Commentary: Oceans reflect the health of the planet

We can help them heal, but we can’t afford to wait

Gulf of Alaska
The Gulf of Alaska

Commentary by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and Don Young (R-Alaska)
For The Cordova Times

Oceans cover more than 70 percent of our planet and are home to more than a thousand species of marine life. Oceans generate the oxygen that we breathe. They regulate our climate and provide healthy meals for people daily. Coastal communities rely on healthy oceans—as do shellfish, fish, marine mammals, birds, and ecosystems around the world. June 8 is World Oceans Day which serves a reminder that regardless of where we live or our political party, we must remain committed to protect, conserve, maintain, and rebuild our ocean resources.

The health of our oceans is a reflection of the health of our planet. We need to improve our understanding of the implications of environmental stressors, such as harmful algal blooms and hypoxia, marine debris, warming and more acidic ocean waters, overfishing, and rising sea levels. These problems are indicators of a changing climate, and they threaten our economy and the livelihood of millions of people.

Ocean acidification, in particular, is a significant threat to our oceans, coastal estuaries, waterways, coastal communities, and industries. As water chemistry becomes more acidic on the West Coast, shellfish larvae struggle to build shells. Oysters and clams are especially vulnerable. In New England, clams are actually dissolving in mudflats—a preview of the negative effects of ocean acidification. In Maine, fishermen are concerned about the repercussions for the state’s iconic lobster industry. Emerging research from Alaska indicates that ocean acidification could have devastating effects on commercially valuable red king crab and Tanner crab populations. Across the country consumers, grocery stores, and the restaurant industry will be affected by the changes in ocean chemistry when stable supplies of seafood and shellfish are threatened.

Oceans are resilient, and we can help them heal, but we cannot afford to wait. The time to take action is now.

As the co-chairs of the bipartisan Oceans Caucus, we are fighting to protect the health and future of our oceans. We have led efforts to increase federal investments in a national integrated system to gather data about rising sea levels, coastal flooding, harmful algal blooms, and hypoxia. We support funding for the Sea Grant program, which leverages public dollars for research, education, extension and outreach activities. We are advocating for programs that help rebuild commercial and recreational fisheries and the recovery of the Pacific wild salmon and steelhead stocks. We have introduced the Save Our Seas Act to assist local communities and states in removing garbage and debris from our oceans and our shores. We are also working on legislation to expand scientific research and monitoring to improve our understanding of ocean acidification. These efforts will help vulnerable communities and industries understand, prepare for, and, where possible, adapt to changing ocean conditions.

Our oceans cannot wait any longer.

Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) are co-chairs of the Ocean Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.