No matter who holds power in Washington, D.C., it is clear that coastal changes are rapidly reaching the point where they must be confronted.
A cross section of the most talented, dedicated ocean experts in the country gathered in Seattle this week with urgent business: to fulfill the legacy of two national commissions charged with reversing the decline and ensuring the bounty of our ocean and coasts.
We each had the honor of helping to lead these commissions — the congressionally created and presidentially appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the privately funded Pew Oceans Commission.
These commissions came to strikingly similar conclusions: We must implement a blueprint for realizing a future that not only avoids the worst impacts of coastal flooding, declining fish stocks, alarming changes in ocean chemistry and massive and growing dead zones, but also realize the promise of a well-managed, coordinated resource that delivers its common wealth to its owners — the people of the United States.
While the nation has made significant progress in addressing some challenges, such as returning fishing to sustainability and profitability and crafting a national ocean policy, much work remains on all fronts.
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The West Coast Ocean Leadership Roundtable in Seattle was held by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, an entity comprised of members from both commissions and members of a new generation of leaders and practitioners. The joint initiative gathered representatives of all sectors from California, Washington and Oregon to address an emerging, and in some cases daunting, set of West Coast challenges and opportunities. This was the latest in a series of Regional Ocean Leadership Roundtables designed to capture regional approaches to real-time coastal challenges, document innovative and effective methods of addressing them, and spur federal, state and local leadership to action.
The pressures caused by increasing growth, demands for space on our coasts and expanding ocean uses are compounded by the impacts of climate change.”
The set of recommendations identified through these roundtables will be delivered with a sense of urgency to the new administration, Congress and other national, regional, state and local leaders who take office after the 2016 elections.
Although coastal counties account for only a fraction of the land mass of the United States, they are some of the most densely populated, economically productive and ecologically valuable areas of the country. It is estimated that in less than a decade, 75 percent of all Americans will live in coastal counties. Yet perhaps at no time in our history have our coasts been more vulnerable. The pressures caused by increasing growth, demands for space on our coasts and expanding ocean uses are compounded by the impacts of climate change.
A baseline challenge is to generate tangible support for ocean science to better understand our ocean, including its inextricable and direct links to climate. And while there are uncertainties about the pace and exact nature of climate-change impacts, we know that human activity is the one controllable factor. We have been able to measure increases in atmospheric and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, and greater ocean acidity. These are already causing serious economic and human hardship. In one recent example, warmer ocean temperatures were a significant factor in a large and toxic algal bloom that was responsible for the disruption of the highly lucrative Dungeness crab fisheries along the West Coast.
Communities up and down the West Coast depend on the Pacific Ocean as an engine for commerce, a source of health and quality of life, a wellspring of economic opportunity, an integral element of our national security, and a haven for recreation. The recommendations that come out of the Seattle session are vital to our national ocean policy. From changes in ecosystems to shifts in global trade routes due to the Panama Canal expansion, the West Coast communities, states and industries are facing new and unique challenges.
There is reason for optimism. This region has many collaborative planning mechanisms to build on, with important efforts under way in each state. Washington state, for example, is implementing the recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel on Ocean Acidification, which has led to the creation of a West Coast panel. This model has spread across the country to Maine, which established its own commission in 2014, and New Hampshire, where a similar approach was proposed this year.
Leaders at the West Coast roundtable are crafting bipartisan solutions to protect our ocean for the future. We all have served Republican and Democratic presidents and are united in our belief that we must take action to protect the country’s oceans and coasts.
No matter who holds power in Washington, D.C., it is clear that coastal changes are rapidly reaching the point where they must be confronted. The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative is committed to using the roundtable process to better engage our leaders to make important decisions that balance the multiple uses of our oceans and coasts.
For too long, we have taken our ocean for granted, hoping for the best. But if our ecosystems, economies and livelihoods are to be sustained for the future, it will take action and not just hope.