WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2013 (ENS) – The Obama Administration today released its final plan for translating the National Ocean Policy into actions that administration officials say will enable cooperation among the 27 federal agencies that follow and enforce more than 100 ocean-related laws.

Established by Executive Order of President Barack Obama on July 19, 2010, the National Ocean Policy created a National Ocean Council of all 27 federal agencies and departments to cooperate, share information and streamline decision making.

ocean, Texas

Oxygen-deficient water on the Texas Gulf coast (Photo by FEMA)

Over the past two years, the Council developed the final Implementation Plan released today. It incorporates input from national, regional, and local stakeholders from all marine sectors; tribal, state, and local governments; the private sector, scientists, and the public.

Without creating any new regulations or authorities, the plan focuses on improving coordination to speed federal permitting decisions; better manage the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources that drive the economy; develop and disseminate sound scientific information that local communities, industries, and decision makers can use; and collaborate better with state, tribal, and local partners, marine industries, and other stakeholders.

“This plan embodies the type of efficient, collaborative government that taxpayers, communities, and businesses expect from their federal government,” said Nancy Sutley, who chairs the Council on Environmental Quality and serves as co-chair of the National Ocean Council.

“With increasing demands on our ocean, we must improve how we work together, share information, and plan smartly to grow our economy, keep our ocean healthy, and enjoy the highest benefits from our ocean resources, now and in the future,” Sutley said.

“Science is the foundation upon which sound management of ocean and coastal resources is based,” said John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and co-chair of the National Ocean Council.

“The President’s National Ocean Policy and the new implementation plan will help advance relevant science and its application to decision making to strengthen the economies of our coastal regions while increasing their resilience and sustaining their resources,” said Holdren.

U.S. ocean waters and coasts support tens of millions of jobs and contribute trillions of dollars a year to the national economy through tourism, development, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and boating, energy, shipping, among other activities.

Competition for increasingly vulnerable ocean resources is growing, presenting challenges for

The final Implementation Plan describes specific actions federal agencies will take to address key ocean challenges, give states and communities greater input in federal decisions, streamline federal operations, save taxpayer dollars, and promote economic growth, including:

• Providing better forecasting of ocean conditions and events to protect beachgoers and consumers from threats to their health and safety;
• Sharing more and better data about severe storms and sea level rise, which will help coastal communities prepare for threats;
• Supporting voluntary regional marine planning based on regional and local priorities;
• Improving the federal permitting process to save time and money for ocean-based industries and taxpayers, while protecting health, safety, and the environment;
• Restoring important habitats that protect communities and support healthy ocean resources
• Improving our capability to predict conditions and prevent negative impacts as activity in the Arctic increases.

The plan specifies that regional stakeholders will determine the scope, scale and content of collaborative marine planning, that participation is voluntary, and that regional planning bodies will be established only in regions that want them.

Chukchi coast

Chukchi Sea Coastline, Alaska
(Photo by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management North Slope ShoreZone program, August 2012)

It recognizes the broad interests in the Arctic in national security, domestic energy and natural resources, and environmental and cultural sustainability as it becomes more accessible due to climate change.

Agencies will work together to address challenges in the Arctic region, focusing on data management, accurate mapping and charting, sea-ice forecasting, and readiness for environmental incident response.

Christopher Mann, director with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ environmental program, commended the administration on the plan, calling it “a major milestone in moving the United States toward ecosystem-based management and sustainable use of its marine resources.”

“In the plan released today, the many federal agencies with ocean management responsibilities have identified and committed to concrete actions and deadlines in and on the water to protect and restore marine resources and the coastal communities that depend on them,” said Mann.

“Until now, ocean management in the United States has built up layer upon layer of narrow, single-purpose laws and programs spanning many decades,” he said. “The problem has been compounded by increasing demands on our oceans for food, renewable and nonrenewable energy production, and recreation.”

“The National Ocean Policy implementation plan provides a blueprint under which federal agencies will work closely together, and with the states and Native American tribes, to produce tangible improvements in marine environmental quality, marine resource productivity, and sustainable use of ocean resources. These are the pillars on which healthy oceans and vibrant coastal economies are built.”

But not all environmental groups like the Obama Administration’s approach to ocean management.

The nonprofit Oceana released a new report today showing that marine life and coastal economies along the Atlantic Ocean are threatened by seismic airguns used in testing for offshore oil and gas.

The United States government estimates that the use of seismic airguns along the East Coast – an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida – will injure and possibly kill 138,500 whales and dolphins, and disturb necessary activities for millions more marine mammals.

“Instead of learning from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster three years ago, President Obama is now considering taking the first steps to expand our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels to the Atlantic Ocean, an area that has been protected from drilling for more than 30 years,” said Jacqueline Savitz, deputy vice president for U.S. campaigns at Oceana.

“With minimal oil reserves there, and drilling at least five years off, seismic testing is an unnecessary insult to whales, dolphins and other marine animals. Drilling in the Atlantic won’t lower gas prices; it will instead lead to more oil disasters and more dependence on fossil fuels. Focusing on developing cleaner energy sources would be more strategic for our country and more sustainable for our oceans.”

During the tests, a vessel tows one or more seismic airguns, which shoot loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean and miles under the seafloor every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks.

The airguns are 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine and can disturb the vital behaviors of fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles, causing temporary and permanent hearing loss, driving animals from their homes, disrupting mating and causing animals to become stranded on beaches and die, said Savitz.

Airguns and offshore drilling also threaten commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as tourism and coastal recreation, putting more than 730,000 jobs in the blast zone at risk, she said.

The Center for Biological Diversity says the plan ignores the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on ocean health.

“We’re glad to see President Obama taking ocean health more seriously, but this plan falls short in one very critical way. Without concrete steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ocean warming and acidification will quickly erode the health of our oceans,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Said Sakashita, “Coral reefs are already in deep trouble. If we’re going save them and other sea life from disaster, we have to begin rapid reductions in carbon pollution, and soon.”

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