Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Launched

Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is showcasing the importance of the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes to the nation's economy, underscoring the need for a long-term strategy to address problems that continue to plague us due to a lack of understanding and appreciation of our nation's key natural resources.

This message was sent on Sept. 22 by Admiral James D. Watkins, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and the Honorable Leon E. Panetta, chairman of the independent Pew Oceans Commission, as they announced the creation of a Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. One of the primary objectives of the Initiative is to increase pressure on senior officials at all levels of government to move forward more quickly on implementing a comprehensive national ocean policy.

One year ago this week, the congressionally mandated and presidentially appointed US Commission on Ocean Policy released its recommendations for the development and implementation of a new national ocean policy. The U.S. Commission's report followed the release of a similar report by the privately funded Pew Oceans Commission.

"Action is needed now -- to implement a national strategy to protect, maintain and restore the nation's priceless economic and ecological assets -- our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes," said Watkins. "We need a more coherent strategy if we hope to predict, avoid or minimize the challenges facing our oceans and coasts. Our new effort, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, will push to accelerate the implementation of and the increase of funding for policies and science that will help protect and enhance the value of the oceans for the long haul."

"The devastation of Hurricane Katrina punctuates the impact and value oceans and coastal communities have on the US and highlights the hundreds of unaddressed recommendations made by the Commission," said Watkins, whose report warned the nation of a "Katrina-Like" disaster. The report made numerous recommendations regarding the need to protect people and property against natural hazards and preparing for these natural disasters and other issues. "However, this is just one of 31 chapters, each dealing with a major ocean-related issue facing the nation. Together, these 31 chapter provide a comprehensive strategy for managing our oceans and coasts." (see

"Despite the continuous threats of hurricanes and other natural disasters such as nor'easters and tsunamis, populations and poorly planned development are rising along the coasts, increasing the vulnerability of people and property to storms and storm surges," said Panetta. "At the same time, over-fishing is depleting the world's fisheries, red tides are impacting the health of marine species and humans, and coastal waters are being polluted from runoff, putting more pressure on the coasts and their precious resources."

To address these dangerous trends, both the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission recommended a new approach, based on "ecosystem-based management." Ecosystem-based management means a system for governing or managing human activities that recognizes and is responsive to the needs of the natural ecosystem, and that considers the links between different living and nonliving components of the land, sea, and atmosphere, including humans.

A year after the delivery of both commissions' recommendations, Watkins and Panetta acknowledge that there has been progress towards implementing a comprehensive national ocean policy. Most notable is the president's establishment of the Secretarial level Committee on Ocean Policy within the Council on Environmental Quality. In addition, more than 50 ocean-related bills have been introduced in Congress ranging from issue- specific legislation -- such as tsunami preparedness -- to comprehensive legislation that addresses a broad suite of ocean and coastal issues.

"There has been some progress, but we need to pick up the pace or we run the risk of incurring greater economic and ecological losses," said Watkins. "The failure to act expeditiously on these recommendations threatens the economic and ecological health of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes, whose resources and services are fundamental contributors to the U.S. economy, national security, and quality of life."

The primary goal of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative is to accelerate the pace of change that results in meaningful ocean policy reform. The Initiative will realize this goal by tapping into and working closely with networks of people involved in local, state, and regional ocean issues, thereby facilitating progress in the regions while building durable support for the Initiative's national priorities. The initiative also will pursue movement on select national ocean policy issues based on the Commissions' core priorities.

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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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