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National Ocean Policy


ACTION ALERT: The National Ocean Council wants to hear from you!

Read our summary of the Draft Implementation Plan

About the National Ocean Policy

More than a quarter century after President Reagan established a U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone stretching 200 miles out from America’s shoreline, a vast marine domain six times the size of the Louisiana Purchase, President Obama is moving towards a unified national ocean policy to oversee it. In June 2009 he established an Interagency Ocean Policy Taskforce to protect and manage this largest, most challenging wilderness frontier in our nation’s history and gave it 180 days (since extended) to develop a plan for his approval.

Protect Our Oceans Rally - Wear Blue sign Right now our public seas and waters are administered by more than 20 federal agencies, along with a welter of state, local and tribal authorities under 140 separate laws with little or no regard for the cumulative impacts of competing and often overlapping uses of our coasts and ocean. The result: citizen stakeholders are drowning in red tape even as our marine ecosystems continue to degrade.

The Blue Frontier Campaign is bringing together a wide range of marine conservation organizations to coordinate and strengthen advocacy for national ocean policy and effective policy implementation. This spring, we will hold Over the Horizon, a gathering in Washington, DC to clarify participants’ priorities and messages and to strategize for future public policy efforts.

Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force: Public Meetings

In 2009, six regional Task Force ‘listening sessions’ around the nation took place. The Blue Frontier Campaign helped mobilize 2,000 people who turned out to be heard. Hundreds gave testimony while many more submitted written statements to the White House Council on Environmental Quality that’s leading the effort. Each meeting reflected its own set of geographic concerns, whether over the need to protect Arctic resources in Alaska, restore coastal wetlands in Louisiana or deal with invasive species like Asian Carp in the Great Lakes. Still, a common theme among 75-80 percent of those who testified was support for the government taking a more unified approach in addressing environmental and safety concerns and the need for a single point of federal contact and collaboration for people working on solutions at the local, state and regional levels.

An example of why a comprehensive approach is needed was reflected in a recent decision by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke (who oversees NOAA) to ban commercial fishing in 250,000 square miles of climate-impacted Arctic waters north of the Bering Sea until the effects on this rapidly changing ecosystem are better understood. His decision was supported and encouraged by both commercial fishermen and environmentalists. At the same time the Department of Interior continues to issue oil and gas drilling permits in these same high-risk waters ignoring the precautionary principle (“first, do no harm”) being practiced by its sister agency. A comprehensive National Ocean Policy will prevent this kind of inconsistent stove piped approach to managing our public waters.

In September 2009 during the second of six public hearings the Task Force issued its interim report with a strong emphasis on the need to have an ecosystems based approach to ocean policy.

For a report of the six public hearings please click here.

Lessons Learned/Next Steps


On November 19, 2009 Blue Frontier Campaign sponsored a Lessons Learned/Next Steps meeting for Seaweed Activists at the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C. Some 40 people representing several dozen groups participated live and by phone. We agreed to follow through on the success of the public hearings with a ‘Wear Blue for the Oceans’ Day January 13, 2010 calling for the President to issue an Executive Order enacting a strong national ocean policy on receiving the final report of his Task Force.

Meanwhile the Task Force issued its second report on ‘Marine Spatial Planning’ in response to the President’s initial call for “a systematic marine spatial planning framework for the conservation and sustainable use of ocean resources.”

While millions in private foundation dollars as well as NOAA funding has been directed at defining Marine Spatial Planning (also known as Ecosystem-Based Management), at present it’s such a new field of applied science that agreed standards and metrics for measuring its practice and successes are not yet in place.  Practical examples of MSP are limited in scope from a fishing-family based initiative in Port Orford Oregon to an ocean management plan being implemented by the State of Massachusetts.

Blue Frontier’s understanding of Marine Spatial Planning is as a kind of ocean and coastal version of urban planning that would incorporate a system of cleaned up watersheds and estuaries, offshore shipping lanes and greener ports, wildlife migration corridors, clearly delineated clean energy, national defense training and fishing areas, recreational and marine wilderness parks and other science-based integrated ocean management structures that produce measurable public benefits. For planning purposes it recognizes humans are a part of the marine ecosystem but also that the basic laws of nature including biology, chemistry and physics are not amendable to negotiated compromises and trade offs.

Wear Blue for the Ocean

Wear Blue Day, January 13, 2010 proved to be a huge success with rallies and events in more than a dozen cities including D.C., San Francisco, New Orleans, Cambridge and Honolulu and many more organized through social networking on Facebook, twitter and at the website where many of these first national events and group images in support of our Oceans and Great Lakes are now archived.

In Washington D.C. 75 people in blue “Protect Our Oceans” tee-shirts (pulled over their winter coats), also in fish costumes and carrying colorful placards and inflatable globes gathered in Lafayette Square in front of the White House for ‘Wear Blue for Oceans Day,” to support a strong national ocean policy.

Among the speakers was “Sherman’s Lagoon” cartoonist and illustrator of “50 Ways to Save the Ocean,” Jim Toomey (whose ’50 Ways’ crab and fish characters, Clawdia and Finley, were icons of the day).

phoca_thumb_l_hawaii#2A4DD5“This event is like a dozen others all over the country…We’re here to demonstrate America cares about it’s oceans and Great Lakes,” he explained.  “It’s more than amber waves of grain, it’s also blue.   We’re also here to ask the president to issue an executive order to take a more unified approach to ocean policy based on science and the boundaries of nature.”

Other speakers included explorer David Guggenheim (“The Ocean Doctor,”) Sean Cosgrove of the Conservation Law Foundation and his daughter Lucy (who preferred pink to blue), Mike Dunmyer of Ocean Champions, ex-government official Mike Nucklos (who also videotaped the event), Julie Lawson, Chair of Surfriders D.C. Chapter, Marine Conservationist Wendy Benchley and David Helvarg of Blue Frontier Campaign who said it was an adjustment for him, “to rally and protest in favor of the government and have people in government who not only know what they’re talking about but listen to the people.”  The group then marched across the park to pose in front of the office of the White House Council on Environmental Quality whose chair, Nancy Sutley, is leading the President’s Ocean Policy Task Force.  A “Protect Our Oceans” Tee-shirt was given to her assistant to pass on to her.

Just as the 1983 executive order establishing a new EEZ ocean frontier may be one of Ronald Reagan’s least known but most significant actions as president, an executive order this Spring establishing a national ocean policy for the practical use and long-term protection of our public seas could be one of Barack Obama’s outstanding achievements. After all it’s not every president who gets to redefine a frontier or restore the blue in our red, white and blue.

Please watch this space, subscribe to Blue Notes or Blue Frontier President David Helvarg’s blog on Huffington Post to be kept up to date on the U.S. National Ocean Policy.

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