The following is a longer version of an op-ed published in The Miami Herald on July 29, 2010, by two of Conservation International's Ocean Health Council Co-Chairs, Dr. Gregory Stone and William Wrigley, Jr., with support by Dr. Sylvia Earle:
"The American migration to the beach is one of the great traditions of summer, as millions of us seek respite from the heat, recreation for our families, fresh seafood for our tables, and rejuvenation for the spirit. The ocean’s gifts are so plentiful, that it can be easy to assume they will always be there.
"But this summer, the ocean is visibly buckling under the strain of irresponsible use. We may not know the full impacts of the disastrous BP oil spill for many years, but it is already clear to the Americans who live there how much we depend on the ocean’s wellbeing for our own. That awareness may be one of the only good things to come out of this catastrophe, and should mark a tipping point for our country’s management of the seas.
"This is not just a problem in the Gulf or for the United States. The world’s oceans are under continuous assault from less dramatic but equally devastating, long-term threats that include the depletion of fish and other ocean wildlife, habitat destruction, toxic pollution, and rising temperatures. These threats may be less visible than oil slicks blanketing a beach, but collectively, are even more harmful.
"In the midst of all this challenge, the creation of a new National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes (National Policy) by President Obama represents the first step in a long, overdue overhaul of the nation’s ocean management. U.S. ocean governance has developed slowly over time, with more than 140 different laws, and 20 different agencies involved. That, we believe, has led to disjointed oversight and short-term, reactive thinking. The United States now has the opportunity to design its use and stewardship of our oceans with a coordinated, cooperative vision.
"It is, effectively a new administrative framework to encourage the management of large areas of America’s coasts that consider the multitude of different ways that we use them - from tourism and leisure to industry and fishing - and these strategies will put science at the core of planning and decision making. This makes absolute sense. Why? Imagine if our cities and towns were built with no regard for the competing needs of our residents. Schools might be next to freeways, parks might be forgotten in the rush to build, and traffic would be impossible. In the same way that we need city planners to look at the big picture, and design the cooperative use and development of land – we need holistic, long-term marine planning to provide the vision and occasionally, the brakes, for all of the activities we pursue in our oceans.
"At Conservation International, we have been successfully piloting similar science-based ocean planning strategies through our global Seascapes program in places like the Eastern Tropical Pacific, which operates in cooperation with more than fifty partners that include fishers, conservationists, businesses and all the nations of the region to design sustainable guidelines for the shared use of oceans. We recognize that fishers need to fish. Developers need to build. Governments may decide to drill. What we cannot do is allow all of this competing activity to advance blindly and at breakneck speed, with no regard for their interactions and potential consequences for the natural ocean ecosystems upon which we all depend.
"It is estimated that humans have explored less than 5% of our oceans, yet we know that its ecosystems provide humanity with critical life-supporting benefits. Approximately one out of every two Americans lives in a coastal area; more than one billion people worldwide depend on fish as their main source of animal protein; and four out of every five of our breaths rely on the oxygen a healthy ocean produces. We are working with partners to develop tools that will assess and track the ocean’s global health.
"Among the key elements of the new direction provided by the White House: science-based planning and decision-making, encouraging that we manage human activities in concert rather than conflict, as well as protect the very ecosystems that we depend upon, are needed internationally as well. This is particularly so for developing nations as their economies hopefully expand to alleviate the poverty that is all too prevalent.
"It is critically important that the United States now look beyond its own shorelines, and engage more cooperatively with other nations in the shared use of the high seas. One way for the U.S. to bring the President’s new ocean policy into the international arena is a simple step – accede to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This international agreement has governed access to and stewardship of the world’s great common waters since 1994. It has the ratified support of 160 countries, including every major ocean-going nation, but the U.S. has failed to join the international community in formally acceding to it. That puts us in company with countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Libya and a small number of other non-parties. Ratification was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations committee overwhelmingly in 2007, by a 17 to 4 margin. The U.S. Navy testified in support, and ratification is supported by the many others in the military and marine business establishment. Yet the full Senate has neglected to even take it up for debate.
"If the United States is truly serious about becoming responsible stewards of the seas for the long-term benefit of people, it is time for this nation of laws to ratify the Law of the Sea and follow policy with meaningful, tangible action that builds upon the architecture put into place with the President’s executive order. Our oceans, and indeed our own well being, depend on it."
By Dr. Gregory Stone, Chief Ocean Scientist and Co-Chair, Ocean Health Council, Conservation International, with Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder, Mission Blue and Trustee Emeritus, Conservation International and William Wrigley Jr., Co-Chair, Ocean Health Council and Trustee, Conservation International