Call For A National Ocean Policy!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 14, 2009 10:57 am

Moon-Jelly_smallThere has been no comprehensive statement from our government on oceans. Now for the first time, we have a common vision to govern the 4.4 million square miles of America’s marine waters: President Obama’s Ocean Policy Task Force has issued science-based recommendations for a national policy to govern, protect, maintain and restore ocean habitat.

Why should you care? Oceans are important to all of us–not just fishermen and boaters, but snorkelers, sunbathers, divers… even those who may not see the coast on a regular basis. They drive life on our planet. Unless we take responsibility for keeping oceans sound, we’re all in trouble. As the Marine Conservation Biology Institute explains:

If adopted, implemented and funded, the recommendations would usher in a new era of ocean management — one based on environmental stewardship. Just imagine the impact we could have if, rather than the hodgepodge of agencies and laws that currently govern oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes, we work together to restore the health of these critical ecosystems!

Go visit and tell the White House Council on Environmental Quality that you support a comprehensive national policy to protect, maintain and restore our oceans and coasts. The 30 day comment period ends on the 17th.

For inspiration, once again, here’s My Top Ten List of reasons why oceans are vital:

  1. Ocean critters generate a good deal of the oxygen we breathe.
  2. We’re talking 99% of the habitat, 97% of the water, and 71% of surface on the planet!
  3. Oceans drive climate and weather through transfer of water and heat.
  4. Most U.S. commerce travels through the nation’s ports.
  5. Oceans account for a $20 billion recreational fishing industry… not to mention, a $60 billion annual seafood industry.
  6. And we’re talking $8 trillion estimated in oil and gas reserves.
  7. They support nearly 50 percent of all species on Earth.
  8. Over 50% of our nation’s population lives in coastal counties.
  9. Oceans mitigate the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere at their own expense… (okay, and ultimately ours).
  10. Marine animals and plants produce a ton of compounds that prevent and treat human disease.  Like sea cucumbers

Comments (10)

  1. Kc

    What a great message – oceans are super critical. In a time of economic crisis, we must remember that healthy oceans make for healthy economies!

    Let the White House know that the range war mentality of the ocean doesn’t benefit current Americans and sure as heck doesn’t protect resources for future Americans.

    It is about time that a stewardship statement guides all activities in our waters.


  2. scienceer

    Go Sheril!
    Posted to the CEQ site:
    There needs to be a sweeping, integrated, science-driven, sharp-toothed policy to manage and protect the ocean. The U.S. should show unilateral leadership in this area — a less fraught, perhaps, but more soluble issue than other national priorities.

  3. Tina Bruce

    Thank you for sharing your top ten list and for all of your hard work. I also think that ocean preservation is a worthy government endeavor and should be priortized to near the top of government to-do lists.

  4. This is from a press release by Dan Bacher, ed. Fishsniffer magazine and a progressive activist in N. California.

    “Today is a historic day for our oceans,” said Lubchenco. “For the first time our nation is saying loudly and clearly that healthy oceans matter.”

    Bacher was reporting on the second Ocean Policy Task Force Public Meeting in San Francisco, California on September 17.

    There is still a very big distance between Lubchenko’s goals and the reality of policy as implemented.

  5. You can see the Coast Guard’s position on the Ocean Policy Task Force Interim Report here:

    Admiral Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, is participating in today’s OPTF public meeting of the Gulf Region in New Orleans (and remotely from FL, TX, MS and Al). At today’s press conference he stated that in his 38 years of public service he has never been involved in a more integrated policy development effort. (Follow his OPTF tweets on twitter @iCommandantUSCG, #OPTF)

    Again, thanks for your interest and we welcome your input!

    LCDR Tony Russell
    U.S. Coast Guard
    Press Secretary to the Commandant

    This is an official United States Coast Guard posting for the public’s information. Our posting does not endorse this site or anything on it, including links to other sites, and we disclaim responsibility and liability for the site and its content.

  6. Mary Lee Light

    Ocean protection is critical to our future survival. We must act to preserve our waters!

  7. Here’s a summary of some of the environmental threats to our oceans. The way things are going, there could be no fish left in the oceans in as little as 40 years.

  8. I totally agree with you. We need a national marine policy that focuses on maintaining the (economic and spiritual) treasures we have. I think, though, that you’re really missing some things here. The main thing is that we will need actual legislation to tackle any important ocean issues.

    The “develop an ocean policy” experiment has been tried already. That was back in 2004 and the US Commission on Ocean Policy published a great document on the issues and possible policy responses. What came out of it? Nada. No policy changes in the Bush administration and no legislation passed (though lot’s of attempts).

    Things may be different this time since the initiative was spurred by the executive and not congress. The members of the task force, as opposed to the last commission, are members of gov’t agencies. This all points to a possible new policy out of the Obama admin, but this would be a symbolic success, as opposed to anything substantive.

    Can the executive branch start tackling issues such as fisheries conservation without a clear mandate from Congress? Doubtful. NOAA is already saying it can’t take on any new MPAs unless it gets more cash. There will also be powerful commercial interests there to dilute and fight against any new Obama policy. As for Congress, there’s no clear indication that it is anywhere near as excited about ocean protection legislation as it was 5 years ago.

    Do we need to get behind a national ocean policy?


    Do we need to push Congress even harder?

    As if the ocean’s life depended on it.

  9. Tomorrow, Admiral Allen will discuss the merits of a National Ocean Policy and improved governance framework as he testifies before Congress as a member of the Obama Administration’s Ocean Policy Task Force.

    You can learn more about the Coast Guard’s role on the Ocean Policy Task Force and our position on a National Ocean Policy here:

    You can also follow Admiral Allen’s testimony tomorrow via his Twitter account:

    Thanks for your interest.

    Christopher Lagan
    U.S. Coast Guard
    Public Affairs – Social Media Team

    This is an official United States Coast Guard posting for the public’s information. Our posting does not endorse this site or anything on it, including links to other sites, and we disclaim responsibility and liability for the site and its content.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry.Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.comFor more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


See More

Collapse bottom bar