National Ocean Policy

Ocean Policy

In 2010, the United States established the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes. This Policy is the result of more than 10 years of work by legislators, educators, policy experts, and stakeholders like ocean industries, coastal residents, and conservationists. The National Ocean Policy (NOP) charges our government to consider the entire ecosystem, and our role in it, when making decisions regarding ocean management. This approach is moving our nation away from the tired issues-by-issues management regime toward comprehensive, informed, and strategic coastal management. 

This approach is working. For more than seven years with the NOP in place, we have seen increased coordination between decision makers, coastal communities, and ocean users. The NOP encourages states, tribes, federal agencies, and all ocean users to work together and address some of the biggest challenges facing our ocean, coasts, islands, and Great Lakes. This approach serves as a valuable tool in our conservation toolbox and helps us develop better solutions for ocean health.

Now more than ever, our nation needs this cohesive policy and the Healthy Oceans Coalition is dedicated to preserving the NOP as established.


Diverse ocean leaders first called for a national ocean policy in 2003. This recommendation came from two blue-ribbon commissions – the Congressionally created U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, with membership appointed by George W. Bush and chaired by Admiral James T. Watkins and the independent Pew Oceans Commission, chaired by the Honorable Leon Panetta. Both commissions completed comprehensive reviews of our nation’s varied ocean management policies. In 2003 and 2004, the commissions released detailed reports, in which both called for a unified and comprehensive national ocean policy as a foundational element to update and reform U.S. ocean policy.

In 2009, President Obama issued a memorandum calling for recommendations on a clear national policy for the protection of the oceans, our coasts, and Great Lakes, and established the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (Task Force) to carry out this mission. Led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Task Force was comprised of senior-level policy officials from across the Federal Government.

The Task Force was specifically asked to develop recommendations on:

  • A national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
  • A national framework to allow the coordination of policy efforts to improve stewardship of the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.
  • An implementation strategy that identifies a set of priority objectives for meeting the objectives of the national policy.

The memorandum also asked the Task Force to develop a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning that utilizes a comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based management approach and addresses conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable uses of the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources.

During the following year, the Task Force held hearings and meetings with ocean users from commercial and recreational fishing, shipping and ports, energy developers, conservationists, scientists, and others to help develop a policy to protect, maintain, and restore our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes so we can continue to fish, swim, and enjoy them for generations to come. The Task Force released an Interim Report in September 2009 and an Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning in December 2009. The Task Force received and reviewed close to 5,000 written comments from Congress, stakeholders, and the public before finalizing its recommendations.

The Task Force then developed a set of final recommendations to the President, that, along with a call for the establishment of a national ocean policy also included a set of overarching guiding principles called the priority objectives for management decisions and actions toward achieving the vision of “an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations.” These recommendations are based on stakeholder engagement from diverse ocean interests, including scientists, surfers, fishermen, industry, conservationists, and coastal managers.

National Stewardship Policy

In the time between completion of the majority of the Task Force’s work and the establishment of the NOP, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and resulting 87-days of unabated flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico occurred. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an environmental crisis and served as a stark reminder of how vulnerable our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes are, and how much the entire country relies on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems.

On July 19, 2010, President Obama established our nation’s first comprehensive stewardship policy for the ocean, our coasts, and Great Lakes based on the U.S. Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force’s final recommendations.

The NOP directs federal executive agencies with existing management and protection responsibilities over ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources to implement, to the extent practicable, those recommendations under the coordination of a National Ocean Council to strengthen ocean governance and coordination.

The framework has three main components - the first being the coordination component found within the National Ocean Council. The National Ocean Council is charged with implementing the NOP and coordinating with its members. Membership of the National Ocean Council includes the following entities:

  • The Secretaries of: State, Defense, the Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Labor, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security
  • The Attorney General
  • The Administrators of: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • The Chairs of: The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • The Directors of: the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), National Intelligence, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • The Assistants to: the President for National Security Affairs, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Domestic Policy, Economic Policy, and Energy and Climate Change
  • An employee of the United States designated by the Vice President
  • The Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere (NOAA Administrator)

National Priority Objectives

The second component to the NOP is found in the nine National Priority Objectives. These objectives are the substantive ways the federal government will implement the NOP through actions they take in fulfilling existing responsibilities to protect and manage the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.

1. Ecosystem-Based Management: Adopt ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for the comprehensive management of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.

2. Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning: Implement comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based coastal and marine spatial planning and management in the United States. 

3. Inform Decisions and Improve Understanding: Increase knowledge to continually inform and improve management and policy decisions and the capacity to respond to change and challenges. Better educate the public through formal and informal programs about the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.

4. Coordinate and Support: Better coordinate and support Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional management of the ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes. Improve coordination and integration across the federal government and, as appropriate, engage with the international community.

5. Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification: Strengthen resiliency of coastal communities and marine and Great Lakes environments and their abilities to adapt to climate change impacts and ocean acidification.

6. Regional Ecosystem Protection and Restoration: Establish and implement an integrated ecosystem protection and restoration strategy that is science-based and aligns conservation and restoration goals at the federal, state, tribal, local, and regional levels.

7. Water Quality and Sustainable Practices on Land: Enhance water quality in the ocean, along our coasts, and in the Great Lakes by promoting and implementing sustainable practices on land.

8. Changing Conditions in the Arctic: Address environmental stewardship needs in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent coastal areas in the face of climate-induced and other environmental changes.

9. Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Observations, Mapping, and Infrastructure: Strengthen and integrate federal and non-federal ocean observing systems, sensors, data collection platforms, data management, and mapping capabilities into a national system and integrate that system into international observation efforts. 

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

The third and final component to the NOP is coastal and marine spatial planning. As stated via the National Ocean Council: 

“Marine planning is a science-based tool that regions can use to address specific ocean management challenges and advance their economic development and conservation objectives. Marine planning will support regional actions and decision-making and address regionally determined priorities, based on the needs, interests, and capacity of a given region.

Just as Federal agencies work with States, tribes, local governments, and users of forests and grasslands, among other areas, marine planning will provide a more coordinated and responsive Federal presence and the opportunity for all coastal and ocean interests in a region to share information and coordinate activities.

This will promote more efficient and effective decision-making and enhance regional economic, environmental, social, and cultural well being. In turn, regional actions will support national objectives to grow the ocean economy, increase regulatory efficiency and consistency, and reduce adverse impacts to environmentally sensitive areas.”

The Healthy Oceans Coalition is dedicated to supporting ocean planning efforts around the country and advancing implementation of the first-ever U.S. regional ocean plans for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.