American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update on the Year of the Ocean (11-2-98)

Today, more than two-thirds of the world's population live within 50 kilometers of the ocean -- a figure that will likely rise to 75 percent by 2020. To increase awareness of human impacts on the world's oceans and the many resources that the ocean sup plies, the United Nations has named 1998 as the Year of the Ocean (YOTO). This update reports on a number of actions that have already taken place in Congress, the Administration, and the scientific community to improve the nation's ocean policy and take part in YOTO. A newsnote on the National Ocean Conference held in June in Monterey, California is also available on the AGI site.

Legislation Introduced
End of Session Update:
Similar -- but slightly different -- legislation to develop a national ocean policy passed the House and Senate, but time in the session ran out before the bills could be conferenced. The process should begin again in 1999 with the new Congress. Language in the omnibus FY99 appropriations bill provides $3.5 million to the Department of Commerce for a Commission on Ocean Policy to review U.S. policies related to oceans and coastal activities subject to authorization.

Previous Action:
The Legislation aimed at creating a unified national ocean and coastal policy has passed both the House and Senate. The Senate passed S.1213, the Oceans Act of 1997, on November 13. Introduced by Senator Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), the bill would establish a National Ocean Council, comprised of representatives from federal agencies that address ocean issues, to develop a national policy and improve coordination and cooperation among federal agencies. It would also establish a Commission on Ocean Policy, comprised of stakeholders such as scientists, academics, and government officials, which would recommend ocean policy to the President. The bill also directs the President to report to Congress biennially on ocean and coastal activities, budgets, and accomplishments. It instructs the President to provide general guidance on an annual basis to each federal agency or department involved in coastal activities.

The House passed HR 3445, the Oceans Act of 1998, on September 18. The bill was introduced by Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans Chairman Jim Saxton (R-NJ) on March 12 to establish a Commission to study and report a new ocean policy. According to the House Resources Committee, this bill differs from the Senate bill in several ways. It clarifies that the Commission will carry out its review, then the President will take those recommendations into account in developing a National Ocean Policy. H.R. 3445 provides a specific list of questions for the Commission to address, and sunsets the Commission 30 days after it makes its report. It passed the House Resources Committee on July 29. In its markup, the committee agreed to two amendments offered by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) aimed at ensuring that ocean-related industry interests would be represented on the commission and that coastal state governors and congressional committees of jurisdiction would receive drafts of the commission's report. The two bills are now in conference.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced a similar bill, H.R. 2547, which remains in committee. The bill differs slightly from the Senate bill in that it does not establish a Council, due to concerns about increasing the bureaucracy in government. The other difference between it and the Senate bill is that the H.R. 2547 would instruct the Commission to meet every 5 years after its report is completed, to "evaluate the implementation of its re commendations, and make any necessary changes or additions."

The House also passed a resolution addressing the importance of the oceans, House Concurrent Resolution 131. Introduced by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), the resolution declares that the ocean is important to the U.S. economy, environment, and national security; the U.S. has a responsibility to promote ocean stewardship; and encourages federal agencies to review marine policies and identify opportunities to improve interagency cooperation and develop "scientific, educational, and resource management programs that will advance ocean exploration and the sustainable use of ocean resources."

The House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans held a hearing on all the bills on March 19, 1998.

Federal Activities
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is leading the Ocean Principals Groups, an informal group of 17 federal agencies with ocean interests, in promoting YOTO. The Ocean Principals Group is coordinating and promoting the following themes: maritime transportation; national security; marine environmental quality; recreation and tourism; and weather, climate, and natural hazards. The Oceans Principals Group has suggested a White House Conference on Oceans, but no final decisions have bee n made.

NOAA will be launching an educational campaign in late January, complete with posters, handouts, and public service announcements. An extensive YOTO website has already been developed. Along with an explanation of YOTO activities and links to federal participants, the site contains a "reporters page," which will contain complete information for news stories each week. In addition, the site features a "Kid's and Teacher's section," full of games and facts about the ocean.

President Clinton made a proclamation officially recognizing 1998 as the Year of the Ocean on January 28, 1998. The proclamation follows:

More than 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water, and more than half the world's population lives within 50 miles of a coastline. We rely on the ocean as both a source and sustenance of life on our planet. It contains a wondrous abundance and diversity of life, from the smallest micro-organism to the mammoth blue whale. It is a key source of food, medicine, energy, commerce, and recreation for the peoples of the world, and the more we learn about its influence on climate and weather, the more we realize its impact on our safety and quality of life.

We are only beginning to understand the depths of the ocean's mysteries, but we are quickly learning one crucial lesson: the ocean's resources are limited, and we must work together to preserve them. Many areas are already overfished; decades of pollution, including industrial waste, sewage, and toxic runoff, has taken its toll on the health of the ocean and its living creatures. Many species of fish are threatened with extinction, and even our precious coral reefs, once a safe haven for an amazing variety of animal and plant life, have suffered greatly.

Because the ocean is a treasure that all nations of the world share in common, we must work in partnership to become wise stewards of its many riches. We must strive together -- at local, national, and international levels -- to preserve the ocean's health, to protect the marine environment, and to ensure the sustainable management of the myriad resources the ocean contains.

Dedicating 1998 as the Year of the Ocean is an important first step in this worldwide endeavor. Throughout the year, individuals, organizations, and governments will participate in activities designed to raise public awareness of the vital role the ocean plays in human life and of the equally vital role that human beings must play in the life of the ocean. The Year of the Ocean provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about the ocean's unique environment and to collaborate on protecting and preserving its invaluable resources.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, WILLIAM J. CLINTON, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim 1998 as the Year of the Ocean. I encourage the Governors of the States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and officials of other areas subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to participate in the observance of this year. I invite all Americans to take this opportunity to learn more about the ocean and its vast biodiversity and to become involved in keeping our coastal waters safe and clean.

Science Community Activities
More than 1,600 marine scientists from around the world joined together last week in support for stronger protection of the world's seas in a statement entitled "Troubled Waters: A Call for Action." The statement was released during a press conference held on Capitol Hill on January 6. Speakers included Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), an outspoken advocate of ocean protection; Dr. Elliott Norse, marine ecologist and President of Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI); and Dr. M. Patricia Morse, a marine biologist from Northeastern University. More information on the press conference and statement is available from the MCBI website. The statement follows:

We, the undersigned marine scientists and conservation biologists, call upon the world's citizens and governments to recognize that the living sea is in trouble and to take decisive action. We must act quickly to stop further severe, irreversible damage to the sea's biological diversity and integrity.

Marine ecosystems are home to many phyla that live nowhere else. As vital components of our planet's life support systems, they protect shorelines from flooding, break down wastes, moderate climate and maintain a breathable atmosphere. Marine species provide a livelihood for millions of people, food, medicines, raw materials and recreation for billions, and are intrinsically important.

Life in the world's estuaries, coastal waters, enclosed seas and oceans is increasingly threatened by: 1) overexploitation of species, 2) physical alteration of ecosystems, 3)pollution, 4) introduction of alien species, and 5) global atmospheric change . Scientists have documented the extinction of marine species, disappearance of ecosystems and loss of resources worth billions of dollars. Overfishing has eliminated all but a handful of California's white abalones. Swordfish fisheries have collapsed as more boats armed with better technology chase ever fewer fish. Northern right whales have not recovered six decades after their exploitation supposedly ceased. Steller sea lion populations have dwindled as fishing for their food has intensified. Cyanide and dynamite fishing are destroying the world's richest coral reefs. Bottom trawling is scouring continental shelf seabeds from the poles to the tropics. Mangrove forests are vanishing. Logging and farming on hillsides are exposing soils to rains that wash silt into the sea, killing kelps and reef corals. Nutrients from sewage and toxic chemicals from industry are overnourishing and poisoning estuaries, coastal waters and enclosed seas. Millions of seabirds have been oiled, drowned by longlines, and deprived of nesting beaches by development and nest-robbing cats and rats. Alien species introduced intentionally or as stowaways in ships' ballast tanks have become dominant species in marine ecosystems around the world. Reef corals are succumbing to diseases or undergoing mass bleaching in many places. There is no doubt that the sea's biological diversity and integrity are in trouble.

To reverse this trend and avert even more widespread harm to marine species and ecosystems, we urge citizens and governments worldwide to take the following five steps:

Nothing happening on Earth threatens our security more than the destruction of our living systems. The situation is so serious that leaders and citizens cannot afford to wait even a decade to make major progress toward these goals. To maintain, restore and sustainably use the sea's biological diversity and the essential products and services that it provides, we must act now.

Global Oceans Conference
The importance of sustainable ocean development in international security and food production drew high-level delegations from around the world to Washington, DC last May for an international conference on oceans and security. Representative Weldon convened the meeting, which included participants from over 30 nations. Speakers included Vice President Al Gore, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Secretary of the Navy John Dalton, NOAA Director James Baker, U.S. Geologic al Survey Director Gordon Eaton, and ministers from 15 countries. The conference was sponsored by the Advisory Committee on the Protection of the Seas, Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment, and the Consortium for Ocean Research and Education.

The conference closed with the unanimous adoption of The Potomac Declaration: Towards Enhanced Ocean Security into the Third Millennium. The declaration recognizes the detrimental forces affecting oceans and provides a guiding set of principles and recommendations for ocean protection. These principles include the use of economic and social incentives to encourage sustainable development, integrated management of coastal and watershed areas, expanded international cooperation, and increased research on marine and coastal ecosystems. To enhance ocean research programs, scientists recommended the creation of a marine environmental monitoring system, using defense and intelligence surveillance systems, and the continuation of efforts to declassify military information.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson presented the ocean conference's recommendations to the U.N. General Assembly on Environment in late June. A follow-up meeting to hammer out details will occur in Stockholm later this month at a conference entitled "Towards Enhanced Ocean Security into the Third Millennium." More detailed information on this conference is available on AGI's hearings and meetings website.


House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans
March 19, 1998

Opening Statements
The House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans held a hearing on the various ocean bills on March 19, 1998. Chairman Saxton opened the hearing by explaining the important role oceans play for American. He concluded by stating: "The oceans are like the planet's last great living wilderness, man's only remaining frontier on earth, and perhaps his last chance to prove himself a rational species." Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) spoke about the importance of creating a national ocean policy, and the similarity of all the bills introduced. He also was interested in learning more about a proposed White House conference on oceans. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) noted that it is rare that Congress, the Administration, and the United Nations agree on an issue, and they are all on "the same page" regarding the importance of the oceans. Farr also stressed the importance of education, and disseminating the information learned during YOTO. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA)-- one of the cosponsors of H.R. 344 5 -- joined the subcommittee in the hearing and stated that Congress must be well-informed, not just well-intended, to adequately protect the oceans.

Witness List
Panel 1
Dr. James Baker, administrator of NOAA
Dr. William Merrell, President of the John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment

Panel 2
Dr. Kenneth Brink, chairman, Ocean Studies Board, National Academy of Sciences
Mr. Richard Gutting, executive vice president, National Fisheries Institute
Mr. Roger McManus, president, Center for Marine Conservation
Mr. Paul Kelly, senior vice president, Rowan Companies, Inc.

Dr. Baker began his testimony by agreeing with the members of Congress that YOTO provides "an excellent opportunity for the nation to initiate a major review of its ocean policies and to take actions to improve our understanding of ocean resources and systems." He then stated that the Administration supports a limited-term Commission to review US ocean policy. The Administration has endorsed S. 1213, as passed by the Senate, and will soon analyze the House bills. Baker spoke of the many advances since the 1966 Stratton Commission study on ocean policy, such as satellite imagery, biomedical advances, and the discovery of thermal vents and new species. He continued by stating that now is an ideal time for a study and "the Commission will help focus national attention on ocean activities, promote interagency cooperation, and strengthen partnerships with private and public entities engaged in ocean activities." He concluded by providing information on the White House Conference on Oceans, which will be held in June in Montery, California and will be led by Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley and Secretary of the Navy John Dalton.

Dr. Merrell spoke briefly about three workshops on oceans held by the Heinz Center. He stated that these conferences showed him that "the basis of our problems, both in the ocean and on the coasts, is not bad or incompetent people but, instead, failed or incomplete policies and institutional arrangements." He continued by noting that these conferences convinced him of the need for an Ocean Commission. He spoke of the changes in fisheries since the Magnuson Act was first passed in 1976, and how we now k now "sustainability is a better paradigm than growth." Merrell concluded by stating that we need comprehensive reform with specific policies, rather than the piecemeal approach which has been taken previously.

Question and Answer
Rep. Saxton began the question and answer period by noting that the introduction of the legislation implies that the US is currently not doing a good job managing its oceans, and we should examine the institutional structures -- such as NOAA --currently governing oceans. For example, in 1982 NOAA proposed to establish 29 marine sanctuaries, and we only have 12. In addition, NOAA has 86 stocks of fish listed as overfished, but 448 stocks are undetermined. Finally, he noted that the NOAA R&D fleet has dwindled from 22 to 11 vessels, and it will take 30 years to modernize the current fleet. Baker responded that NOAA has not received the necessary resources to make the expected progress. The marine sanctuary budget has increased three fold, but it is still only 1/3 of the amount necessary to manage the existing sanctuaries. Saxton continued his questioning by comparing the current public attitude -- which he believes is that "there is anything to worry about with the ocean" -- to the urgency of 1986-1987, when algal blooms and medical waste on the beach was common. Although the oceans may seem better, he noted, the scientific evidence shows us that oceans still are not healthy. Merrell responded that a recent poll found that most people thought the oceans are important and need help. He stressed the value of YOTO, and increasing public awareness.

Rep. Farr asked the witnesses if they believed an Ocean Council was necessary. Baker responded that the Administration supports an Ocean Council, as proposed in S. 1213, because more coordination between agencies is necessary. Merrell stated that legislation requiring a Council presumes an outcome of a Commission. In addition, because both the Administration and Commission can recommend creating a Council at any time, legislation mandating its creation is not necessary. Farr also asked the panelists where they thought money should be spent. Merrell suggested focusing on coordinating research on oceans, atmosphere, and coastal ecology. Baker suggested expanding research on our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is our "frontier."

Saxton stressed the importance of creating a Council that would give us a "fresh look" at ocean policy. S. 1213 would not provide that point of view because it calls for a Council to made up of agency heads. Baker agreed that a fresh look is critical, which he hoped the Commission, with the help of the Council, would provide. Merrell repeated his belief that a Council is not necessary.

Rep. Bilbray pointed to the success of the aerospace industry's efforts to lobby for federal funding increases for space. Baker responded that NOAA has not had the necessary resources, but El Nino has drawn attention to the oceans. Bilbray stated many in Congress are confused about the relationship and science concerning El Nino, global climate change, and ozone.

Panel 2
McManus focused his remarks on the importance of the EEZ, which is 4 million square miles, larger than the land in the US. The US, however, does not have a plan to manage this area. He then explained the Center for Marine Conservation's 10 Point Plan for actions during YOTO: pass an Oceans Act: Establish an ocean and coastal title to the Clean Water Act; Create a network of marine protected areas that provide real protection, Enact new legislation to comprehensively protect America's coral reefs; Invest in ocean protection; Stand firm on effective federal fisheries management; Conserve endangered marine wildlife; Identify, map, and inventory marine wildlife and their habitats; Improve stewardship through citizen participation and public education; and Establish the US as the leader in international ocean stewardship.

Mr. Kelly testified on behalf of several organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute, Domestic Petroleum Council, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. He began by stating that Congress should not begin its deliberations with the assumptions that current ocean policies constitute a problem. Kelly used policies that govern oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico as examples of ones that have created enormous economic benefits. He contrasted these regulations with those produced by the Stratton Commission, NEPA, and the Coastal Zone Management Act, which "have not served the oil and gas industry well." He emphasized adopting regulations that allow multiple uses, and considering the economic and environmental impact of legislation. He does not believe a Commission is necessary, but if one if created it should be temporary (sunset shortly after making its report) and makes its recommendations to Congress.

Brink spoke about the many discoveries and scientific advances made in the last decades. Funding levels, however, have "declined by a factor of two when expressed as a fraction of the total basic research funding in the US." He provided several areas t hat a Commission could address: sustainable ecosystems/diversity of life, healthy coasts and hazard vulnerability, and climate predictions. He concluded by stating his support for a new assessment of ocean policy, and offering the National Research Council's assistance.

Mr. Gutting testified on the many changes that have occurred in the fishery industry since the Stratton Commission and the need for a reassessment of fishery policy. He emphasized the need to study food production, but not duplicate the studies called for in the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996.

Sources: NOAA, Library of Congress, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education, Greenwire

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Kasey Shewey White, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted January 30, 1998; Last updated November 2, 1998


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