The Blog Aquatic » national ocean policy News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:00:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Celebrating Capitol Hill Ocean Week with a Commitment to Finalized Plans and a New National Ocean Council Director Tue, 10 Jun 2014 19:30:12 +0000 Anne Merwin

Here in Washington, DC we are celebrating Capitol Hill Ocean Week  just on the heels of World Oceans Day.  As part of the celebration, White House Counselor John Podesta made two key announcements in his opening keynote address. First, an exciting official confirmation that smart ocean plans will be finished by 2016 in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic – spanning the ocean from Maine to Virginia. This important work by the Regional Planning Bodies is a landmark that will help coastal communities and businesses thrive.

Second, Podesta welcomed Beth Kerttula as the new Director of the National Ocean Council. Kerttula comes with a wealth of ocean expertise.  Before joining the National Ocean Council (NOC), she was a visiting fellow at Stanford University Center for Ocean Solutions.  Previously, she served as Democratic Leader of the Alaska State House of Representatives and has over 15 years of experience as an elected official.  Her experience covers a range of ocean issues from coastal zone management to ocean acidification.

The NOC provides a blueprint and support network for implementation of the National Ocean Policy that is a common sense approach to foster coordination among states, the federal government and ocean users.

At Ocean Conservancy, we are excited that smart ocean planning is advancing on the east coast. We also look forward to working with Director Kerttula as she takes the helm of the National Ocean Council.

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Four Ways the Senate Supports Ocean Investments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 21:16:09 +0000 Jeff Watters Just a week after the House of Representatives passed its proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved its NOAA proposal, funding research and activities that influence the health and strength of our ocean economy and coastal communities.

The Senate proposal takes a cue from President Obama’s request, and would invest in several key ocean programs. It would:

  • Fund ocean acidification research at $11 million, recognizing our need to understand how acidification will impact businesses and ecoystems, as well as the need to develop tools to mitigate its impacts. Although this proposal is still $4 million less than the President’s request, the Senate level is a strong step towards protecting marine environments and the communities that depend on them.
  • Provide at least $5 million for competitive Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, which will help communities prepare for changes to marine ecosystems, climate impacts, and economic shifts. These grants will bring together partners on a regional scale to promote resilience and address shared risks.
  • Increase Climate Research funding by $2.19 million to support the Arctic Research Program. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the global average and seasonal sea ice is diminishing rapidly. Funding to expand and improve NOAA’s Arctic Observing Network is critical to track and understand these profound changes and provide products that support our ability to adapt.
  • Provide the requested $6 million for NOAA’s Marine Debris program, which supports existing monitoring and research efforts to better understand accumulation rates of debris and debris sources. The program catalyzes scientific research efforts to quantify the direct and indirect economic impacts caused by marine debris on coastal communities and economies that rely on them.

These investments are a stark contrast to the low funding levels we saw for these ocean priorities in the House version last week.  Up next, the Senate proposal heads to the floor for a vote, and then to conference where members from both chambers will reconcile the House and Senate versions. It will be up to ocean champions in Congress to ensure that strong ocean funding makes it into NOAA’s final budget for next year.

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Attack on National Ocean Policy Defeated; Lost Opportunity to Create a National Endowment for the Ocean Fri, 16 May 2014 20:36:49 +0000 Anne Merwin Over the course of the last few months, we’ve been talking about the competing visions of the House and Senate versions of a bill called the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The Senate proposed to establish a National Endowment for the Oceans, which would expand scientific research, provide planning and resource management, restore habitat and much more. Conversely, the House proposed to gut the existing National Ocean Policy that ensures smart use of ocean resources.

See our previous posts here, here, and here. Thousands of you wrote and called members of Congress, asking them to safeguard the National Ocean Policy and to establish a National Endowment for the Oceans.

This week, after nearly 6 months of negotiation, a final deal was announced. Thanks to your help, the threat to the National Ocean Policy was resoundingly rejected. Champions in the Senate and White House heard you, and successfully negotiated to remove the “Flores rider”—inserted by Rep. Bill Flores who represents a landlocked district in central Texas— from the final bill. If it had been successful, this misguided attempted to undermine the National Ocean Policy would have prohibited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key coastal and ocean management agency, from coordinating with coastal states, other federal agencies and the public as they engage in smart ocean planning. With this threat removed, the multiple states that are already working on smart ocean planning can move forward unimpeded with the full cooperation and participation of the federal government.

Unfortunately, the proposed new National Endowment for the Ocean was collateral damage in the negotiations. It is frustrating and disappointing that despite strong public demand and the recommendation of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, partisan politics derailed this opportunity to create a permanent, sustainable fund for our oceans’ future. However, we appreciate the Administration and Senate’s full-throated defense of the National Ocean Policy, and look forward to working with them to advance ocean planning priorities.

We are also pleased to see that the final bill does help prioritize the needs of coastal communities by creating a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coastal resiliency program. This program spotlights the need for increased resources for ocean and coastal resilience, and takes a positive step toward enabling coastal communities to better respond to changing ocean conditions such as sea level rise, and major disasters such as hurricanes and superstorms.

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Effective Ocean Planning Needs to Be Coast-to-Coast, Not Beach-to-Beach Fri, 14 Mar 2014 11:00:34 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen

Over the last week, I’ve been discussing what coastal and marine spatial planning (“smart ocean planning”) is, what we would need to do to make smart ocean planning work, and what regions of our country have already started the process of making smart ocean planning a reality. In this last installment of our video series, I want to discuss the National Ocean Policy and what’s happening in the United States at the federal level.

Smart ocean planning is a bottom-up process, but it still needs federal support. Coastal states and the federal government each have jurisdiction over their own individual portions of the ocean, and the rules as you move across jurisdictions can both vary greatly and conflict with each other. Because of this, increasing coordination between state governments, the federal government and the stakeholders using the ocean is essential. Without a collaborative process that brings all the relevant players to the table, our decision-making will be disjointed and ineffective in ensuring a healthy ocean for our children and grandchildren.

The National Ocean Policy is the Obama administration’s attempt to foster as much coordination between the states, the federal government and stakeholders as possible. It provides a coordinating blueprint that takes into account all the moving pieces, and a support network through the National Ocean Council. States already work both independently and together on a voluntary basis, but collaboration with federal authorities, who have jurisdiction over many of the uses that occur in the ocean, is necessary to make the best management decisions. Regional planning bodies, now forming as part of the implementation of the National Ocean Policy, provide a venue for this coordinated planning.

For more information on what progress is being made on the national level, check out this short interview with Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, senior advisor to Ocean Conservancy:

If you can’t watch the video on this page, click here.

Read more blogs from this series:

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Does the 2014 Budget Bill Support a Healthy Ocean? Sat, 18 Jan 2014 12:16:57 +0000 Emily Woglom

Photo: NOAA

This week, Congress reached a compromise on a budget bill for fiscal year 2014. But does the bill support a healthy ocean? Let’s just say, if the bill were a marine biology student, it would need to get a tutor.

In the months since last October’s costly government shutdown, Congress has been busily debating how to go forward on major funding issues. Naturally, Ocean Conservancy is concerned with making sure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – and ocean-related programs in general – will receive adequate money. In the beginning stages of the debate last year, we laid out three critical questions that would determine whether the bill was good for the ocean. When the House of Representatives and the Senate each passed their versions of the bill, we graded them based on these questions.

Now that the two chambers have reached a compromise on an overall (“omnibus”) budget bill, let’s see how well the bill did on the test:

1.     NOAA’s topline budget: Does it cover the costs? B+

Sort of.

In fiscal year 2013, the amount of money appropriated to NOAA was pathetic. For 2014, President Obama requested a budget increase for NOAA that would not only fully fund its existing ocean research and conservation programs but propel them forward. Even though the recently-passed bill increases NOAA’s budget from last year’s abysmal levels, it falls short of what the Administration requested by $125 million.

That shortfall increases when you consider that the bill allots $75 million as one-time funding for fishery disaster mitigation. As a result, if you look at the core annual NOAA programs, the effective gap is more like $200 million.

In the end, this year’s budget is better than last year’s budget – and a lot better than what the House originally proposed, which would have resulted in a $525 million shortfall for NOAA. However, it’s far from ideal.

For avoiding the worst outcome and taking a small step in the right direction, we give the bill a “B+” on this question.

2.     Is there balance between NOAA’s wet and dry missions? C+

Not really.

Some good news coming from this bill is that Congress has more than fully funded the National Weather Service. So the “dry side” of NOAA fared quite well.

However, NOAA’s “wet side” programs in the National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service took a significant hit. NMFS faces a $34 million shortfall while the NOS will have to deal with a $25 million shortfall. These are especially concerning figures considering the fact that these two services represent a large portion of NOAA’s wet side.

Here are just a few examples of what the ocean loses as a result:

  • Regional Ocean Partnership grants will be cut completely by the proposed budget, leaving coastal states’ coordinated ocean-use planning completely unfunded.
  • Ocean acidification research stagnates. Funds to study ocean acidification will remain at last year’s insufficient (sequestration) levels. This crucially-important scientific research helps coastal communities cope with the growing problem and enjoys broad support.
  • Endangered marine species left under-protected. Funding for the Species Recovery Grant Program has declined sharply over the last few years.. This year’s budget increases funding for the program only slightly over 2013 levels, keeping it far below historic levels and at a $12 million shortfall. The program provides money to states to help them manage threatened and endangered species such as right whales, monk seals, southern sea otters, and many other important animals.

For this mixed bag peppered with low spots, we give the bill a “C+” on this question.

3.     Does the bill attack the National Ocean Policy? C


While the bill doesn’t explicitly attack the NOP, it conspicuously snubs it. The bill does nothing to help attain the NOP’s goals of smart ocean planning.

The NOP is more than just a NOAA priority; dozens of other federal agencies are involved in its implementation. Congress’s actions make it clear that neither NOAA nor The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, both vital ocean agencies, will receive extra money this year to deal with NOP priorities.

For leaving the NOP hanging, we give the bill a “C” on this question.

The bottom line: While the 2014 budget bill is a slight improvement over 2013 (on the whole) and a huge improvement over the appalling initial proposal from the House, it is far from ideal for our ocean. Overall, the bill gets a C+.

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Ocean Champion to Depart White House as Accomplishments Are in Jeopardy Wed, 04 Dec 2013 00:02:02 +0000 Emily Woglom

Today, President Obama announced that Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), will step down in February. Obama hasn’t named a successor yet, but that person will have sea-size shoes to fill – because Ms. Sutley has been a true champion for the ocean.

Ironically, the announcement of her departure comes as certain members of Congress are working to undermine one of her most important accomplishments: the National Ocean Policy (NOP).

As head of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, Sutley was instrumental in creating the NOP, which ensures smart and sustainable ocean-use planning. The Task Force released its recommendations in 2010; those recommendations were then implemented through an executive order by Obama establishing the NOP. Sutley then set about developing the NOP’s implementation plan, which was released earlier this year.

Ocean Conservancy and our partners have been fighting to safeguard this vital policy. You can lend your voice by clicking here.

In addition to spearheading the NOP, Sutley also worked on important initiatives for Gulf Coast Restoration, clean water, and tackling climate change.

Nancy Sutley leaves a legacy of aquatic accomplishments that will make our ocean cleaner, safer and more productive for generations to come. Ocean Conservancy thanks her for her dedicated service, and we encourage the president to replace her with someone that will continue and expand this good work.

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The Most Important Congressional Action on the Ocean You’ve Never Heard of Fri, 15 Nov 2013 13:00:07 +0000 Emily Woglom Aerial view of San Miguel Island of the Channel Islands, California

Photo: Jonathan Hubbell / Photo Contest 2011

Right now, Congress has a major opportunity to protect our ocean and coasts. It can create a National Endowment for the Oceans and safeguard the existing National Ocean Policy in one fell swoop.

How? Well, it’s a tale of two bills.

The House and the Senate both recently passed versions of a bill called the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), but their versions are different. The Senate version would establish a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO), which would expand scientific research, provide planning and resource management, restore habitat and much more. Conversely, the House version not only fails to establish this endowment, it guts the existing National Ocean Policy (NOP) that ensures smart use of ocean resources.

Soon, a committee made up of members of Congress from both chambers will come together in a “conference” to combine the two bills into a single final version. The ocean will either get a big win or suffer a big loss.

What’s at stake?

Following the recommendations of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, NEO would invest in our ocean’s future. The endowment authorizes grants to state, regional and tribal entities as well as academic institutions and nonprofit organizations to support ocean and Great Lakes research and restoration projects such as:

  • Restoration of wetlands, coral reefs, sea grass beds and watersheds
  • Mapping, monitoring, observation and modeling of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes systems
  • Adaptation to the impacts of climate change and mitigation of coastal hazards, including infrastructure protection
  • Research and monitoring of ocean acidification, hypoxia and harmful algal blooms
  • Conservation of sensitive marine, coastal and Great Lakes species and their habitats
  • Baseline data collection, ecosystem assessments and mapping for use in planning for new sustainable ocean uses and protecting ecosystem health
  • Planning for sustainable coastal development

To put the importance of this work into perspective, consider that scientists estimate that we’ve explored less than 5 percent of the ocean, that 91 percent of ocean species remain undiscovered, and that we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of the United States’ territorial ocean waters.

Moreover, NEO’s investments would create jobs and support coastal economies. They would also ensure that present and future generations benefit from the ecological, economic, educational, social, cultural, spiritual, nutritional and recreational resources of our ocean, coasts and Great Lakes.

Then, there’s the NOP. When it comes to making decisions that impact our ocean, every tool should be on the table for gathering and sharing information. The NOP is one of those vital, common-sense tools. It allows the entities responsible for ocean use planning to coordinate with each other, increasing efficiency and reducing redundancy.

The NOP also pushes ocean and coastal management out to the regional level, putting ocean management decisions in the hands of on-the-ground people and businesses that will be impacted by ocean management decisions. In the words of Sen. Edward Markey, opposing the National Ocean Policy is like opposing air traffic control.

Attacks on the NOP have ranged from hyperbolic to hysterical, with the latest one coming in the form of an amendment to WRDA offered by Rep. Bill Flores, who is not from a coastal district.

The “Flores rider” attempts to block full implementation of the NOP. It would prohibit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a key coastal and ocean management agency, from coordinating with coastal states, other federal agencies and the public as they engage in smart ocean planning.

Banning coordination between the Corps and these entities is misguided. Smart ocean planning is currently being used by several states – from Massachusetts to Oregon – with great success. Imposing such an arbitrary restriction harms states, the Army Corps, and the ocean and coastal economy.

A healthy ocean provides employment, direct economic benefits, recreation, wildlife habitat, cultural identity and indirect economic services like protection from natural disaster. Ocean Conservancy staff members are working hard on Capitol Hill to make sure the final bill is a win for the ocean and the people who rely on it. You can help by telling your member of Congress to support the National Endowment for the Oceans and oppose the anti-National Ocean Policy Flores rider in the WRDA bill.

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