Last week the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) released its 2012 U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card (PDF). JOCI is a bipartisan, collaborative group “to encourage action and monitor progress toward meaningful ocean policy reform.” The group has an interesting origin beginning both with the Pew Oceans Commission and the United States Commission on Ocean Policy created by the Oceans Act of 2000. Simply, JOCI is team comprised of former leaders in government and current leaders in ocean conservation and industry.
Last year JOCI released a report, America’s Ocean Future, that provided ten recommendations for actions needed to support implementation of the National Ocean Policy. This serves as the baseline for this year’s report card. Overall JOCI found and not supringly,
“For the period from July 2010 to June 2012, while a number of laudable efforts laid the foundation for advancement of the national ocean policy, overall implementation of the policy fell short of expectations.”
The scores in 5 areas are
C National Support and Leadership: Good groundwork laid but need for better communication, expanded stakeholder engagement, and tangible results
A- Regional, state, and local leadership and implementation: Regional ocean partnerships continue to make progress but need more support from states and federal agencies
C Research, science, and education: Some progress but funding and program cuts, as well as delayed implementation of critical tools, weakened ocean science, research, and education
D- Funding: Ocean programs continue to be chronically underfunded, highlighting the need for a dedicated ocean investment fund
F Law of the Sea Convention: Strong support from Administration and private sector leaders but no successful Senate vote yet
The Joint Initiative identified three areas as the most significant shortcomings:
• Implementation of the policy has been slow and ineffective communication about the need for and intent of the policy has led to misunderstandings by stakeholders.
• Ocean management, science, and education programs remain severely underfunded, hindering them from effectively supporting our national security and economic interests and undermining the health of ocean resources.
• Inaction by the Senate to provide its advice and consent to the President to join the Law of the Sea Convention continues to jeopardize our nation’s national security interests and opportunities to benefit from and effectively manage global ocean resources of economic and ecological importance.
I will not speak at length about each of these but encourage DSN readers to download the freely available and read the extremely accessible report for themselves.
Obviously, the D- in funding is the one I have the most concern for. In March, I spoke of the loss of deep-sea science in the U.S.. Last week at Capitol Hill Ocean Week, I was also privileged to meet and converse with Captain and Dr. Don Walsh (post forth coming) . We spoke of the current loss of infrastructure for deep-sea science both in the U.S. and abroad. While Walsh understood the political decisions and the balancing act that budgets require (“People will always be envious of big pots of money and most institutions see it as either/or scenario), he expressed concerns about our continued ability to explore and understand the deep oceans.
Thus, it simultaneously relieving and alarming that JOCI confirms my and Walsh’s observations.
“Maintaining a commitment to ocean science, management, and education is critical to preventing erosion of our nation’s leadership position on a wide range of global ocean issues, including political, environmental, jurisdictional, scientific, and economic concerns. Unfortunately, ocean management, science, and education programs have been chronically underfunded. This jeopardizes our capacity to understand, manage, and address existing and emerging needs, such as evaluating ocean energy and transportation priorities, strengthening fisheries science, responding to global changes, and providing assistance to regional, state, and local decision makers in their important efforts to address regional ocean challenges.”
With this lack of funding is it now surprise that research, science, and education received a C grade. Indeed the continued lack of funding is likely to lead to a reduction of this grade in years to come. And not suprisinlgy, JOSI recommendation to improve the grade for research, science, and education is for greater investment into these areas.
Not everything is dire. As the JOCI report notes
“While federal ocean agencies continued to struggle to support science and observing programs overall, the Joint Initiative commends the National Science Foundation (NSF) for funding the Ocean Observatories Initiative to provide 25 to 30 years of sustained ocean measurements to study ocean circulation and ecosystem dynamics, air-sea exchange, climate variability, seafloor processes, and plate-scale geodynamics”
So what do we do? I encourage every one of you including scientists, conservationists, and those of you who come here just because you are passionate about and fascinated by the oceans to contact your U.S. Representatives and Senators. Send an email, send a letter, or better yet when they return to your district after the current session arrange for a personal meeting. The latter is amazingly easy to do and is your right as a citizen. I spoke with my representative, (D-NC) David Price, and his staff about these issues in a meeting in D.C. last Friday. They were extremely receptive to both meeting with me and to listening to my concerns. These face-to-face conversations are vital to reversing this trends.