Oceans Policy Scores Victory with Passage of S. 22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009

January 15, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ocean conservation and research scored a major victory today with the passage of S. 22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.  The act includes five bills, originally introduced in the 110th Congress under the leadership of Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), that increase our knowledge of oceans and coastal areas, provide policymakers with important data, and protect our oceans from the effects of climate change.
“The oceans cover over two-thirds of our planet, yet we know little about what lies beneath or how the changing climate is affecting marine resources.  And of course, there is no state that is more dependent on the long term health of the world’s oceans than my own state of Hawaii,” said outgoing Chairman Inouye. “Tens of thousands of citizens of Hawaii depend directly or indirectly on a healthy and bountiful Pacific Ocean. The five bills we passed today will help to provide the resources to increase understanding about ocean and coastal areas, which in turn will enable us to make the best possible decisions about how to manage, preserve, and protect them.”
The following bills were included in S. 22 which passed the Senate today:
The Ocean Exploration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Undersea Research Act:  This act would authorize the National Ocean Exploration Program and the National Undersea Research Program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to increase scientific knowledge for the management, use, and preservation of oceanic, coastal, and Great Lake resources. Although advances in technologies have allowed us to explore at greater depths, only about five percent of the ocean floor has been explored to date. The potential for indentifying new and beneficial scientific information and resources in the oceans is significant but remains largely untapped.  This bill would expand our nation’s understanding of the marine environment through the advancement of coastal and ocean sciences, which is a critical step in filling scientific knowledge gaps, developing potential economic resources, and inspiring greater ocean literacy in the general public.
The Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act: This act, also introduced as S. 174 by Senator Inouye, would integrate Federal and coastal mapping activities throughout the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Approximately 90 percent of our nation’s maritime territory remains unmapped by modern technology.  Improved mapping of our nation’s coastal and ocean waters will increase our understanding of the marine environment, thereby increasing the safety of navigation in our maritime domain, supporting national security missions of the United States Navy and Coast Guard, and allowing for better management of marine ecosystems and resources. 
The Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System ActThis act would authorize the establishment of an integrated system of coastal and ocean observations for the nation’s coasts, oceans, and Great Lakes. Advances in our knowledge and management of coastal and marine resources are limited by a lack of real-time, standardized, and accessible data on key environmental variables such as temperature, currents, sea level, salinity, and nutrients. An integrated observation system will improve the warning of tsunamis, hurricane, El Nino events, and other natural hazards; enhance homeland security; support maritime operations; and improve the management of coastal and ocean resources.
The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act:  This act would authorize a coordinated federal research program on ocean acidification. Over the past 200 years, human activities have resulted in dramatic increases in greenhouse gases that are altering the Earth’s climate. The oceans mitigate the effects of global warming by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is changing ocean carbon chemistry and causing the oceans to become more acidic. Ocean acidification could adversely impact marine ecosystems, food webs for many fish and marine mammals, and the economies of many coastal states that rely upon the seafood industry and coastal and ocean tourism. This bill would establish an interagency committee chaired by NOAA. The committee would develop and provide Congress with a strategic research plan on ocean acidification and coordinate activities across federal agencies, establish an ocean acidification program within NOAA to conduct research and long-term monitoring, promote education and outreach, and develop adaptation strategies and techniques for conserving marine ecosystems.
The Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program Act: As the U.S. population grows and more people move to the coasts, our coastal lands and ecosystems are threatened by unsustainable development. This legislation authorizes NOAA to award competitive grants to coastal states, including the Great Lakes, to protect coastal and estuarine areas which have significant conservation, recreation, ecological, historic, aesthetic, or watershed protection value and are threatened by conversion to other uses.