"Oceans are changing," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. "They are changing rapidly and radically, with profound consequences for humanity."
In her keynote address, January 20th, to National Council for Science and the Environment's National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment – 2011 Our Changing Oceans – Dr. Lubchenco noted that a little over a decade ago, the Pew Oceans Commission - an independent non-governmental organization - and the U.S. Commission for Ocean Policy began assessing the state of the world's oceans.
"Both Commissions concluded that a hidden crisis was well underway," said Dr. Lubchenco, "and both concluded that despite many good efforts, the global picture is one of depletion, degradation and loss of resilience." The root causes identified included a failure of understanding and a failure to properly manage human activities affecting marine ecosystems.
While scientists studied declining ocean ecosystems, much of the knowledge they accumulated was not understood by non-scientists. "Most citizens, policy-makers, and businesses were not much aware of the knowledge that was relevant to their decisions," said Dr. Lubchenco. "The breadth of scientific knowledge was not being incorporated into policy and management decisions," she said.
To help address this gap, Dr. Lubchenco said it is necessary to "encourage scientists to share their knowledge broadly," not just with scientists, but with society at large.
To strengthen and update our approach to oceans governance, the U.S. Congress took action in reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The new act emphasizes ecosystem management and ending overfishing in U.S. waters. A number of U.S. states began to improve marine ecosystem-based management and neighboring coastal nations formed regional alliances to collaborate on ocean efforts.
"Progress on multiple fronts provided impetus to create a more systemic and comprehensive framework for effective and integrated action," said Dr. Lubchenco.
"In June 2009, President Obama established his Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and charged it with making recommendations to 'enhance national stewardship of the ocean, coasts and Great Lakes and promote the long term conservation and use of these resources'."
And on July 19, 2010, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the United States' first ever National Ocean Policy – a policy based on good governance informed by sound science.
New initiatives are being taken, said Dr. Lubchenco, but we need to commit to "a quantum leap in our collective efforts – in our roles as scientists, teachers, public servants, citizens, activists, consumers, and environmental stewards."