The United States earned an overall grade of a C for its ocean and coastal restoration efforts in 2007, inching up from a C- in 2006, according to an annual report by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative released in February.
The report card assessed the nation's progress in 2007 toward implementing the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission, as well as the actions described in the Bush administration's U.S. Ocean Action Plan.
Both commissions said oceans and coastal areas were at risk from myriad problems, from pollution resulting from increased population pressures to climate change. They called for a more coordinated national policy to address the problems.
But the 2007 report card concluded that state and regional initiatives were leading the way on reform, while the federal government and Congress lagged in committing adequate funding and making meaningful ocean policy changes.
"We have been waiting for five years for federal policy makers to implement the recommendations of these commissions," said retired U.S. Navy Admiral James D. Watkins, co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. "Time is no longer a luxury."
The grades handed out in the report card included:
National Ocean Governance got a D, the lowest mark, down from a C last year. The report card cited the ongoing failure to establish a national ocean policy or to overhaul the coordination of ocean policy among government agencies, even as oceans and coastal ecosystems are "declining at an alarming rate."
Regional & State Governance Reform scored an A-, the same as 2006. The report card credited regional initiatives, including the Bay Program, for coordinating responses to ocean and coastal issues, and noted that the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York passed legislation to improve state management of oceans and coastal ecosystems. It also cited California for approving a network of 29 marine protected areas in 2007, and Washington for approving substantial funding for Puget Sound and a new coordinating agency, the Puget Sound Partnership.
International Leadership got a C+, up from a D, largely for bipartisan support in Congress, and from the administration, for the Law of the Sea Convention, although it still must be approved by the full Senate. The convention, which would improve international conservation of ocean resources, has been approved by 50 nations, including almost all industrialized countries.
Research, Science & Education got a C-, up from a D+. The Bush administration has developed an "Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy" which the report card said was the first comprehensive effort to identify core activities and programs needed to improve the understanding of oceans and coastal areas. But funding for the strategy is lacking, and Congress has not passed any ocean science legislation.
Fisheries Management Reform got a C+, down from a B+. The report card said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had made progress in implementing new laws designed to improve fisheries management, and that fewer species were being overfished in U.S. waters. But it also said the development of key regulations was lagging, and that the role of science needed to be increased in the decision-making process for fisheries in federal waters.
Funding for Ocean Policy & Programs got a D+, up from an F. The Bush administration, House and Senate all signaled support for new funds to support various ocean and coastal programs last year, although most of that funding did not materialize in the last-minute budget deal approved by Congress and the administration in December. The report card said Congress and the administration should develop an ocean budget that would be supported by a trust fund capitalized from commercial activities in offshore waters.
Links Between Oceans & Climate Change, a new category, got a C. Many coastal states are developing strategies to control greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate impacts, such as sea level rise. The report card said the federal government should assist in those efforts to help better understand, mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts on oceans and coastal areas. It said consideration of how oceans could impact, and be impacted by, climate change should be part of any federal legislation.