Scientists urge Biden to do more to protect the oceans | Community perspective


President Joe Biden’s laudable Jan. 27 executive order, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” calls for (among other things) to conserve 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030. However, the “Conserving and Abroad” administration Restoring America the Beautiful ”The plan released last month calls only for“ local and voluntary conservation efforts ”and falls short of protecting the oceans.

In response, a large group of prominent American scientists this month sent a letter to the president urging him to “go big” in protecting the oceans as part of the “30 × 30” initiative. The letter’s main request is that in order for the administration to meet its 30% goal for ocean protection, it must establish highly protected national marine monuments in large federal ocean ecosystems (3-200 miles offshore) by Alaska and other federal continents. plateau waters. In Alaska, while most federal lands enjoy permanent protection (parks, refuges, monuments, etc.), no federal offshore water enjoys comparable protected status, although they comprise half of the land. entire coastline of the country and three quarters of its continental shelf.

The Scientists’ Letter – signed by more than 90 university deans, department heads, distinguished marine professors, agencies and independent scientists (including the legendary Dr Jane Goodall) – states that America’s ocean ecosystems are in significant decline due to decades of overexploitation, climate change, acidification and pollution. Many marine species are threatened or endangered, and entire marine ecosystems (such as arctic sea ice and coral reef ecosystems) are seriously threatened. Ocean ecosystems will struggle to maintain their functional integrity throughout this century’s climate crisis, and these ecosystems need the strongest protections we can offer.

Many marine scientists recall that the “voluntary and local” approach was a dramatic failure in the Obama administration’s designation process for the National Marine Sanctuary, which ultimately led to the designation of only three small wreck sites. historical freshwater (Potomac River, Lake Ontario). The most effective ocean conservation achieved by the Bush and Obama administrations has been the federal designation, by Order in Council, of large-scale national marine monuments. The fact that this was not mentioned as an option in the Biden plan worries many oceanographers and environmentalists.

As concluded in Environment America’s 2021 “New Life for the Oceans” report, the science on this subject is crystal clear: fully protected marine protected areas (MPAs) protect and enhance biodiversity; improve ecosystem health; increase the biomass, abundance and diversity of marine species; and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The Marine Conservation Institute’s 2021 “Sea States” report concludes that while about 23.8% of US waters are considered “highly protected,” virtually all of it is in the remote central and western Pacific – Papahanaumokuakea, Rose Atoll, Marianas Trench, and Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments, covering a total of approximately 1.2 million square miles, were first created by President George W. Bush and then enlarged by President Obama.

However, only 1% of the states’ most exploited inland waters and 0.01% of inland federal waters are considered highly protected. Obviously, in order to reach the 30% target, the administration will need to protect the waters of the continental shelf much more. In essence, Presidents Bush and Obama have done the easy part on this, leaving President Biden with the more difficult and critical job of protecting highly productive and highly threatened continental shelf ecosystems.

In addition to improving the sustainable management of America’s oceans in general, scientists urge President Biden to assess and establish highly protected marine national monuments (via executive authority under the Antiquities Act), in order to protect large-scale federal offshore ecosystems. National marine monuments are the most direct, durable and robust political instrument available to achieve the goal of protecting 30% of the oceans, and they should legally resist any effort by a future federal administration to address them. weaken.

These marine monuments should, at a minimum, prohibit all extractive activities (oil, gas, seabed mining), destructive fishing practices (bottom trawling, etc.), and considerably reduce marine pollution (plastic debris, hydrocarbons , hazardous chemicals, underwater noise, etc.); and they should support and enhance low-impact sustainable recreation, tourism, livelihoods and scientific research. It is important to note that marine monuments should protect populations of marine mammals, seabirds, fish and all pelagic and seabed ecological functions as much as possible. Again, the goal is to give these critical ocean ecosystems the best possible chance of surviving the climate chaos of this century.

Scientists urged the administration to prioritize highly threatened and productive continental shelf waters to be protected as national marine monuments, especially in the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea / Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska , the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine, the Caribbean and the Pacific. and the Atlantic coasts. They recommend that each marine monument appoint a stakeholder advisory committee, a scientific advisory committee, and develop a management plan to advance the overall goal of long-term ecosystem restoration and protection.

Science has done its job in identifying the risks and anthropogenic impacts on our oceans. Now President Biden must act on this science to restore and protect these national assets vital to our common future.

Rick Steiner is a marine conservation biologist in Anchorage, Alaska. Former professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (he resigned his tenure as a full professor in 2010 when university administrators attempted to restrict his academic freedom) and former Alaskan commercial fisherman, Steiner is the founder and director of the non-profit organization Oasis Earth, and a member of the board of directors of The Ocean Foundation and of the board of directors of public employees for environmental responsibility.

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