Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

April 22, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—Oceans cover 70 percent of the earth’s surface. They produce the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Oceans are home to the world’s greatest biodiversity, and their majesty, immensity and power are absolutely inspiring. Earth is the Blue Planet and so, we cannot celebrate Earth Day without celebrating our oceans.

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and the importance of the oceans to our lives and livelihoods, the Commerce Committee is exploring the environmental and economic impact of ocean acidification.

We are lucky to have actress Sigourney Weaver joining us to testify. The world of Pandora, in the film Avatar, enlivened our imagination by creating a new world full of unique creatures – not unlike the world under our seas.

From Earth’s largest animal – the blue whale – to one of its smallest – plankton – the oceans are home to great diversity. Coral reefs and the deep sea are home to plants and animals that we’ve never seen before and may hold the secrets to marine products that can cure cancer. The truth is we know only a fraction more about the oceans than we did 40 years ago.

But a grave risk lurks below our oceans’ surface that we are only beginning to understand. It is called ocean acidification.

The oceans are the largest natural carbon sink on the planet, they absorb one third of the carbon in our atmosphere. As carbon dioxide increases in our atmosphere, it also increases in our ocean.

This process is changing the basic chemistry of the oceans, making the seas more acidic. Though we are still learning about the potential impact of ocean acidification, we do know this: ocean acidification is real, it is happening, and it may have ramifications that ripple through ecosystems, communities, and maritime industries.

Last year, President Obama signed the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act into law. The Act, authored by Senator Lautenberg, charged the Federal government with developing a strategic research plan on ocean acidification and establishing an ocean acidification program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The program would conduct research and long-term monitoring on ocean acidification to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies and techniques for conserving marine ecosystems.

Today, the National Academies of Science released its Development of an Integrated Science Strategy for Ocean Acidification Monitoring, Research, and Impact Assessment – a loud and clear call to advance our understanding of the effects of ocean acidification.

Knowledge is power, and in this case, it is also money. We need greater investment in ocean acidification research, monitoring, and technology development. That foundation is essential to understanding how our oceans’ changing chemistry is affecting our marine resources, coastal communities, and the people who make their livings from the ocean in industries like commercial fishing and tourism. 

Today, on this 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we must remember our oceans and the tremendous wealth they provide—environmental and economic. Together, we have a shared responsibility to conserve our oceans and their rich ecosystems for future generations to come.