Ray of Hope in New Ocean Policy

The Obama administration announced the final recommendations of its ocean policy task force yesterday, the culmination of a year of research and negotiation between science, recreation, economic activity and military operations in the nation's oceans, coastlines and Great Lakes. The task force recommends the creation of a National Ocean Council, marking the first time ever a comprehensive federal body will govern ocean policy.

Perhaps the most groundbreaking detail of this news is not the Council itself, but the integrative approach it will take. Under the National Ocean Council, nine regional groups comprised of state, federal and tribal leaders will make recommendations based on marine spatial planning, a way of "zoning" waterways and coastlines. This ecosystem-based evaluation method will monitor activities including offshore drilling and military exercises in the interest of marine conservation, for the first time creating a comprehensive legal framework for ocean, coastal and Great Lakes conservation that prioritizes marine life.

For example, after considering scientific and economic recommendations, a group might allocate a certain coastal area for wind farms, certain areas or seasons for naval exercises, certain areas for offshore drilling, etc. Areas that are not specifically allocated would be off limits to those activities. In a breath of fresh air for conservationists and marine scientists, a bulleted objective of the Ocean Council (from the Council on Environmental Quality's initial press release) promises the new plan "Ensures science-based information is at the heart of decision-making." Read the full press release here.