Oceans and Estuaries: The Ocean Commissions' Unfulfilled Vision
AGENDA FOR A SUSTAINABLE AMERICA, J. Dernbach, ed., Chapter 9, ELI Press, Jan 2009, at pp. 221-237
17 Pages Posted: 1 May 2007 Last revised: 3 Feb 2013
Date Written: October 24, 2008
By some estimates, oceans and coasts provide almost two-thirds of the value of the world's ecosystem services. In the United States, goods and services from the oceans and coasts have been valued at over $1 trillion - about one-tenth of the nation's gross domestic product. Protection of these marine ecosystem goods and services is thus decidedly in the United States' social and economic interests.
In May 2003, the Pew Oceans Commission issued its comprehensive review of the United States' management of its living marine resources, America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change. Over a year later, and in response to the Oceans Act of 2000, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy released its comprehensive review report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century.
While the scope of each report differed, their conclusions were remarkably consistent. In particular, both Commissions recommended that the federal government adopt a comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based ocean policy for the nation's more than four million square miles of marine territory to replace the fragmented, species-by-species, resource-by-resource, and medium-by-medium regulatory regime that has dominated marine management since the early 1970s. Since the Commissions' reports appeared, moreover, increased knowledge regarding the effects of climate change on the oceans and the existence of ocean acidification have only underscored the need for an ecosystem-based and adapative management approach to regulating marine resources.
This short article reviews the federal government's progress (or lack thereof) since 2004 in implementing the Commissions' vision of ocean management. It concludes that if the United States wants to protect its marine resources and their ecosystem services, especially in the face of climate change and its effects, Congress should enact comprehensive legislation along the lines of H.R. 21, currently being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Keywords: ocean, marine resources, ecosystem services, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Pew Oceans Commission, Ocean Action Plan, fisheries, sustainable development, Agenda 21
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