Understanding and Protecting Our Oceans

It is said that we know more about our solar system than deepest parts of our own planetís oceans. Seeing a need to better understand our oceans so they may be better protected, the nonpartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy issued a wide-ranging report on ocean research and protection. While the Commissionís report contained over two hundred recommendations on ocean policy, President Bush has already implemented many of the main themes.

Advanced Research

A very real problem with protecting our oceans is a lack of understanding what global impacts will have on regional marine ecosystems. These impacts can affect everything from local weather to fish stock migration to beach erosion. Better data collection is needed to help scientists study these marine ecosystems.

  • The U.S.-hosted Earth Observation Summit led to the development of a global research plan involving 34 nations that will share data on the planetís climate and oceans. This will assist scientists in studying long-term trends that affect ocean ecosystems and coastal areas.
  • Domestically, the Pacific Coast Observation System was created to network current observation systems to assist scientists studying ocean trends and impacts on the West Coast.
  • The Global Ocean Observing System has been enhanced with the implementation of Global Argo Data Repository, collecting data instantaneously from over one thousand buoys and stations worldwide.
  • The National Office for Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observations (Ocean.US) is creating ten regional offices for ocean observation within the next two years, which will facilitate research, as well as get local stakeholders in local government and industry that are impacted by ocean changes more involved.

The surface of the Moon is more accurately mapped than our ocean floors. To better understand the deepest parts of our oceans, ocean floor mapping is occurring at a rapid rate. Some of the recently mapped parts of the ocean floor include northwestern Florida Gulf continental shelf, fishing grounds on the Gulf of Alaska and off the Aleutian Islands, the Galpagos Rift, and the Puerto Rico Trench.

Pollution Prevention

Reducing runoff from farms and urban areas is key, as this pollution affects coastal areas after it has impacted lakes and rivers.

  • Many programs within the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, also known as the Farm Bill, help private landowners reduce non-point water pollution, such as fertilizer and farm waste, which can pollute waterways and eventually reach coastal ecosystems. President Bush has allocated $8.92 billion for pollution programs, as well as farmland and open space conservation programs.
  • The EPAís Targeted Watersheds Grant Program will provide $15 million in 2004 to protect the nationís lakes, rivers and coastal areas. Since 2003, the Watershed Program has received more than $30 million in funding.
    • This funding will help protect 14 watersheds in 17 states from coast to coast.
    • The program encourages community-based programs and solutions to protect important drinking water sources, wildlife habitat and recreation areas.
  • The Presidentís Clean Beach Plan was implemented to help states and communities monitor for coastal pollution and help keep beaches safe for recreation and to protect wildlife. In 2004, the Bush Administration provided $10 million to ocean coastal areas as well as states and communities on the Great Lakes. This program will help protect coastal ecosystems from polluted runoff and erosion.

Habitat Protection

Coral reefs offer some of the richest ecological diversity of the oceans. But these regions are exceptionally vulnerable to pollution, overfishing, and physical damage.

  • During the Bush Administration, restoration of marine ecosystems in Dry Tortugas National Park, the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, and Buck Island Reef National Monument has begun. Located in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, these sanctuaries protect some of the regions most diverse and vulnerable coral reef systems.
  • Further, in 2003, the Tortugas Ecological Reserve was designated a no-take preserve, protecting the area from commercial fishing. Tortugas is more that 150 square miles of reefs and fish spawning areas west of Key West, FL.

Our nationís fisheries have become dangerously overfished in recent years, leading to dwindling fish stocks that could take years to recover. In the past three years, federal and state management plans have reduced the overfished stocks from 81 to 77, and rebuilding plans are in place to return these populations to healthy levels. Further:

  • The Administration created a multinational organization to protect and manage tuna fisheries in the Pacific Ocean.
  • A program was developed to employ new techniques to reduce illegal fishing worldwide and pressure the World Trade Organization to prevent overfishing by reducing subsidies.
  • New measures have been put into place to protect other species impacted by commercial fishing, such as dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks, often as a result of overfishing and bycatch.