Following President Biden’s proclamation of June to be National Ocean Month, and in recognition of June 8 as World Ocean Day, the White House today announced a series of new steps the Administration is taking to conserve and restore the health and productivity of the ocean for the benefit of all Americans.
Today’s actions include initiating the designation process for a new national marine sanctuary to conserve Hudson Canyon in the Atlantic Ocean, a phase out of single-use plastics in national parks and public lands, and the launch of efforts to create America’s first-ever Ocean Climate Action Plan and to center environmental justice in ocean science and technology activities and investments.
Over the course of June, Federal agencies will be making additional announcements that showcase the scale and pace of the Biden-Harris Administration’s ocean agenda, including through the President’s America the Beautiful conservation initiative, unprecedented investments in coastal resilience and restoration through the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the rapid deployment and construction of offshore wind farms, U.S. engagement with the international Ocean Panel to spur sustainable ocean economic development, and the use of science to guide ocean planning and management.
The specific steps that the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing today in recognition of World Ocean Day are:
Hudson Canyon, which is located approximately 100 miles off the coast of New York and New Jersey and reaches depths of 2-2.5 miles, is an ecological hotspot, providing habitat for endangered, protected, and sensitive species including sperm whale, sea turtles, and unique and diverse seep communities. The canyon boasts deep sea, cold-water coral communities, and contains various shipwrecks, including freighters and United States military radar platforms, dating back to the mid-19th Century. In proposing to conserve the area as a national marine sanctuary, NOAA will seek public comment on the potential boundaries for the sanctuary and other factors related to its future management.
The Department of the Interior will reduce and eventually phase out the sale of single-use plastic products in national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands. As part of World Ocean Day, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will issue Secretary’s Order 3407, which aims to reduce the procurement, sale, and distribution of single-use plastic products and packaging with a goal of phasing out single-use plastic products on Department-managed lands by 2032. The Order is part of the implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order 14057, which calls for Federal agencies to minimize waste and support markets for recycled products. The Order also directs the Department to identify nonhazardous, environmentally preferable alternatives to single-use plastic products, such as compostable or biodegradable materials, or 100 percent recycled materials, in an effort to reduce the more than 14 million tons of plastic ending up in the ocean every year.
The Federal government and Tribes in the Bering Sea are beginning nation-to-nation coordination on the stewardship of the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area. In response to direction from President Biden when he reinstated the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area, the Bering Intergovernmental Tribal Advisory Council (which includes membership from 11 Tribes representing more than 70 Tribes in the Northern Bering Sea region) and the Bering Sea Federal Task Force (co-chaired by the Department of the Interior, NOAA, and the U.S. Coast Guard) convened a historic first meeting on June 3 to identify the ways they will work together to implement the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area. The two bodies, coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, represent a new model for nation-to-nation coordination for a large ocean area.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Environmental Quality, Co-Chairs of the Ocean Policy Committee, announced that the Committee will work in coordination with the White House Climate Policy Office to develop a whole-of-government Ocean Climate Action Plan that will guide significant ocean-based climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including green shipping, ocean-based renewable energy, blue carbon, and other ocean-related solutions. The Committee will also develop a National Sustainable Ocean Plan that will help guide sustainable economic development of U.S. ocean and coastal waters.
The interagency Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, which is led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, today released an Environmental Justice Position Statement, which commits the Federal government to advancing environmental justice across Federal ocean science and technology activities and investments and identifying immediate opportunities for action and investment to meet environmental justice goals across Federal agencies.
On June 3, the United States became the newest member in the UN Environment Program’s Clean Seas Campaign. Launched in 2017, the Clean Seas Campaign serves as a voluntary, multi-stakeholder platform for individuals, civil society groups, industry and governments to promote policies, standards, and practices to reduce marine litter. The United States joins 64 countries, covering more than 60 percent of the world’s coastlines. Earlier this year, the United States also joined more than 90 other countries in signing on to the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People and its goal to conserve or protect at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030. And since we cannot reach that global target without equally ambitious action within national waters, the United States announced the Ocean Conservation Pledge, by which countries commit to take voluntary actions to conserve, protect, and restore at least 30% of waters under their national jurisdiction. The pledge is non-binding, but aims to catalyze political action to significantly enhance ocean conservation efforts.
The Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing work to harness the clean energy potential of the ocean, conserve and restore its health and productivity, and lead the world toward sustainable ocean policies is informed and motivated by an understanding that a healthy ocean is indispensable to our economy, our health, and to our climate.
A report issued last week by scientists at NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, for example, found that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are now more than 50% higher than pre-industrial levels. The effects of climate change on weather systems are widely known, but these rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution are also deeply disruptive to ocean systems, leading to increasing sea surface temperatures, rising sea levels, and an increased absorption of carbon, which makes sea water more acidic, leads to ocean deoxygenation, and makes it more difficult for some marine organisms to survive.
In addition, tomorrow, NOAA and the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release the latest update to the Marine Economy Satellite Account (MESA), a report that provides statistics on some of the contributions to the U.S. economy from the nation’s oceans, seaports, Great Lakes, and other major water bodies (e.g., Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay). Many of the activities covered by the MESA, including commercial fishing, coastal tourism, and recreation, rely on the ecological health of the marine environment. The U.S. Natural Capital Accounts, announced on Earth Day, will align with the MESA to make these dependencies explicit, expand the accounts to include other economic values; and enable further development of a sustainable ocean economy. This year’s report will show the impact to the marine economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic in terms of employment, sales, and GDP contribution. The report identifies industries and activities most affected by the 2020 downturn, but also areas of growth and innovation in several marine sectors.