U.S. commission, in Durham, hears of crisis in coastal waters

According to a federally appointed commission the nation’s coastal waters are in trouble. It will take new policies promoting research and education to recover them. In a report released last week, 212 recommendations by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy were handed down. They focused on either changing or refining a range of policies

The commission was created three years ago with the goal of producing a plan of attack for ocean policy in the 21st century. Its members include UNH professor Andrew A. Rosenberg and oceanographer Robert Ballard, best known for discovering the Titanic. Both men, along with scientist Paul A Sandifer, were on hand for the hearing and also spoke to a crowd of over 100 people about the current state of affairs and what needs to be done in the future.

The issue is actually made up of several topics, all having to do with the nation’s water, whether speaking about coastal zones or the Great Lakes. For example, in 2001, 23 percent of the nation’s estuarine areas were considered impaired for swimming, fishing, or supporting marine species, the report said. Approximately 18,000 days of beach closings and advisories were listed across the nation in 2003 due to bacteria. And up to 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited.

The commission recommended sweeping changes in fishery management, a stronger, more unified National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and more money for research and education. Overall, the report titled "An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century," cited a failure to properly manage human activities that affect the nation’s waters. This has an impact ranging from ecology to the economy.

The Senate has already approved $414 million in funding for ocean research and the commission members at the hearing said they hope the Congress will do the same.

Funding has been lacking for years, they said, with NASA receiving $16 billion a year for space exploration and the NOAA a mere $14 million this year. In many cases, scientists have better maps of the Martian surface than of the southern hemisphere, Ballard said.

Also, the NOAA needs to become more organized both nationally and internationally, as international collaboration was also cited as a necessity for the future.

The hearing lasted about an hour, with well over 100 people at the event. The full report was sent to President Bush, who now has 90 days to submit his proposals or responses to the commission’s recommendations to Congress.


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