in the context of ocean planning, sustainable fisheries and healthy seafood.

Rapid Detection Techniques for Harmful Algal Blooms

The world’s worst ocean pollutant is nitrogen. Nutrients, mostly off the land, feed algae that bloom and may consume all of the oxygen dissolved in seawater. Some algal bloom release harmful toxins. In Casco Bay, Maine, forage fish were seen chased by striped bass. Fish swam into an unremarkable piece of ocean and all fish rolled up dead. Ocean dead zones are created by algae blooming on too much nitrogen. Warming waters will mean more harmful algal blooms.

The Report highlights the work of Government agencies collaborating in the research of harmful algal blooms to identify toxins, pathogens, and toxic chemicals that impact human and wildlife health. Rapid assessment and detection methods are being developed along with operational forecasting applications. For example, sensors and testing kits are being developed for a wide variety of algal toxins including paralytic shellfish toxins (Pacific Northwest, Gulf of Maine), neurotoxic shellfish toxins (Gulf of Mexico), and Ciguatera fish poisoning (Caribbean and Tropical Pacific). Other tools advancing ocean observing and forecasting allow harmful algal blooms, their toxins, and other parameters to be measured in the water in near real-time and the data transmitted to shore.

The Harmful Algal Bloom (hypoxia, ocean dead zone) Act was passed in the last session. Mike Dunmyer of Ocean Champions talks with me about that bill, along with legislation to reduce marine debris and the importance of catch-shares for fishermen from Alaska halibut to New England groundfish.

Shoreline Monitoring

Marine debris is an enormous problem on shorelines, surface waters, and the seafloor. In the Report, shoreline monitoring protocols developed by NOAA are now being used by more than 40 Federal and non-Federal entities nationwide, primarily as part of citizen science, volunteer-led efforts. Monitoring data are submitted to NOAA and provided to other partners through an online database which currently houses data from more than 100 shoreline sites. Standardized and consistent monitoring and assessment of the abundance and types of marine debris present in the environment will guide efforts to address and mitigate the impacts of marine debris. Marine debris monitoring data will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of existing marine debris prevention efforts, quantify the sources and impacts of debris, and help local communities identify targets for mitigation.

Shoreline pollution is being monitored by Dr. Edie Widder.

Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Seafood Fraud Task Force

On March 15, 2015, the Presidential Task Force on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud, co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and State, released its action plan. This plan articulates the aggressive steps that federal agencies will take both domestically and internationally and is highlighted fully in the Report. While America has the best managed fishery in the world, beyond our waters about one out of five fish imported into the U.S. has been illegally fished. Global losses attributable to this black market of illegal fishing are estimated to be $10 to $23 billion annually.

Federal legislation has come out of the recommendations by the Federal Task Force to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud with 15 recommendations, divided into four categories: international action; strengthening enforcement; partnerships; and traceability. Stopping the import of illegally caught fish will provide greater market share for American fisheries. The IUU Bill is receiving bipartisan support in Congress. Constructing a more systematic, coordinated program for tackling IUU and seafood fraud domestically will also increase our leadership role in this area internationally. West African nations suffering due to lack of fish have made foreign fishing in their national waters illegal. An open American market encourages illegal fishing and seafood fraud; a closed market will send a message that we do not condone illegal activities while continuing to do business with foreign seafood companies certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

In May, more than 200 ocean advocates gathered in Washington, D.C. and met with 163 Congressional legislators calling for continued funding of the National Ocean Policy and passage of a strong IUU Seafood Fraud Bill. David Helvarg, Executive Director of Blue Frontier spoke with me about Blue Vision Summit 5.

In Summary

The Report on the Implementation of the National Ocean Policy details these accomplishments and is accompanied by an Appendix, consisting of 40 pages of Action box-diagrams complete with color-coded Status Snapshot. Blue is action objective 100% complete; green 50% or more complete, yellow 1 to 49% complete, and red for nothing done at all. There appears to be many more blue and green boxes scrolling down the page than yellow and red. Yet, the greatest accomplishment of all is that Federal, State and Municipal governments, Tribes, and a great number of ocean interest groups are taking the time to plan together to take better care of our oceans.

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Rob Moir, Ph.D. is President and Executive Director of the Ocean River Institute. ORI’s name comes from a quote by Rachel Carson in The Sea Around Us:  All at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

The Ocean River Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals and grassroots groups make a difference where they live and work through environmental stewardship, education, and citizen science. The Ocean River Institute is first to practice environmental subsidiary in collaboration with others, to assist groups closest to wildlife and natural areas, to educate more widely, and to advance ecosystem-based adaptive management with greater public participation.

Visit us at www.oceanriver.org to see a choice of 6 ongoing campaigns, and please subscribe for free ORI eAlerts to discover what you can do to save oceans and rivers.

Our latest action is to save from scallop dredgers the Marine Protected Area in Scotland’s Wester Ross. This is not to be confused with the Westeros, a fictitious continent in the Game of Thrones. The real Wester Ross, is where Glaswegian actor Rory McCann, “The Hound,” keeps his sailboat, but don’t tell Arya Stark