The year 2012 promises hope for the future of America’s oceans. Changes are expected that will help the creatures that live below the surface, the people who live and vacation along our coasts, and the clean energy developers who want to tap into the vast wind potential that lies off our shores.
Any day now, the National Ocean Council -- a forum for federal agencies -- will release a draft blueprint of how we should best tackle the major threats facing ocean life, such as ocean acidification, habitat protection, water quality and pollution. We are looking forward to a robust public discussion of how we can help.
Putting a strong ocean action plan in place is one of the key deliverables of the national ocean policy set into motion by President Obama in 2010. The national ocean policy -- for the first time ever-- calls on agencies to coordinate their offshore work and ensure that our oceans will be healthy for this and future generations’ use.
The executive order that established this policy also called for comprehensive, regional ocean planning to evaluate the uses of our oceans -- recreation, fishing, tourism, industry, energy and conservation -- and identify ways to manage these uses sustainably so that future generations, as well as our own, can continue to enjoy the ocean’s vast resources. NRDC just developed a basic fact sheet on the value of this kind of smart ocean planning -- it’s exactly the sort of common sense process we need to get our watery home in order. And this short film narrated by Philippe Cousteau -- a tireless ocean advocate and grandson of the famed underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau -- also helps explain how this kind of sensible ocean planning can improve the health of our seas.
The ground-breaking new ocean policy will not only help preserve the wonder and beauty of our seas -- it will help nourish the economic engines they support. America’s oceans provide critical ecological and economic services and generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year for the nation; a significant amount of this economic value relies on healthy, functioning ocean ecosystems. Just look at these quick facts:
- In 2009, ocean-related tourism and recreation alone contributed more than $61 billion to the nation’s GDP and was responsible for more than 1.8 million jobs.
- In terms of ocean industry employment, more than 70 percent of all jobs were attributed to tourism and recreation.
- A 2011 report exploring fisheries economics found that the commercial fishing industry generated over $116 billion in sales and $31.5 billion in income, and supported more than 1 million jobs in 2009.
- Expenditures by recreational fishermen generated nearly $50 billion in sales and supported more than 320,000 jobs.
But our marine resources are under enormous strain from overexploitation, habitat degradation, coastal pollution and climate change -- putting their economic and environmental stability in jeopardy. A similar snapshot of facts paints a bleak picture of the current state of our seas:
- Globally, 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited or overexploited, and large predators like tunas, marlin and sharks have declined by as much as 90 percent worldwide.
- In U.S. waters, 16 percent of major fisheries are currently subject to overfishing and 23 percent are overfished.
- The number of "dead zones" -- oxygen-depleted regions devoid of life -- has increased exponentially since the 1970s.
- In 2010 the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone was the fifth largest on record and covered an area the size of New Jersey.
- Ocean waters have seen a 30 percent increase in acidity due to their intake of carbon dioxide pollution from the atmosphere.
- A third of all shallow-water corals -- which provide essential habitat to thousands of species -- are at risk of extinction.
It’s time to make protecting ocean health our new year’s resolution. Thankfully, our new national ocean policy offers a bright start for our ocean future.
This post was first published on NRDC's Switchboard blog.