Issue Date: June 12, 2006
Protecting Oceans And Coastlines
In February, I wrote an editorial entitled "Global Warming News" (C&EN, Feb. 13, page 5). A week or so later, I received an e-mail from Frank Muller-Karger, an oceanographer who is a professor at the College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, who wrote at the suggestion of Christopher D'Elia, an ACS member who is the associate vice chancellor at the university.
"I was a member of the President's U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (http://oceancommission.gov)," Muller-Karger wrote. "Our report outlined in detail the perils that we face as a society if we don't change our present philosophies on ocean research, management, and education. The commission made important recommendations, but to date we have made little progress with the Administration and Congress in implementing these recommendations. A grade sheet for government performance on these topics was recently released by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (www.jointoceancommission.org). Our funding to address ocean research, resource management, and relevant education is now eroding at a tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year relative to what already was a stagnant research budget in our country. This undermines what I consider our broadest bases for strong and long-term national and homeland security."
Muller-Karger and D'Elia urged me to address ocean policy in an editorial, writing that: "It would be great if mainstream chemists can express their concern about where we are going with regard to 70% of the surface of our globe." I wholeheartedly agree.
The commission's massive report, "An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century," was released in September 2004. It is hardly dated, however. Most of its recommendations have yet to be addressed.
"We greatly appreciate the efforts to date of the Administration, the Congress, and a growing number of coastal states, but we feel strongly that these actions are proceeding at a pace that does not reflect the urgency of the situation," said Leon E. Panetta, cochair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, in releasing the grade sheet, which gave the nation a D+ on ocean policy reform. "Our goal is to inform policymakers and the public of critical challenges facing our oceans, while identifying the many opportunities that are ripe for action."
One of the core sets of recommendations contained in the report is increased oceanic research. "Unfortunately, the oceans remain one of the least explored and most poorly understood environments on the planet," the report notes. The situation is not improving. "Over the past two decades, with our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes under siege, federal investment in ocean research has stagnated while other fields have grown. As a result, ocean science funding has fallen from 7% of the total federal research budget 25 years ago to just 3.5% today."
The report observes that a "renewed U.S. commitment to ocean science and technology will require not only substantially increased funding, but also improved strategic planning, closer interagency coordination, robust technology and infrastructure, and 21st-century data management systems." It makes numerous recommendations for new bureaucratic structures to facilitate such a commitment, including the establishment of a National Ocean Council within the Executive Office of the President.
The report is by no means a radical document. It foresees "oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes" that "are clean, safe, prospering, and sustainably managed. They contribute significantly to the economy, supporting multiple, beneficial uses such as food production, development of energy and mineral resources, recreation and tourism, transportation of goods and people, and the discovery of novel medicines, while preserving a high level of biodiversity and a wide range of critical natural habitats."
Natural product chemists, of course, have a deep and abiding interest in novel compounds extracted from marine organisms, as C&EN regularly reports. More important, the health of the oceans and our coasts are an important component of the health of our environment as a whole. Understanding and protecting these invaluable resources should concern us all.
Thanks for reading.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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