In a nation with numerous problems and a troubled economy, setting priorities is a difficult process. There are so many issues that need immediate attention that other longer term and ultimately more serious topics get ignored. A great nation embarks on great projects that inspire and benefit generations of people throughout the world. Sometimes the benefits are not clearly visible, but such vision is absolutely necessary for true progress to take place.
Today we need a strong commitment to protecting the ocean. Human activities throughout the planet are having an adverse impact on this most important ecosystem. The ocean covers about 71% of the planetís surface. Municipal and industrial contaminants flow daily from land to the sensitive bogs and estuaries around the world. Major fisheries in the continental shelves are severely depleted. Coastal wetlands are under assault from the effects of runoff and development, and these areas provide nutrients and shelter to a majority of commercial species.
Climate change is causing a rise in sea surface temperatures which will result in sea level rising, increased storm activity, and more rapid coastal erosion. The acidification of oceanic water is affecting numerous species of marine life including coral, mollusks, and echinoderms. Climate change is simply changing marine habitats, both coastal and open ocean, in ways that are rapid and unpredictable.
Meanwhile we continue to exploit marine waters for transportation, recreation, aquaculture, and energy development. Coastal states, such as Massachusetts, have formed management agencies that address local problems as they occur. Some planning is now underway which is a positive development in the use of these marine resources. In spite of this, these efforts fall short of what is truly needed.
There must be an international understanding of the importance and significance of the world ocean. And this can be accomplished by a renewed dedication to its preservation. The United States is the logical choice to give the ocean a new and permanent commitment. Similar to the decision to land a man on the moon, a national goal that focuses on marine research and conservation will inspire others to do the same.
With the space shuttle program now completed, a similar effort to study and protect the ocean should be initiated. We have so much more to learn and explore. This could be a partnership that reaches out from government to other countries and to industry and academia. Increased research will have extensive economic and environmental benefits for all. Everyone on this planet is dependent on the natural forces and processes in the ocean. It is time to make the ocean a global priority.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.