The piece below was excerpted from an article by Tom Allen in Roll Call. Allen is the president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers and a Board member of Ocean Conservancy. He represented Maine’s 1st District in Congress for six terms and was a founding member of the House Oceans Caucus.
In a Congress marred by gridlock and partisan brinkmanship, a surprising opportunity has emerged to strengthen our nation’s ocean and coastal communities, businesses and environment. Congress should seize the moment and establish the long-recommended National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes.
Unless Congress acts now, the opportunity will slip away.
The House and Senate Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) bills currently in conference contain competing provisions — with competing visions — for the future of ocean and coastal management in America. This legislative conflict is part of our country’s broader ideological struggle, but with this difference: On the ocean, no state government, chamber of commerce or environmental group can exercise coordinated and effective leadership alone.
The U.S. government shutdown began one month ago today. Thankfully, the government has been reopened, and the fiscal showdown is fast becoming a distant memory that we’re all trying to forget. But details are slowly emerging on the shutdown’s actual costs and damage. We’ve gotten our hands on some of that information, and when it comes to our oceans and coasts, it doesn’t look pretty.
Based on information given to us by sources within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the cost of just one small part of the shutdown—recalling NOAA’s fleet of research ships and planes—added up to more than half a million dollars.
That’s half a million dollars just for NOAA’s ships and planes to return to port and sit idle while the shutdown fight played out on Capitol Hill. That’s half a million dollars that will come out of NOAA’s already-tight operations budgets. And that’s half a million dollars that could have been spent on ocean research and conservation instead.
Credit – National Weather Service: National Hurricane Center
Heading into the weekend, there are three very disturbing realities coming together that make those of us who care about the ocean very uncomfortable:
Tropical Storm Karen is making its way through the Gulf of Mexico and heading straight towards a vast field of offshore oil rigs and pipelines. Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are already under tropical storm watches and warnings.
When tropical storms and hurricanes hit this region, they can cause a lot of oil spills. For example, the damage that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused to rigs and pipelines resulted in spills totaling 17, 652 barrels (or roughly three-quarters of a million gallons) of petroleum products. Even more oil was spilled from on-shore facilities. Not to mention the fact that a major storm might also churn up submerged oil from the BP oil spill, sending it back onto our shores and beaches.
Because of the government shutdown, many of NOAA’s oil spill experts – employees of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – are furloughed and off the job.
As the federal government closes down today—including vast portions of the agencies that help study and protect our ocean—the impacts are quickly being felt far beyond just the federal employees that are being sent home.
Non-government scientists, academics, state and local officials, and even schoolchildren who rely on ocean data provided by the government will find that many of the websites that deliver this valuable information have now been taken down.
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell, U.S. Coast Guard
If Congress can’t reach consensus on a government funding bill by the end of today, the federal government will shut down. Today is the last day of the federal government’s fiscal year, and Congress hasn’t passed any bills yet to … well … pay the bills and keep the government functioning. So unless Congress gets its act together really fast (and it doesn’t look like that’s very likely), we’ll have a government shutdown starting tomorrow.
Regardless of your views on who’s at fault or your opinion on the fight over Obamacare, the result of a shutdown is clear: Many of the federal agencies that manage our ocean environment will close up shop and send their employees home.
So here’s a look at which of the government’s ocean activities would stay open, which would be shuttered and what a government shutdown looks like for the ocean:
Kathryn Sullivan, President Obama’s nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Sullivan’s nomination is on the move! The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation – the committee that has jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – is holding a hearing tomorrow on Kathryn Sullivan’s nomination to be the agency’s head. This is an important step towards Congressional approval of Sullivan’s nomination. NOAA is our nation’s lead ocean agency, and we hope that Congress moves swiftly to confirm Dr. Sullivan for this important post.
The first American woman to walk in space. An oceanographer and acting NOAA administrator. Former president and CEO of Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry. These are just some of the highlights in the career of Kathryn Sullivan, President Obama’s nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Needless to say, she has some serious science cred.
This is great news for NOAA and all those who care about a healthy ocean. If confirmed, the agency will have strong leadership from someone who already has a good sense of the agency, its mission and its challenges.
With Sullivan’s background in both the ocean and satellites—which represent both NOAA’s “wet” and “dry” sides—she will provide the guidance needed to make the right decisions.
A scientist measures a juvenile tiger shark during a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy
More than 70 species of shark occur in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic coast. Of those, we catch over a dozen large and small coastal species during the bottom longline population survey I’m participating in with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Here are five of the species we commonly spot:
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark This small shark is the most commonly caught species during our survey because it is ubiquitous in this region. In the right depths, it is not uncommon for us to catch around 50 of these small sharks per set of 100 hooks.
Population status: Due to their abundance in the western North Atlantic, their population status is not considered to be of great concern. Apart from humans, Atlantic sharpnose sharks also have other, larger sharks to fear as predators.