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Ocean Report Calls for
Marine Reserves, Regional Councils

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 6, 2003

The ocean ecosystem where endangered salmon rear and grow to adults is in decline and much of the problem begins on land, according to a report released June 4 that took the Pew Oceans Commission over three years to complete.

While the report paints a dire picture of a polluted ocean off the coasts of the United States where wildlife is in decline, it also says that the reforms outlined by the report in ocean laws and policies could restore the health of the world's oceans.

The decline of ocean ecosystems, the report says, is due to overfishing, overdevelopment along coastlines and pollution from cities and towns, as the U.S. population jams the nation's coastlines. It says that nearly half of the U.S. population now lives along the coast and the crowding is growing. The resulting stress on watersheds caused by that population is impacting the ocean's health.

"We have reached a crossroads where the cumulative effect of what we take from, and put into, the ocean substantially reduces the ability of marine ecosystems to produce the economic and ecological goods and services that we desire and need," the report, titled "America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change," says. "What we once considered inexhaustible and resilient is, in fact, finite and fragile."

One of the recommendations made by the Commission is the creation of regional ecosystem management councils, including a national system of marine reserves that would receive similar protections as wilderness areas receive on land.

"Recent scientific knowledge emphasizes managing on an ecosystem basis," said Jane Lubchenco, a member of the Commission and a professor of biology at Oregon State University. "A focus on a single species has caused unintended problems because it ignores by-catch, invasive species, and pollution. Knowing how the pieces fit together enables smarter and less wasteful management."

Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, speaking in Portland Wednesday in support of the recommendation made by the Pew Oceans Commission, endorsed the formation of regional councils. He said that without stronger actions, the state risks damage to its economy caused by loss of environmental quality. He also supported the formation of marine reserves overseen by regional councils and pointed to work completed last year by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) in Oregon as a good start.

"The goal here is not to just create a wilderness for us to look at, but to create a reserve in the ocean so the ocean can heal itself," Bradbury said, according to a June 5 article in The Oregonian.

Lubchenco said that in some cases a marine reserve can also recharge areas of the ocean outside its established borders.

Oregon laws are not in place at this time to form those reserves, but OPAC released a report last year seeking to change that. OPAC was established by state legislation in 1991 and has been studying the potential to establish marine reserves since July 2000 as part of a process to meet an Oregon statewide conservation planning goal for Ocean Resources. In its report, completed Aug. 16, 2002 for then Gov. John Kitzhaber, OPAC found that Oregonians support formation of marine reserves. It proposed a two-phase process: gathering scientific information and getting public support is the first phase, while the actual selection and establishment of one or more reserves was left to a second stage.

The Pew Oceans Commission, funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, along with monies from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Oxford Foundation, assembled an independent commission of 18 political and scientific experts. Over the course of three years, the Commission held a series of public workshops, finding a common refrain of "The ocean system is collapsing; please help fix it," according to Lubchenco.

"For centuries we have viewed the oceans as beyond our ability to harm and their bounty beyond our ability to deplete," said Leon Panetta, who chaired the independent commission of statesmen and scientists. "The evidence is clear that this is no longer true. The good news is that it is not too late to act."

Among the independent commission's findings are:

The report blames these failures on perspective and governance. "We have come too slowly to recognize the interdependence of land and sea and how easily activities far inland can disrupt the many benefits provided by coastal ecosystems," the report says.

However, the report is also hopeful that its recommendations can make significant progress in returning the ocean environment to health, and it indicates that much of what can be done begins with policy and actions on land.

Related Links:
Pew Oceans Commission report:

Mike O'Bryant
Ocean Report Calls for Marine Reserves, Regional Councils
Columbia Basin Bulletin, June 6, 2003

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