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For science and security, Trump should prioritize our oceans

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When President Trump’s signed his new ocean policy executive order, he became the third consecutive president — two Republicans and one Democrat — to issue an executive order calling for the coordinated and comprehensive management of coastal and ocean resources. 

While there will be a debate over the strengths and weaknesses of each order, and there are places where we disagree, we — a CEO of a major ocean conservation organization and a retired Navy vice admiral and member of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative — believe it is important to focus on our shared national interest in the coastal oceans that surround us and the deep ocean that connects us to the rest of the world.

{mosads}We encourage the Trump administration to prioritize the ocean, and build on this executive order to provide the leadership and commitments necessary to support international and domestic ocean conservation and management.


For over a half a century, ocean scientists have joked that we know less about the ocean bottom than about the back side of the moon. We are far behind where we should be in understanding the variability of the ocean as a dynamic living system, and all of the ocean’s existing and potential contributions to humanity. 

We believe that a data-focused, knowledge-based and collaborative approach to ocean policy and management will enable less contentious and more effective decision-making as we seek conservation of marine resources while reducing conflicts, accommodating increasing demands for ocean uses, and spurring technology development and innovation. 

For science and security, the wonder of exploration, and the promise of a return on our investment for all Americans, our nation has made a substantial national investment in space. For these same reasons, it is past time to commit more investment to our oceans. Some of the greatest natural science discoveries — from life-saving pharmaceuticals to the origins of life itself — have resulted from the limited ocean exploration to date. What other secrets do our oceans hold? 

Working with Congress, there is also an opportunity to unite across the aisle to provide critical resources for coastal and ocean programs. With a population that is moving by the thousands into coastal counties every day, ecosystems under pressure, growing global security threats, and a $359 billion and growing U.S. ocean economy — we must not revert to false choices between the economy, security or the environment. 

Now more than ever, the Navy needs ocean leadership to fulfill its missions. An America armed with the best information about the global ocean will have the strongest hand to ensure our safety, and lead international conversations from conservation and management of the open seas and the Arctic, to protection of biodiversity and sustainable fisheries. 

The new executive order calls for modernization, acquisition and distribution of ocean science and data to inform decisions and support sustainable use. A federal commitment to public ocean data provides opportunities to further progress already being made in both the private and public sectors. 

Entrepreneurs are building novel ways to share ocean data, and conservationists are using satellite data to track illegal fishing. Ocean data that was previously scattered across agencies or buried in file cabinets is being made available publicly via online regional ocean data portals. It is critical that this work continue and grow.

The executive order leaves in place a structure for continuing federal interagency coordination and collaboration with states, stakeholders and communities. It authorizes federal agencies to work with states, and to participate in regional ocean partnerships and data and information sharing. Although we must do more, these are foundational tools necessary for continued progress. 

In recent years, ocean planning sessions in regions across the country have brought voices from agencies, industries, scientists and communities to the same table to share goals and data, and collaboratively address conflicts that have festered without access to shared information. We are hopeful we can continue and build on these efforts for responsible sharing of our seas. 

The two of us may have very different backgrounds, but we each have years of experience trying to better understand the ocean, inform the choices we make about its future, and give it a louder voice and larger platform on the policymaking stage. Conservation, sustainable use to drive a blue economy, and security and ocean management based on collaboration and shared data and information is the responsible path forward. The ocean belongs to all of us — it is in our soul, as it is for many Americans.

Paul Gaffney II served as vice admiral in the U.S. Navy and is currently on the nonpartisan Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. He is president emeritus and Urban Coast Institute Ocean Policy fellow at Monmouth University. 

Janis Searles Jones, JD, is the CEO of advocacy organization Ocean Conservancy.

Tags Conservation Donald Trump Janis Searles Jones Ocean Science Security

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