President Obama today ordered the development of national ocean policy that could lead to marine "zoning" for competing offshore interests.
His memorandum calls for a new interagency task force, headed by the Council on Environmental Quality, to write recommendations and to develop a framework for mapping and allocating marine resources.
Environmentalists praised Obama's directive -- which he issued along with a proclamation describing some of the benefits of oceans for "World Ocean Month" -- for elevating ocean conservation and calling for a large-scale national policy for the sea.
"We have long had the need for a more comprehensive way to manage our ocean resources that takes into account the marine system as a whole, rather than focusing simply on its individual parts," said Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. "With today's announcement, we finally have the political leadership to make this a reality."
The Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy called for establishment of a national policy to protect ocean, coasts and the Great Lakes as a part of a hefty set of recommendations they made five years ago.
Under Obama's order, the task force would develop within three months a set of recommendations for a national ocean policy. The policy should center around protection of oceans and the Great Lakes and sustainability of their economies, according to the memo.
Obama also directs the interagency group to coordinate policy among the various federal agencies that can have an effect on the ocean environment, including the Department of Homeland Security.
"We are taking a more integrated and comprehensive approach to developing a national ocean policy that will guide us well into the future," Obama said in a statement. "This policy will incorporate ecosystem-based science and management and emphasize our public stewardship responsibilities."
The directive also lays the groundwork for a system that could apportion ocean resources. The task force would develop recommendations within 180 days for a system of coastal and marine spatial planning, a "comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based" effort that addresses conservation and economic activities.
Once established, the marine plans could potentially lead to zoning in the sea. A growing number of advocacy groups have called for such a program to zone areas as fishing, oil exploration, sand mining, wind projects, boating and liquefied gas tankers compete for access.
If successful, advocates say, the plans could identify and protect special marine resources while providing more certainty to energy developers who want to work offshore.
Environmentalists say 140 separate laws and 20 federal agencies oversee aspects of ocean policy -- a system that they say has lacked a unifying voice.
"With the oceans facing the triple threats of overfishing, pollution and climate change, they need attention at the highest levels of government," said Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. "Oceana applauds President Obama's strong action to protect our oceans today."
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