04/24/2013 04:01 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013

Why We Need a National Ocean Policy


This week over one billion people in 192 countries celebrated Earth Day. We planted trees, shared recycling tips, pledged action to combat climate change, and took a moment to reflect on what nature has given us. Wendell Berry once said, "The earth is what we all have in common," but consider these statistics: 71 percent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, and 80 percent of the Earth's population lives near the ocean. Yet 95 percent of the Earth's ocean remains unexplored, and we know more about the mountains of the moon than about this great abyss. With more than half of the United States' population living within fifty miles of our coasts, one in every six jobs in the U.S. is marine-related. If we care about our economic stability, our health, and our environmental future, it's time that our purview of the Earth becomes less terrestrial.

Earlier this month the White House finalized the National Ocean Policy, a plan to manage the nation's oceans and reconcile the interests of over two dozen federal agencies. Initiatives of the new plan include monitoring ocean acidification and pollution, regulating aquaculture, improving access to renewable offshore energy, and protecting coastal communities. The policy also intends to improve fishery management in order to meet the growing demand for sustainable seafood. Not everyone is happy about the new policy, arguing that the Obama administration is overreaching. We disagree. If we want a sustainable future, the importance of managing our oceans, arguably our most critical natural resource, cannot be underestimated.

Anyone who doubts the need for ocean regulation need only to look to the United States, where better management of fish stocks has brought the fishing industry, and the local economies that depend upon it, back from the brink of ruin. Worldwide the situation is grimmer. Over one billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein, yet 85 percent of the world's fisheries are considered overexploited. Only 25 countries control more than 75 percent of the world's fish stocks - imagine what could happen if these countries worked together? How many people could be fed? Our hope is that the U.S. National Ocean Policy sets a precedent for a global effort toward greater ocean stewardship.

If the Earth were a body, the ocean would be our most important organ. It's our planet's breath, the force that governs our climate and atmosphere, a source of food and economic stability. Its potential to sustain us is vast if only we nurture it properly. A healthier ocean benefits us all.