Restore Our Damaged Oceans, Commission Urged
SEATTLE, Washington, June 13, 2002 (ENS) - “We have long thought of the oceans' bounty as limitless, and of the oceans' capacity to absorb waste as infinite. We were wrong. Today, the oceans are in serious trouble," Denis Hayes told the U.S. Commission on Oceans during its Northwest regional meeting today in Seattle.
Hayes, a founder of Earth Day who is president of the Bullitt Foundation, summed up his testimony at a press conference saying, "In a nutshell, we have been taking far too many good things out of the ocean, and we have been putting too many bad things into it."
The 16 member commission, authorized by Congress and appointed by President George W. Bush, began a nine month series of regional hearings in January. Their report to the President and Congress is due in the spring of 2003.
“In the 36 years since the bulk of our federal oceans policies were created, our nation, the world and our oceans have changed drastically,” said Admiral James Watkins, U.S. Navy (retired), chair of the commission. “Our coastal populations have exploded resulting in a boom in coastal development and economies, oceans based international trade has risen dramatically, and oceans laws and regulations have become a bureaucratic nightmare.”
Today at Seattle's Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center, Northwest marine protection groups People For Puget Sound and the Surfrider Foundation called on the commission to develop a policy designed to restore and protect ocean resources.
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound testified to the commission as part of a panel on the ocean's living resources.
“In Puget Sound and across the country, we've dug our marine ecosystem into a hole,” she said. “Dramatic public attention to the rescue of 'Springer,' the orphaned orca whale, is a symbolic reminder of the many problems our degraded marine ecosystems face, but it also shows how much Northwest people care about the quality of our marine environments."
Spokespeople for the two groups detailed the damaged condition of the Northwest’s marine ecosystems - rapidly declining orca populations, depleted fisheries, coastal habitat loss, toxic threats to water quality, and endangered salmon.
The groups called for water pollution prevention, monitoring, and cleanup measures. They urged support for marine protected areas where ecosystems can recover and thrive, as well as habitat protection measures and funding for marine ecosystem restoration.
By the year 2025, about 75 percent of Americans will live in coastal areas. Over 40 percent of new commercial and residential development is in coastal areas.
Coastal tourism, with an ever increasing 180 million visitors annually, now accounts for 85 percent of tourism related revenues.
Ninety-five percent of U.S. international trade goods is shipped on the ocean. By 2010, U.S. foreign trade is projected to more than double today’s value, reaching $5 trillion in constant dollars, and adding to the stress on U.S. port facilities.
Nationwide, commercial and recreational fisheries support more than 1.3 million jobs.
In the Pacific Northwest, commercial shellfish growers, tribal fisheries, recreation and tourism related industries, food processing, ship and boat building and repair, water transportation, and real estate developers are affected by the quality of marine health.
Technology companies located in the Pacific Northwest have depended on the high quality of life based on healthy coastal environments to attract a qualified workforce from all over the world, the conservationists point out.
The commission has scheduled a public comment period for Friday. Christopher Evans, executive director of the Surfrider Foundation, intends to give his testimony to the commissioners then.
“Safe, accessible enjoyment of our beaches, oceans and waves is an integral part of living in the Northwest,” Evans said today. “But ensuring the longevity of these already diminished marine opportunities is going to take a lot more than current rules dictate. A new approach to a managing our impact on the ocean is required and the starting point must be restoring damaged marine ecosystems.”
Mandated by Oceans Act of 2000, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy is charged with reviewing the effects of federal ocean related laws and programs.
The commission is required to establish findings and make recommendations for reducing duplication, improving efficiency, enhancing cooperation and modifying the structure of federal agencies involved in the world’s oceans.
The commission is holding meetings in nine major coastal regions. They visited Tampa Bay, Florida in February; New Orleans, Louisiana in March; Los Angeles, California in April, and Hawaii in May. They will hold hearings in Anchorage, Alaska in July; Boston, Massachusetts in August; and Chicago, Illinois in September.
In Hawaii in May, they were told that if a fraction of the federal money directed to the space program was spent on ocean technologies, new sources of energy and pharmaceuticals would result.
Dr. John Wiltshire, associate director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Undersea Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii, said the funds are not flowing because "the space community has captured the public interest in a way that the oceans community has not."
Last year, Dr. Wiltshire's laboratory discovered a dozen new species of deep sea organisms and new deep sea interactions in the Northwest Hawaiian islands and on Loihi Seamount, the next emerging Hawaiian island, which the lab monitors. "Some of these may have the potential for new and potent drugs. All of this is done with 20 year old technology," he said.
The ocean community needs new exploration systems to exploit these opportunities to develop wave power, offshore wind power, tidal and current generating capacity. "In addition, there are many potential new marine technologies for food, mineral and fresh water production," he said.
In San Pedro, California in April, Michael Jasny, who is a marine mammal specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the commission that new regulatory structures and enforcement mechanisms are needed to reduce pervasive impacts on marine mammals.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act may protect against whaling and hunting, and on reducing the “incidental take” of marine mammals by fisheries through by-catch and entanglements, but it does not, Jasny pointed out, protect marine mammals from biocontamination from organic chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxicants; acoustic pollution generated by shipping, military operations, oil and gas production, and other activities; and exhaustion or redistribution of prey species due to climate change, ozone depletion, and overfishing."
At the commission's Gulf Regional Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana in March, Steve Kolian of Eco Rigs submitted a paper asking for a regulatory framework to redeploy retired oil and gas platforms into sustainable fishery platforms. "At least 100 of them will be removed every year for the next 40 years and only eight percent are currently redeployed as artificial reefs," he said, and offered video footage of endangered sea turtles, corals and fish populations residing on platforms.
In St. Petersburg, Florida in February, hydroecologist and third generation Floridian Dr. Sydney Bacchus submitted written comments warning of the destruction caused to the region's ocean and coastal resources by human alterations of ground water.
"In Florida, and parts of the Caribbean," he wrote, "these alterations take the form of groundwater mining and aquifer injection of wastes, including minimally treated sewage effluent. The groundwater mining and aquifer injection of wastes are of epic proportion - hundreds of millions of gallons daily - occurring at single locations, with effluent injections concentrated along Florida's fragile coastline."
At the commission's opening meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, Dennis Allen, president of the Estuarine Research Federation and a marine science professor at the University of South Carolina, raised a point confirmed by many others at later hearings - the need for a broad or ecosystem based approach to setting policy for coastal systems.
"Many of the fundamental environmental problems associated with coastal systems, including nutrient overenrichment, eutrophication, reductions in freshwater inflow, and pollution by contaminants, occur over large spatial scales," he said. "All too often, coastal watersheds, rivers, estuaries, and the ocean are treated as discrete units rather than as inter-related elements along a continuum that extends from the land to the sea. Our fisheries and other living resources rely on suitable conditions throughout the continuum."
The U.S. Commission on Oceans is online at: http://www.oceancommission.gov
Commissioner biographies are online at: http://www.oceancommission.gov/commission/commissionbios.html
The Pacific Northwest marine protectionists' ocean restoration policy is available at: http://www.pugetsound.org/oceanpolicy/
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