The Obama administration released an "action plan" yesterday, in the form of a 118-page report, that expands upon the inter-agency National Ocean Council announced in the summer of 2010 (and blogged about here!)
The over-arching idea behind the Council is to increase collaboration, efficiency and data-sharing in a science-based approach to marine spatial planning. This way, areas deemed too fragile or critical for marine life will be zoned as off-limits for drilling, fishing, shipping and other uses. Federal agencies will share all non-confidential information on a publicly-available web site.
While the new action plan is a solid step toward the development of a national ocean policy, there is some trepidation that the Council will just create more bureaucracy, and also that it will be used more as a tool for developers than as a support for marine conservationists. For example, one of the objectives of the Council is to provide response plans for potential oil spills in the Arctic Ocean, since new shipping lanes and drilling spots are opening up due to increased melting of sea ice -- (this with apparent disregard for the fact that the ice is melting because of our reliance on oil and other greenhouse gas-producing fuel sources!)
But, if oil exploration and other industrial uses are inevitable, a streamlined agency overseeing the marine areas involved can provide faster and more comprehensive recommendations and responses.
Said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (and Overbrook grantee), "Every day, decisions are made about the industrial use of our oceans, and most of them are made on a 'first come, first served' ad hoc basis." An inter-agency council and national ocean policy can only help provide a longer-term, big-picture view of our oceans.
Read Cornelia Dean's NYT Green blog post here.