Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ocean Presidents

Ocean Presidents

I want to thank Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon for having been such great Ocean Presidents.
I mean it.

Barack Obama and George W. Bush both changed the face of ocean conservation with bold executive acts.  They created over a million square miles of marine protected areas in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, formed new ocean protection agencies, brought ocean scientists to the White House, and insisted of good funding for science in the study of oceans.

But we should go back to Richard Nixon and give him a big thank you also.  We forget that the citizen activism in the 60’s and the first Earth Day, 1970, inspired (and pressured) him and Congress to establish the EPA and NOAA, and to pass the Clean Water and Air Acts, the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Nixon signed all those bills.

Presidents can do a lot to help the oceans.

Near the end of his presidency George W. Bush, who grew up swimming off Maine and in the Gulf, invited ocean science giants Jean-Michel Cousteau and Sylvia Earle for dinner, because he wanted to leave a legacy in ocean conservation.    (He said Earle “gave me a pretty good lecture about life.”)  Not long after, he established the then largest US marine protected area, the huge Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument west of Hawaii (named for a Hawaiian creation goddess.)

Like Bush, Barack Obama grew up swimming.  (The pic is of him snorkeling in Hawaii.)  He established the first Ocean Policy Council, supported using science in the study of ocean protection and climate change, and added more protected areas.  He is reported to have successfully pressured China’s leaders to join 23 other nations to create the largest international marine protected area in the Ross Sea off Antarctic.  The latest issue of the Atlantic has a good summary of his many ocean actions.

There is no one Ocean Department in our government.   It can be hard and confusing to track government ocean policy and actions, or to influence them, because so many different agencies address the oceans, and not always consistently.  NOAA (which includes oceans, fisheries, weather, surveys, all science based) is part of the much larger Department of Commerce.  The EPA is a separate agency but not cabinet level, and addresses land more than ocean issues.  The Dept. of the Interior manages federal lands, and has empowered presidents since Teddy Roosevelt to authorize permanent Monument status for areas on land and sea. 

Maybe this is a good thing.  Oceans aren’t just isolated entities that can be confined to one department – they affect and are affected by security, weather, commerce, environment, shipping, tourism, fisheries, mining, oil and gas, aquaculture, water quality, climate change.  Almost every government agency should ask itself, “What about the oceans?”  And I’m just talking federal.  States and local communities have ocean policies also, and are sometimes easier to influence.  But it’s a big ocean. 

For now, in our transition to a new president, if you love the oceans, pay attention to what’s happening at NOAA and the EPA and the Dept. of the Interior, and to executive actions.  And writing a thank you note to Bush and Obama would be a nice thing to do also.

Photo: National Geographic

I write these “Blue Theology Tide-ings” every Wednesday.  May 9 – Blue Theology Retreat and Resource Day for Religious Leaders.

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