Who Cares About Ocean Politics?

Posted by: Mike Dunmyer

We do.  And so should you.

It’s easy to get angry about what you see in Washington, D.C. and to turn away from all things political as a result.  Unfortunately, disavowing the system won’t exempt you from its effects, and if you care about the ocean, there are real risks to disengagement.  Outcomes in the political arena can have a bigger impact on ocean health – in good ways and bad – than in any other domain.

You probably already know that Ocean Champions is the only ocean group that plays politically.  That means we’re the only ones who provide direct support to pro-ocean candidates to help them win their elections AND to let them know that they are being helped BECAUSE of their good ocean work.  Both of those concepts matter.  We also run campaigns to try and take out the bad guys when we can.

Bottom line, if we want healthy oceans, we have to win the political battle.  Right now there are 30 ocean champions serving in Congress, but that isn’t enough.  Ocean Champions is aiming to elect 40 in 2012, but to get that done we need the support of the ocean community.  So whether you like politics or not, I implore you to care about ocean politics.  If you care, please join and support Ocean Champions (and ask your ocean-loving friends to join).  Your contribution will help elect 40 good guys and send a signal that their ocean votes matter.

The more people who care about ocean politics, the more champions we can help elect.  As the number of champions in Congress grows, so will the health of our oceans.

Date Posted: October 31, 2011 @ 3:00 am Comments Off

Just look under the surface

Posted by: Stacy Aguilera

Today I turn 23. With every birthday there is a certain amount of expectations for the new year, and a time to reflect. At midnight, I found myself with a glass of wine and my best friend, trying to figure out how I got to where I am today.

I’ve just graduated from Stanford University as a Marine Biologist.  I am now in graduate school with a focus in Marine Policy. Throughout my career I have been determined to seek opportunities to gain experience in the field. I earned my PADI as soon as I became of age, completed numerous individual and group research projects at institutions across the world, and have had many conversations with those at the top of their field to soak in their advice. It all seems like a blur, but I keep the childhood sense of wonder and amazement close to my heart to guide me through.

I remember the first time I went SCUBA diving. I was 12 years old and on vacation with my family in Turks and Caicos. Our hotel had a one day Beginner Scuba Class. After using my persuasive skills (at least those of a very eager 12-year-old), my parents allowed me to try it out. I can still hear my heart beating deep within my chest, under all of that equipment, as I waited by the side of the hotel pool. Along the concrete edge we all stood, myself (a small child) in the middle of six other beginners (tall and middle-aged men). Although I felt out of place among the other students, once I plunged into the sea I felt right at home. I instantly relaxed as I saw the way that the sunlight entered the water in a scattered and beautiful pattern. The colors and diversity of everything astounded me. You can actually hear the parrotfish chomping down on the coral. You can see the clownfish moving in and out of its anemone home. You can watch as a cleaner wrasse enters a grouper’s mouth unharmed and feeds on parasites. A sense of wonderment overcame me as I realized that all of this, the busyness, the beauty, the bountifulness, is happening all the time. When I drive to the grocery store, while I’m sleeping, even when I’m blowing out candles on my birthday cake, there is a whole world that is continuously working and living. To me it’s funny how NASA spends so much money on exploring space; how people are so interested in finding another world, when all they had to do was look under the surface.

Diving inspired me to pursue an education and career in Marine Science. Last winter I attended a seminar by a local coral expert from The Coral Reef Alliance. He showed photos of destroyed coral communities in the Caribbean. Entire ecosystems had been degraded by coral bleaching, trawling, and other human induced . I’ve seen like this before, but it wasn’t until he started saying the names of the sites that it became truly personal. All of a sudden I realized that these were pictures of some of the first dive sites I ever visited. I was shocked to see that the exact places that motivated me to pursue my major, that gave me the energy to work hard at all hours, and that led me to so many adventures, were gone. I instantly became depressed, imagining that my friends and family would never have the chance to see the places that caused such a strong response in me, and they would never truly understand why I am who I am today.

Until recently, I hadn’t considered myself a conservationist. I loved the ocean for what it was, the wonders deep inside it, the perfect vacation spots, the questions it sparked. Yet through my studies and the I’ve heard from people all around the world, from scientists to fishermen, I’ve realized that it’s not okay to love the ocean and ignore the opportunities to channel that passion into doing something positive to protect it. I’m 23 and I’ve already lost something that had one of the biggest impacts on my childhood and sparked the passion for my career path. Yet, I still have hope that everything won’t be lost, that my friends, family, both present and future, will be able to dive into that turquoise colored water and explore all the fascinating wonders below the surface.

Date Posted: October 17, 2011 @ 11:15 am Comments Off

Lock Up Your Children, Here Comes the National Ocean Policy!

Posted by: Mike Dunmyer

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Administration’s National Ocean Policy (NOP). It was a tough one for the ocean, but that was easy to anticipate given the Some of the arguments used against it were effective (note: effective doesn’t mean “fact-based”), but many were so far over the top as to be comical, including:

  • Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) drew the interesting conclusion that the national ocean policy would result in the death of all U.S. land use planning, and was a tool being used by the “radical left” to force the entire population into dense urban cores.  Hmm.  The National Ocean Policy would do this?
  • Congressman Steve Southerland (R-FL) intimated that the NOP would strip him of ALL his rights. Okayyyyyyyyy…
  • Christopher Guith, representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argued that the national ocean policy would halt certain risky activities viewed as potentially damaging, and  asserted that a better approach would be to charge blindly ahead and deal with any resulting environmental catastrophes after they happened.
  • Jim Gilmore, from the At-Sea (fish) Processors Association argued that the NOP intends to coordinate ocean uses with protection of critical habitat, as though that were a bad idea.

Extremism aside, the arguments used against implementing the national ocean policy can be grouped into a few general categories.  Fortunately, the NOP had plenty of Congressional defenders at the hearing as well.

Argument 1: It should be created through the legislative process rather than by Executive Order. Well, all those who support the NOP would prefer that it become law.  However, as Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) noted in his testimony, powerful individuals like former Natural Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (who we helped defeat) prevented previous NOP bills from even getting a hearing.  As the current leadership is also hostile to the NOP, an Executive Order is a good way of aligning the activities of the executive branch to move forward on an opportunity when Congress fails to act.

Argument 2: It will cause ocean zoning, which is assumed to be bad. This refers to , which is a tool proposed within the National Ocean Policy.  CMSP collects and assembles the data to enable  thoughtful planning for where each ocean use could and should be carried out, and where multiple or specific types of uses would cause damage.  Sounds truly evil, right?  I also find it funny that several Congressman argued that the very idea of zoning was ludicrous.  I’m guessing these guys would be OK with siting elementary schools in their district between prisons and strip joints.  In addition, as Jim Lenard, a panelist representing wind energy argued, CMSP would gather the data to determine whether certain activities would even be profitable in various locations, saving industry time and money.

Argument 3: It creates additional beaurocracy and regulatory burdens. This is flawed on many levels.  First, Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) pointed out that the NOP imposes no new regulations.  As an Executive Order, it works within current law.  What it does is provide a mechanism for the 20 different federal agencies with ocean jurisdiction to coordinate analysis and decisions. This mechanism is the , which is made up of the heads of all the relevant federal organizations with ocean jurisdiction.  That’s right – no new departments or agencies were created, the NOP simply creates a forum for the stakeholders to plan together.  So, it isn’t additional beaurocracy, and, as Jim Lenard pointed out, the NOP actually simplifies and streamlines the current process, which forces users to individually engage each of the relevant agencies and often results in redundant and incongruous activities with long delays.  Lenard pointed to the “smart from the start” program that used the collaborative framework to reduce the permitting time for offshore wind energy by 2 years.

At the end of the day, the National Ocean Policy is really about all the major stakeholders in ocean resource management working together, gathering relevant data and planning together. Yes, it is grounded in a conservation philosophy (which is why environmental groups love it), but it seeks to balance resource development with long term sustainable management of those resources.  Today, decisions are made by stakeholders independently and in a vacuum, and the oceans have suffered from this schizophrenic approach.  The National Ocean Policy’s coordination and collaboration would allow ocean economies to thrive, and ocean jobs to grow while protecting critical habitat and species, and enabling healthier oceans in a way that both environmentalists and users should embrace.  As Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) pointed out, opposing ocean planning is like opposing the use of air traffic controllers!




Date Posted: October 6, 2011 @ 7:14 am