Dear Congress: Stand up for coastal environments during Estuaries Week
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As we enter National Estuaries Week on the heels of a weekend of devastating hurricanes and tropical storms across the nation, we’re more aware than ever that our coastal waters and estuaries everywhere are under unprecedented pressure. In Florida, harmful algal blooms (HABs) provided a summer-long national news story with no clear end solution in sight. Again and again, we are seeing coastal and estuary waters suffering from a combination of natural and human-driven changes, causing local and regional problems to spiral out of control.

The U.S. has invested in research, monitoring, and stewardship of coastal waters for over 40 years, and the resulting reductions in pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus, and other substances have increased estuary and coastal zone health significantly. Additionally, over the last 10 years, the U.S. has invested in research and monitoring of ocean acidification, an aquatic consequence of carbon dioxide pollution, which has provided an important baseline of understanding, showing that ocean acidification is poised to reshape ocean ecosystems, with likely impacts on fisheries. However, the intersection of ocean acidification and other urgent estuary issues such as HABs, runoff from land, changing ocean and coastal circulation, and coastal development still aren’t well understood.

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To address this knowledge gap, the bipartisan co-chairs of the Congressional Estuaries Caucus have introduced the National Estuaries and Acidification Research (NEAR) Act (HR 6270) to help support research into these issues. This bill asks the National Academies to synthesize what is known and what is yet to be discovered about ocean acidification in coastal waters and estuaries. This will make sure that prior investments are informing current coastal resource management as fully as possible, and it will also ensure that future investments in ocean acidification research, observation, and management of nearshore waters are focused on the most urgent information needs.

This Estuaries Week, I urge Members of Congress to take the simple step of sponsoring the NEAR Act to recognize and celebrate the important role of estuaries in the life of our nation. According to the National Ocean Economics Program, coastal counties in the U.S. in 2015 supported 139 million jobs, and contribute $18 trillion to the GDP. Of those figures, 3 million jobs and $320 billion were directly supported by the “ocean economy,” or ocean-related activities and industries. The rest are from people who live near the shore and care about its well-being. Responsibly stewarding coastal ecosystems by making sure research investments are applied as thoughtfully as possible is a win for everyone – and it’s one fast, easy way for Congress to stand up for coastal communities this Estuaries Week.

Sarah Cooley, Ph.D., is director of the Ocean Acidification Program at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C.