Obama's ocean task force releases report
Sweeping changes could affect the United States' management of oceans, including offshore energy development.
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All of that – set against a backdrop of existing and continuing damage to fisheries, coral, coastal wetlands, beaches, and deteriorating water quality – has America's oceans "in crisis," in the words of a landmark Pew Oceans Commission report issued in 2003. More than 20,000 acres of wetlands and other sensitive habitat disappear annually, while nutrient runoff creates "dead zones" and harmful algal blooms. Some 30 percent of US fish populations are overfished or fished unsustainably, the report found.Skip to next paragraph
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Among the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force's national objectives were:
1. Ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for comprehensive management of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
2. Coastal and marine spatial planning to resolve emerging conflicts to ensure that shipping lanes and wind, wave, and oil and gas energy development do not harm fisheries and water quality.
3. Improved coordination of policy development among federal state, tribal, local, and regional managers of ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
4. Focus on resiliency and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification.
5. Pay special attention to policies needed to deal with changing arctic conditions.
Experts said that the new, unified policy was timely, after decades of hit-or-miss development policies.
"We have been managing bits and pieces of the ocean for a long time, but while some good has been done on pollution and resource management, it hasn't been sufficient." says Andrew Rosenberg, professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire and an adviser to the president's ocean task force."This policy shift comes at a critical time for our oceans for so many reasons."
The new proposal won't be finalized until next year, after a 30-day comment period that begins now. Still, environmentalists were quick to hail the plan as a critical and timely step to begin healing disintegrating environmental conditions in US coastal waters and in the US exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles beyond its territorial waters.
In June, President Obama set up the commission to develop: “a national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhances the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies.”
It must also, he wrote, “preserve our maritime heritage, provides for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change, and is coordinated with our national security and foreign policy interests.”
"It's the first time the federal government has put out a decent paper that proposes what a national policy and attitude toward our oceans should be," says Christopher Mann, senior officer Pew Environment Group, the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trust.
In one of the more telling passages buried down in its interim report, the task force called for decisions guided by "best available science" as well as a "precautionary approach" that reflects the Rio Declaration of 1992, which states: "where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environment degradation."
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