Since its first observance by the United Nations in 2008, World Oceans Day has provided an occasion to celebrate the wonders of a magnificent ecosystem. Amazing wildlife, breathtaking views, tasty seafood and recreational enjoyment are just some of the amenities a healthy ocean offers to us.
Thankfully, many of us realize how vital the ocean is and work hard to keep this beautiful ecosystem safe. The Surfrider Foundation is proud to be one of the organizations leading the charge -- empowering citizens from across the country and the world to join us as Ocean Defenders. And it's paying off. Great strides have been made to reduce plastic pollution, a silent, but very deadly threat. Did you know that it takes 58 gallons of fresh water to produce 1,500 plastic bags and that non-biodegradable bags remain in the environment for decades? It's true. And that's not all. Tens of thousands of marine mammals, such as dolphins and seals -- and up to one million sea birds -- die each year after ingesting plastic or getting tangled in it. While it's exciting to see many cities supporting bag bans -- conserving water, protecting the environment and saving wildlife -- there is still much to be done.
World Oceans Day is a timely reminder that we must do better in protecting this irreplaceable resource. There's no denying it -- the ocean faces a mounting set threats. The impacts of pollution, development, fishing pressure and climate change are combining to endanger wildlife populations and the basic functions of the marine ecosystem. And it's not just the fish and animals in the sea that are suffering. Things are looking bad for us humans, too. Our food supply, clean water and industries whose livelihoods are connected to the ocean and its beaches ... they're all in jeopardy, as well.
If there's anything to be learned from the past 50 years of ocean advocacy, it's that we need to get smarter about how we protect this resource. No longer can we simply react to the latest crisis and expect to reverse the alarming declines to the health of the ocean.
The oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, on May 18th proves why a reactive approach to ocean stewardship will ultimately fail. As a nine-mile toxic slick covered pelicans, sea lions and other marine life in oil, government officials and environmentalists were left scrambling to mitigate the damage. Undoubtedly, humans will continue to inflict harm on the ocean, both through day-to-day activity and episodic events like major oil spills. That's exactly why a more proactive approach to management is required.
Fortunately, a growing movement is taking shape across the country to pioneer better approaches to ocean management. At the federal level, we have the National Ocean Policy, striving to unite all levels of government on priorities such as water quality, marine debris and renewable energy. On the regional and state levels, ocean leaders are helping to forge unlikely partnerships between government, NGOs, industries and communities. These collaborations provide the necessary support for ocean planning and other forward-thinking approaches that can help protect the ocean, coasts and Great Lakes for present and future generations. From mapping ocean habitats to collecting human-use data on coastal recreation and fishing, to advancing new industries like offshore wind -- these new partnerships are making an impact.
Yet, despite this progress, the future of the National Ocean Policy remains in danger, plagued by a lack of support and funding from Congress. Just last month, another measure was introduced in the House of Representatives to restrict implementation of the policy. Meanwhile, many supporters in Congress have been passive, spending their political capital on other priorities. The result? Our National Ocean Policy is neglected. It's under-supported by our nation's leaders. And the ocean, and those that depend upon it, bear the consequences.
Let's use June 8th -- World Oceans Day -- to champion the National Ocean Policy. Members of Congress need to hear from real people in their districts about why the ocean matters. Ultimately, our ocean will not get the support and funding it deserves until the people who care start raising their hands. That is why the next step in advancing our National Ocean Policy begins with you!
Whether you love the ocean for its serenity, for making memories with friends and family, or for your livelihood, the enjoyment and sustainment we each get from the ocean is undeniable. We must continue the fight to protect and preserve this precious natural resource. Together we can make a difference.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Oceans Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost's "What's Working" initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here.