Group Urges National Effort to Save U.S. Ocean Areas

National Geographic News
June 4, 2003

Overfishing at sea, over-development along the coasts, and increasing pollution from cities and fields are leading to decline of ocean wildlife and the collapse of ocean ecosystems, according to a report released today by scientists, fishermen, conservationists, business leaders, and elected officials.

The independent Pew Oceans Commission called for immediate reform of U.S. ocean laws and policies to restore ocean wildlife, protect ocean ecosystems, and preserve the ecological, economic, and social benefits the oceans provide.

"For centuries we have viewed the oceans as beyond our ability to harm and their bounty beyond our ability to deplete. The evidence is clear that this is no longer true," said Leon Panetta, chairperson of the independent, bipartisan commission. "The good news is that it is not too late to act. This report offers practical solutions for bringing ocean management into the 21st century to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy clean beaches, healthful seafood, abundant ocean wildlife, and thriving coastal communities."

More than half the U.S. population lives along the coast. Many millions more come to its shores each year to swim, sail, and surf. Fishing is America's oldest profession, and one of its favorite pastimes.

In its study of the coastal and ocean waters, the commission traveled from Maine to Hawaii, the Gulf of Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, and into the heartland to speak to Americans about new approaches for the responsible management of the oceans. The 18-member commission (please see side bar) arrived at its recommendations after careful deliberation and without dissent, according to a press statement released today.

"The commission calls for a bold, new conservation ethic that embraces the oceans as a public trust, recognizes our dependence on healthy marine ecosystems, and practices precaution as we manage ocean resources," the statement said.

Among the leading findings and recommendations:

Finding: U.S. ocean policy is a hodgepodge of narrow laws that has grown by accretion over the years, often in response to crisis, and is in need of reform to reflect the substantial changes in our knowledge of the oceans and our values toward them.

Solution: The Commission calls upon Congress and the Bush administration to pass a National Ocean Policy Act that embodies a national commitment to protect, maintain, and restore the living oceans.

Finding: Management approaches that cut across lines of jurisdiction and involve all members of the community have proven to be the most successful.

Solution: The Commission calls for the establishment of an independent oceans agency to streamline federal management, the creation of regional ecosystem councils to bring fishermen, scientists, citizens, and government officials together to develop ocean management plans, and a national network of marine reserves to protect and restore fragile ocean habitats.

Finding: With half the nation living along the coast and millions more visiting each year, we are fundamentally changing the natural ecosystems that attract us to the coast.

Continued on Next Page >>


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