Personal Perspectives

One Step Closer to a Healthier Ocean

A sunset over marshland near Ocean City, N.J.
A sunset over marshland near Ocean City, N.J. (Tony Fischer via Flickr)

The year 2010 will likely be remembered as a tragic time for the ocean. Yet, despite the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I have hope for our ocean’s future. Last week President Obama signed an Executive Order to implement our nation’s first National Ocean Policy.

Despite our 200-year history as a maritime nation, we have a jumble of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws pertaining to ocean management, all of which are overseen by more than 20 separate agencies. Now, for the first time, we have a national policy that will enable us to plan our interactions with the ocean. The President’s action requires the government to protect sensitive ecosystems while providing avenues for fishing, shipping, developing renewable energy and more. If the past nearly 100 days of chaos in the Gulf has shown us anything, it's that we truly need to be smarter about protecting our marine ecosystems—and anticipating disasters.

I’ve worked for more than 20 years trying to ensure that we better manage the competing uses of our ocean, and finally we have something to celebrate. Last night, I was walking along the beach in Half Moon Bay, Calif., with my two-year-old daughter, trying to explain how lucky we were to be able to look out on an oil-free sea. It was the first time in a long while that I felt more hope than sorrow as we played in the magnificent waves of the Pacific. I also found myself worrying a little less about whether the seashells and dolphins would be there when she grows up. And now I have more confidence that we will be smarter about expanding development along the coast and planning for new uses such as aquaculture and wind farms when they move onto the scene. This will also help local fishermen like Pietro Parravano, small businesses like Linda Patterson’s ocean-front wedding chapel, our world-class surfing competitions, and the seals offshore to flourish together. While these are not simple issues, now there’s a process to manage these needs more sanely.

The implementation of this ocean policy says to me that we can achieve great things for the ocean, if we work together toward a common vision. The President's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force developed this policy after more than a year of holding hearings, gathering public input, and finding coordinated ways for ensuring the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. That significant effort has given us the first holistic vision for multiple economic uses of and ecosystem services and benefits from the ocean. Our work is not done, however. We must redouble our efforts to ensure that we efficiently implement and enforce the National Ocean Policy.

I believe that we will someday have a world where all people understand and act upon the knowledge that a healthy ocean is vital to all life and essential to a sustainable future. We are one step closer to bridging that gulf today, but we can’t sit back and relax.

Rather, I hope that President Obama’s Executive Order and the implementation of the National Ocean Policy will rejuvenate us all to do what we can on a daily basis to make our ocean healthier, whether that be cleaning a beach, making sustainable seafood choices, reducing our energy consumption and pursuing alternative energies, or supporting ocean conservation and educational organizations. Let’s ride on this wave of success and see what a difference we all can make together--it's our one great hope for a healthy ocean.

For the ocean,
Dawn M. Martin, 
President of SeaWeb

July 2010