Conservation & Science

Trump Administration’s Ocean Policy puts short-term economic gain over long-term ocean health

On June 19, the Trump Administration issued an executive order revoking the 2010 National Ocean Policy established by President Obama. The order also creates a new National Ocean Policy that shifts the focus of ocean resource management from stewardship and sustainability to oil and gas development and national security.

“The President’s executive order undermines our ability to sustain ocean and coastal resources over time for the benefit of this and future generations of Americans,” says Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The new policy places too much emphasis on short-term economic gain over long-term ocean health and prosperity.”

For more than 30 years, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has inspired conservation of the ocean. In light of the President’s executive order, we will redouble our efforts in Monterey and beyond—with businesses,  elected officials and international leaders—to address the top threats facing the ocean today, advancing science-based solutions for a sustainable future.

NIOSH Deepwater Horizon Emergency Response Efforts
A flare boom burns oil and gas during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by NIOSH

A collaborative framework

President Trump’s order replaces the 2010 National Ocean Policy, which President Obama issued on the heels of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The 2010 policy called the disaster “a stark reminder of how vulnerable our marine environments are, and how much communities and the nation rely on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems.”

The 2010 policy was developed with input and support from the nation’s top business, government, military, science and environmental leaders. Among them was Packard, a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, one of two national expert commissions that called for the policy.

The original National Ocean Policy established a high-level, interagency National Ocean Council and called for regional ocean plans to “ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems.” The regional plans allowed for “adaptive management to enhance our understanding of, and capacity to respond to, climate change and ocean acidification,” among other goals.

Weakening science-based stewardship

The 2010 National Ocean Plan enabled the development of regional ocean plans, including one for the U.S. South Atlantic. Photo: Port Everglades by Daniel Piraino via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

President Trump’s executive order eliminates the National Ocean Council, replacing it with an interagency Ocean Policy Committee charged with implementing the new policy to “provide economic, security, and environmental benefits” for Americans. The policy aims to “facilitate the economic growth of coastal communities and promote ocean industries,” and “ensure that federal regulations and management decisions do not prevent productive and sustainable use of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources.”

While both executive orders recognize the need for science to inform decision-making, the Trump Administration’s new National Ocean Policy eliminates the goal to “increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems as part of the global interconnected systems of air, land, ice, and water, including their relationships to humans and their activities.”

In addition, the new policy replaces the mandate for federal leadership in creating  science- and ecosystem-based regional ocean plans, limiting federal participation to state-driven regional ocean partnerships.

“As an institution committed to the advancement of ocean science and conservation, the Aquarium is concerned that the Trump Administration’s actions weaken the previous National Ocean Policy’s focus on strong, science-based protection and management of our nation’s incredible ocean and coastal ecosystems and resources,” Packard says.

“The National Ocean Policy was established in 2010 to strengthen the federal government’s role in ensuring that our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes are healthy and resilient,” she adds. “Weakening this policy sends the wrong signal—that our nation no longer prioritizes the need to protect our ocean and coastal resources, and the well-being, prosperity and security they provide to all Americans.”

Then-President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore attend the National Ocean Conference in Monterey in 1998. Photo by Bob McNeely, via White House archives.

A legacy of U.S. ocean leadership

Twenty years ago this month, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore convened the first National Ocean Conference in Monterey. The gathering preceded the creation of two bipartisan national commissions—the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the independent Pew Oceans Commission—to explore U.S. management of federal ocean resources to promote economic development, national security and environmental health.

Out of this work came a single strong recommendation: Create a national policy, grounded in solid science, enabling our country to make the best use of our ocean’s invaluable resources in ways that sustain those resources for generations to come.

Acting on those recommendations, in 2010, President Barack Obama issued an executive order establishing the first National Ocean Policy. The policy incorporated recommendations from both ocean commissions, and created a science-based National Ocean Council to coordinate ocean activities across the federal government. That included the development of regional ecosystem-based ocean plans for the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast, Great Lakes, Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and Alaska/Artic regions.

With careful stewardship, the ocean can provide abundant resources for current and future generations. Photo by NOAA

“A significant step backwards”

Today, Packard participates in the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a bi-partisan coalition of former members of the U.S. and Pew Commissions, which promotes the development and implementation of the National Ocean Policy. Other members include former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman, former Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, Director of Scripps Institution for Oceanography Margaret Leinen, and former NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.

Lubchenco told Science Insider that the Trump Administration’s National Ocean Policy “represents a significant step backward, a throwback to the 1960s when the primary focus was on aggressively expanding the use of the ocean with the assumption that it is so immense, so bountiful that it must be inexhaustible,” she says. “We learned through painful experience that the ocean is indeed exhaustible, but we also learned that if we are smart about how we use the ocean, it can provide a wealth of benefits for decades and decades.”

The new policy “blatantly rejects this all-important focus on stewardship,” Lubchenco added. “Put another way, the policy reflects a shift from ‘use it without using it up’ to a very short-sighted and cavalier ‘use it aggressively and irresponsibly.’”

Learn more about how the Aquarium is tackling some of the most critical issues affecting ocean health—working with businesses, elected officials and international leaders for a healthy ocean and a sustainable future.


Featured photo: A wild southern sea otter swims in Monterey Bay.


2 thoughts on “Trump Administration’s Ocean Policy puts short-term economic gain over long-term ocean health”

  1. It is obvious the administration has an oil and gas policy. Simply the more the better. The ocean is simply a casualty in a battle the are waging. There is no conscious thought beyond making money.


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