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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.

Solution: The Commission calls upon Congress and the states to work together to set aside habitat critical to coastal ecosystems and to promote smart land use that protects terrestrial and marine environments. The Commission also calls for the redirection of government programs and subsidies that contribute to the degradation of the coastal environment.

Finding: Overfishing, wasteful bycatch, the destruction of habitat, and resulting changes in marine food webs threaten the living oceans upon which our fishing industry and heritage depend.

Solution: The Commission urges the adoption of ecosystem-based management that restricts destructive fishing gear, eliminates the wasteful practice of discarding unintended catch, and places a priority on the long-term health of marine life and marine ecosystems. Central to this goal is the immediate need to separate conservation decisions (How many fish we sustainably catch?) from allocation decisions (Who gets to catch them?) within the fishery management process.

Finding: The nutrients and toxic substances running off our cities, streets, yards, and fields and emanating from our smokestacks and tailpipes present the greatest pollution threat to coastal waters.

Solution: The Commission calls for (1) national standards that set nutrient pollution limits and (2) compliance with these standards and further reductions in toxic pollution using watershed-based approaches. The Commission also calls for stricter measures to abate pollution from animal feeding operations and cruise ships, and to stem the tide of invasive species arriving from overseas.

The commission also urges the doubling of the federal ocean research budget, which for more than a decade has hovered near U.S. $755 million, less than four percent of the nation's total research budget. Citing the need to build a national constituency for the oceans, the commission also calls for a new era of ocean literacy to inspire the next generation with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the oceans.

And in response to the environmental risks associated with the emerging aquaculture industry, the commission calls for a moratorium on the expansion of finfish aquaculture (including salmon) until national policies and standards are in place.

"A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt instilled a conservation ethic for our land that resulted in such national treasures as Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Today, we extend this ethic to the oceans and pledge to meet our responsibility to provide for the coming generation a bountiful ocean legacy," said Panetta.

More Ocean Stories from National Geographic News

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"Colossal Squid" Revives Legends of Sea Monsters
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