Posted on July 18, 2017 by Sarah Winter Whelan
The ocean and coastline does not need to be visible every day for their value to be realized. Our nation’s waters are vital to a robust economy, productive ecosystems, and a healthy way of life for Americans, but face a wide and growing range of serious stressors. Between the over 62,000 vessels annually plying U.S. waters, carrying 53 percent of our nation’s imports into U.S. ports, to navigating any of the 58 million annual beachgoers looking for that perfect spot to sun themselves on a hot summer day, the ocean, our coasts, and Great Lakes and the resources they provide are increasingly in demand.
The Ocean and Great Lakes are Economic, Cultural and Environmental Drivers
The ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are a huge source of economic wealth for the U.S., and ensuring the health and resiliency of these ecosystems is of crucial importance. Oceans alone contribute hundreds of billions of dollars in goods and services to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employ millions of people – with ocean-related employment growing almost twice as fast as the U.S. economy as a whole. In 2014, the U.S. seafood industry alone generated $153 billion in sales and supported nearly 1.4 million jobs. Not only do we depend economically on the ocean, but the Great Lakes support more than 40 million people with their drinking water. That is direct need that depends on healthy waters.
Americans’ use of our ocean is not limited to earning their livelihoods on the ocean. Many also find solace, beauty, and excitement by living and recreating along our coasts. Coastal counties are home to more than 134 million people and 57.3 million jobs and contribute $7.6 trillion to GDP. With only 18 percent of the U.S. land area, those counties account for 42 percent of the population and 48 percent of national economic output. In 2014 alone, ocean-related tourism and recreation supported more than 2.2 million jobs and contributed more than $107 billion to the nation’s GDP. In 2008, almost five million people became whale watchers, with economic expenditures of nearly $1 billion.
With the merit of our nation’s waters apparent, caring for them needs to be a priority to help grow America’s economy and keep our people healthy. The ocean attracts and creates a sense of wonder in people of all ages, inspiring Americans to flock to aquariums and zoos to see dolphins, seals, fish, and other wildlife we seemingly could only conjure up in our dreams. We peer over the side of tour boats to see a breaching whale in one of our National Marine Sanctuaries. Millions of us spend our precious summer vacation time on a beach watching our kids frolic in the waves and dig in the sand for crabs and clams. We have an entire economy and sense of place built around our love of water.
But sometimes, this devotion to the ocean has made us too quick to use it and not protect it from the stressors of human activity and quickly changing environmental conditions.
Our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes face challenges, both natural and human-centric. From marine debris choking our waterways to the impacts of over-fishing, humans have a direct impact on their health. For example, more than 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. This challenge, among a host of others, impacts the health and ability of our ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems to provide the very benefits that we all want and rely upon.
A Delicate Balance between our use of the Ocean and Great Lakes and conservation
How does the U.S. maintain a seemingly delicate balance between sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts, and Great Lakes, while honoring the need for conservation of important natural resources? The answer? The principles of our National Stewardship Policy for the Oceans, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes – also known as the National Ocean Policy (NOP). Created in 2010, this policy has been at the forefront of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes management and protection.
At its core, the NOP serves as an umbrella policy to guide the federal government in its responsibilities to protect, maintain, and restore the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. It is a multifaceted policy that seeks to enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, ensure our nation’s safety and security, support local management actions, and provide foundational science and information to ensure better decisions can be made regarding our ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes’ resources.
In the seven years of its existence, the NOP has achieved many goals and checked off numerous milestones. It created the first ever National Ocean Council (NOC) to coordinate the 27 agencies and departments with responsibilities to our ocean, coasts and Great Lakes. The NOC then produced an action plan (Plan) with 200 plus stakeholder-vetted actions that identified the most pressing challenges and available resources to tackle the issues. It created common sense strategies for good governance to help support ocean-dependent economies, enable states and communities to become better stewards for their coasts, and aimed to foster better communication and coordination.
The impact is clear. In the seven years we have had the NOP, our federal agencies have worked to advance the Policy’s vision of ensuring healthy oceans and coasts while creating stronger economies for our coastal communities. In fact, the implementation of the Policy has led to many gains and in-the-water changes, including an interagency collaboration leading to greater protection of our nation’s wetlands.
Thanks to the NOP, our nation has also broken new ground in giving states and tribal nations bigger voices in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resource management in the development and completion of our nation’s first two regional ocean plans — the Northeast Ocean Plan and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan. These plans, now in implementation, are already paving the way toward better management, interagency collaboration, and reduce conflicts between industries.
With all of this heartening progress toward efficient, holistic, and collaborative governance and conservation, it is hard to watch it now come under attack piece by the current Administration. In the six months since taking office, the Trump Administration has seemingly reversed course and now has a singular and solitary tunnel vision of what the ocean is “for” — increased offshore oil and gas production and is currently reviewing the few special places the American people cherish and have moved to protect from drilling for oil and gas. Through continued attacks like this, the threat to our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes is REAL and immediate. We need the NOP and its principals of sound conservation for enhanced economic and coastal community resilience more than ever.
So as our National Ocean Policy celebrates its SEVENTH birthday today, we urge everyone who values the health of our ocean economy, coastal communities and ocean ecosystems to speak up NOW for the health of our blue planet.
Opportunities to Stand for #HealthyOceans #HealthyCoasts #HealthyLakes