Like many Surfrider members, my love of the ocean stems from my connection with its natural bounty. As an avid surfer and beachgoer, I spend as much time as I can exploring Oregon’s beautiful coastline, sampling our rich (and cold) selection of surf breaks, and marveling at wild salmon runs and giant kelp beds. I feel privileged to be a part of a healthy marine ecosystem, and I understand how our communities on the Oregon coast depend on it for tourism, recreation, and commercial fishing.
So when President Obama established the National Ocean Policy (NOP) through an executive order in July of 2010, it wasn’t just another government initiative for me. It was a sign of hope that finally a real attempt was being made to address the many shortcomings of our nation’s piecemeal approach to ocean management, highlighted by the U.S. Ocean Commission, the Joint Oceans Commission, and many others. In short, it was the promise of a new era in ocean and coastal stewardship.
Now, less than two years later, there are indeed encouraging signs of progress. The National Ocean Council is building on the momentum of public listening sessions held around the country and finalizing an Implementation Plan of federal actions to address key issues such as water quality, ecosystem protection, science support, and marine spatial planning. Meanwhile, regional ocean partnerships are coalescing in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the West Coast, and elsewhere, bringing together states, Tribes, ocean stakeholders, and the public to address place-based needs and priorities.
Yet, despite these promising developments, the future of the National Ocean Policy is in jeopardy, plagued by a lack of support and funding from congress. Just last month, yet another measure was introduced in the House to restrict funding and implementation of the policy – this despite the fact that the policy is being advanced with existing agency resources! Furthermore, several Republican leaders including Rep. Doc Hastings (WA), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have seized on the NOP as a partisan issue, labeling marine spatial planning as “burdensome” and accusing the administration of regulatory overreach (I won’t elaborate on Hastings’ proposals to vastly expand offshore drilling or the donations he receives from oil & gas companies).
But the partisanship and political attacks in Washington D.C. are obscuring an important truth - the principles of the National Ocean Policy are taking hold in states and regions across the country despite the lack of support from the federal government. From the Pacific Northwest to New England, the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Islands, regions are making real advances in ocean mapping, habitat restoration, renewable energy siting, and other key areas. In my home state of Oregon, a process to create a marine spatial plan for wave energy development has brought together community leaders, fishermen, surfers, environmentalists, and developers as part of an effective public collaboration. The expected outcome: a plan that will both protect the environment and existing ocean uses, while also advancing renewable energy opportunities.
Of course, such success stories do not resonate well in Washington D.C., where controversy is the rule of the day and political parties instinctively oppose each other’s proposals. Adding to the problem, many supporters in congress have been passive, spending their political capital on other priorities and cautioning ocean advocates against making the NOP a target in annual budget discussions. The result is that our National Ocean Policy is neglected and under-supported by congress, while our oceans and those that depend upon them bear the consequences.
Personally, I’m getting tired of “waiting in line” for improved ocean management from the federal government. The last time I checked, the oceans generate billions of dollars in revenue for coastal communities and the nation as a whole. Furthermore, it’s beyond dispute that our current management paradigm is ill equipped to address the ocean challenges of the 21st century, including new industrial uses, climate change adaptation, plastic pollution, and swelling populations on the coast.
That’s why it’s time for those who value our coasts and oceans to speak up and champion the National Ocean Policy. Members of congress need to hear from real people in their districts about why the oceans matter, and how the policy will help protect these assets. Ultimately, our oceans will not get the support and funding they deserve until the people who are most affected start raising their hands. That is why the next step in advancing our National Ocean Policy begins with you!
Pete Stauffer is the Ocean Program Manager at the Surfrider Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.