National Ocean Policy released today for public review!

Today the National Ocean Council released their Draft Implementation Plan for a National Ocean Policy. This is fabulous news because the US has never had a comprehensive ocean management plan, we have just been tangled in a web of agencies each “managing” their own areas of concern – regional fisheries councils, Department of Transportation, Minerals Management, US Navy, the Coast Guard, State and Tribal agencies, the Energy Department, Marine Mammal Commission, etc., etc., etc….

The urgent call for a comprehensive ocean management plan went out almost a decade ago in 2002 with the Pew Ocean Commission report. A bit over a year later the call was again made by the US Commission on Ocean Policy. The importance of the reports lead Congress to craft complimentary ocean policy acts with Senator Barbara Boxer’s “National Ocean Protection Act” (NOPA 2005) and Rep. Sam Farr’s “Oceans 21” (2006).

The Bush administration wasn’t really big on conservation bills so while Oceans 21 was passed in the House, NOPA didn’t get out of committee. Thus it was with considerable delight for me when the newly elected Obama Administration ushered in an Interagency Task Force to come up with a comprehensive National Ocean Policy. The document released today was a product of the taskforce’s work – including hearing thousands of public comments, and reading thousands of written recommendations.

I have not yet had a chance to dig in and read the draft, but the stated objective of reconciling all national ocean interests to “be considered collectively and managed comprehensively and collaboratively” sounds like a breath of fresh air. It will be easier to assure environmental compliance, and much easier for ocean industries and other stakeholders to tailor their activities under a single comprehensive policy rather than having to appeal an array of uncoordinated regulatory agencies for approvals on their various enterprises.

What is not to like about reconciling and streamlining ocean policy? Unfortunately you will need to brace yourself for the clamor, hue, and cry of the Oilmen and their minions who will bellow about a “job-killing government power grab.” They prefer the tattered regulatory fabric that has made possible the offshore dead zones, regional fisheries crashes, the disappearing wetlands, and yes, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

It’s easier for big industry to game a system that is a confused mess of conflicting fiefdoms. A coordinated interagency ocean policy is more efficient, more sensible, and will be easier to drive toward a sustainable set of complimentary policies – something apparently the Oilmen don’t want.

We’ll review the document and let you know how we can all support the implementation of this long-awaited sea change in US National ocean management.

Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, second right, and Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes (AP Photo/Al Grillo)

Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, second right, and Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes (AP Photo/Al Grillo)

Report from the International Quiet Ocean Experiment

Last week I attended the “International Quiet Ocean Experiment” (IQOE) at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The founding premise of the meeting is a bit outrageous – that somehow all maritime nations could come together and halt all of their ocean noise-making activities for some short period of time to observe the effects of this military-industrial silence on marine life.

Of course the idea of halting some 50,000 ocean transport vessels, all navies, marine petroleum operations, fishing fleets, mining and dredging, energy projects, underwater communications, pleasure craft, and seismic exploration is absurd. But the true incentive behind this improbable assertion was to bring together leading scientists and policy makers, explore our concerns, and devise a ten-year plan to understand and mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic noise on ocean life.

This first gathering represents a huge step in the right direction. When the issue first came up in he early 1990’s there was little consensus on anything. The geological-scale experiments at the time were being conducted by physical oceanographers who frankly did not understand biology; the biologists involved had forgotten their physics, and most of the work was being funded by the biggest noise-makers – whose priorities were not focused on conservation.

The IQOE discussions explored many topics, including observing systems technologies, the meaning of “ocean soundscapes,” what science is needed, how to conduct informative experiments, and how to measure the long-term and synergistic impacts of noise on marine life.

Many fine ideas were advanced and new thinking was cultivated which will help direct research and mitigation strategies for the next decade. There was a remarkable climate of collegiality and collaboration, and if there was any serious contention at the end of the day it was about the name – which we all agreed was an unlikely conceit. But using the name as a “branding” or marketing ploy really got under the fingernails of some of the scientists.

The name may change (although I doubt it), but we will keep you informed as the framing documents are issued and the project progresses.

Stay Tuned!  More details to come.

Michael Stocker

The International Quiet Ocean Experiment

By the time you might be reading this I will have been conferring with colleagues and associates at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris under the rubric of the “International Quiet Ocean Experiment” (IQOE). The purpose of the meeting is to develop a Science Plan for the IQOE, a focused international research effort that may last a decade or so exploring the sources, impacts, and potential solutions to the ocean noise pollution problem.



The meeting will be set up in a number of concurrent sessions to work out details on monitoring, technology development, needed science, soundscape impact assessment, experimental approaches, and research design.

While the decadal time frame may seem anti-climactic in the urgency of our times, it is in the scale of the entire ocean and under the auspices of the United Nations that these grand, cooperative plans slowly unfold. And as it took quite a number of us three years to get a single sentence into the “UN Convention on the Law of the Sea” qualifying “noise” as a “trans-boundary energy pollution,” the ten year timeframe gives all of us an international toe-hold on the steep face of global policy.

It was only 20 years ago that the “Acoustic Thermography of Ocean Climate” (ATOC) program got my attention and I embarked on the ocean noise mission. At that time there were those who thought I was over-reacting, but we have seen that the problems caused by human-generated ocean noise are real. They are an increasing issue as we expand our ocean activities. The full magnitude of the effects need to be gauged and addressed.

Location of ATOC Sound Sources and Receivers

While there may have been doubt in the past, time has a way to iron our reason. In the meantime, at events like the IQOE, I get to meet with some of the best and brightest in the field to share our knowledge, explain our perspectives, and weigh our concerns. In the end we get a chance to advance the discussion a little further down the road – and get a bit closer to solving some of the challenging acoustical problems brought about by our engagement with the sea.

Wish us magnanimity and luck!

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