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February 12, 2009
By David Helvarg

Featured Speakers
CEQ Director
Nancy Sutley

NOAA Administrator
Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Sheldon Whitehouse

Sylvia Earle

Philippe Cousteau

Bill McKibben

Marine Artist

Jim Toomey

A Time to Act

With the global economy in free fall, industrial gasses altering our atmosphere, human population expanding and marine and terrestrial ecosystems unraveling we’re at a historic juncture for the world, the nation and the blue in our red, white and blue.

One somewhat hopeful sign for America’s blue frontier is Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s decision to shelve last-minute Bush Administration plans to open new offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, though a long term moratorium on offshore drilling needs to be reinstated. Another positive sign is the expected appointment of Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (SeeĀ Blue Notes #53). The nomination and subsequent withdrawal of Republican Senator Judd Gregg to be Secretary of Commerce, like Bill Richardson before him, had much to do with politics but little with our public seas even though NOAA is the largest element within the Department of Commerce.

Still, I’d suggest to whoever the next Secretary of Commerce might be and to our other national leaders that we’re not likely to see an economic recovery or an effective climate strategy if we don’t pay attention to the role of the ocean.

Healthy seas and coasts are essential to the nation’s economy, security, and stability. About half of America’s GDP is generated in its 600 coastal counties (which are home to $4 trillion of insured property). And to some degree, everyone is at risk from the cascading marine ecological disasters of global overfishing (loss of food security), nutrient and plastic pollution (public health threats), coastal sprawl (increased risk of disaster), and climate change (big increased risk of disaster).

A recent study by NOAA scientists working with their colleagues in Europe found that industrial carbon-dioxide build-up in the atmosphere is likely to result in sustained regional droughts and rising sea levels (and storm surges) for at least the next 1,000 years.

A United Nations convened panel of 155 scientists from 26 countries noted that acidification of the ocean represents an “imminent” threat to the survival of coral reefs, shellfish and the entire marine food web.

“Nobody really focused on it because we were all so worried about warming,” marine scientist Jeremy Jackson told the New York Times, “but it is very clear that acid is a major threat.”

If this wasn’t enough bad news on a week I already had the flu, long-time offshore-oil-drilling opponent Richard Charter was nice enough to forward me a story about how 20 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill key Prince William Sound indicator species are declining, including orcas, whose unique endemic whale language may soon go extinct along with the last local orca families.

The best available science is predicting the worst imaginable scenarios and what’s most frustrating is that although we know what the solutions are, we just haven’t mobilized the political and popular will to implement them.

A Course Correction for the Politics of the Ocean

We hope, that as a result of our collective efforts, including the upcoming Blue Vision Summit and follow-up activities in our home states (and territories), the Obama administration will adopt a White House plan for healthy, sustainable seas. This would include protection of our emerging fifth coast in Arctic Alaska; increased support for regional, state, and local ocean initiatives and a rapid transition from offshore oil and gas to sustainable ocean energy production as part of a well-conceived plan for marine zoning. These are all topics that will be discussed by top national and international experts at the Summit.

Zoning or “marine spatial management” would incorporate a system of improved watersheds and estuaries, offshore shipping lanes and greener ports, wildlife migration corridors, clean energy, national defense and fishing areas, recreational and marine wilderness parks, and other benefits.

Also needed is Congressional passage of a U.S. Ocean Act at the level of the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act of the last century, in order to ensure that this kind of tidal change is enshrined as the law of the land.

But first there’s the Law of the Sea to deal with. After 30 years of delay, we will use part of our Summit Capitol Hill Day to encourage our Senators to finally ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty this year and reengage with the rest of the world in setting the basic rules for navigation, exploration, and conservation on the world ocean. The Treaty, endorsed by the full range of ocean interests from oil companies to Greenpeace, isn’t even low-lying fruit; it’s on the ground rotting, just waiting to be picked up. A more daunting political challenge for the Obama administration and Congress will be comprehensive management of the 3.4 million square nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone that stretches 200 miles out from U.S. shores.

Still, we’re hopeful that new approaches such as a federal Ocean Act or a White House ocean initiative, driven and monitored by a bottom-up seaweed (marine grassroots) constituency, might yet inspire broad public support to help restore our public waters and shores from sea to shining sea.

Four Days to Turn the Tide

This is why I strongly encourage readers of Blue Notes to attend the Blue Vision Summit March 7 to 10 in Washington D.C. and join with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (d-RI), Rep. Sam Farr (d-CA) and other Congressional leaders, invited speaker Dr. Jane Lubchenco (NOAA), also Jeremy Jackson, Richard Charter, Sylvia Earle, Philippe Cousteau, Thomas Lovejoy, authors Bill McKibben, Carl Safina and Deb Cramer, the marine artist Wyland, Sherman’s Lagoon cartoonist Jim Toomey, ocean rower Roz Savage, the creators of Google Ocean (5.0) and others who work to understand, protect, explore and restore our blue planet.

As Summit outreach coordinator and coastal paddler Margo Pellegrino likes to say, “If you’re not at the table you’re one of the courses.”

We have to make sure hundreds of ocean leaders are at the table in early March to let President Obama and Congress know there’s a growing national constituency for a healthy ocean and the diverse coastal communities that depend on it. Those who’ve registered so far are coming from 16 states including Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Alaska with the largest contingent from California. To learn more or to register, go,

And who’re the big fish behind this Summit?

Blue Vision Summit Sponsors to Date:

  • Blue Frontier Campaign
  • Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation
  • National Geographic
  • Pew Environment Group
  • Oceana
  • The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation
  • Ocean Champions
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • The Ocean Conservancy
  • Clean Ocean Action
  • Care2.Com
  • Project AWARE
  • The Henry Foundation
  • The Ocean Foundation
  • The Baum Foundation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Surfrider (D.C. Chapter)

So please plan to join us. If you cannot make it, pass this message on to your colleagues, friends and other watermen and women and encourage them to attend. Only by joining forces can we truly make a difference in the water and on the shore.