Oceans: Buy the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

By Don Walsh
  • Demonstrate the interlinked nature of ocean issues.
  • Bring together various interest groups to work on common ocean interests.
  • Encourage greater public awareness and environmental support for coastal ocean issues.
  • Initiate development of a shared vision of America's Ocean Agenda for the 21st Century.
  • Send an official message to the world community as it celebrates the International Year of the Ocean.

The Naval Postgraduate School was the first day's site. Here the real work was done at four morning workshops. Subjects included: Global Security; Commerce; Environment and Health; and Exploration, Education, and Research.

That afternoon Vice President Gore addressed and chaired a plenary session where each of the workshops reported findings and recommendations. They were:

  • Establish partnerships between government and civil sector to share costs for research, development, and testing as well as to benefit from pooling talent and funding.
  • Restore American fisheries. Limit entry to fisheries; develop "no-take" zones for stock recovery; remove pollution from coastal oceans; and find means to greatly reduce by-catch.
  • Get Congress to approve the President's request for a major increase for his Clean Water Action Plan. The increase is $2.3 billion (over five years) to help eliminate land-based pollution that has stressed and damaged the coastal oceans.
  • Join the Law of the Sea Treaty. The United States is the only major maritime power that is not a signatory.
  • Greatly increase exploration of the oceans. Conferees were told that only 5% of the seafloor has been mapped adequately.
  • Develop a comprehensive national ocean policy. Congress must pass the "Oceans Act" (introduced in September 1997). It will provide the coordinating and advisory structure needed for an increased, more efficient, national ocean effort.
  • Increase education efforts for ocean awareness as well as training of scientists and engineers. Ocean awareness begins in the earliest stages of education to create an ocean-aware citizenry. Also an expanded national ocean program requires an increased number of trained persons from technicians to professors.
  • Increase U.S. investment in ocean science and technology. Speakers noted that present level of investment is about $1 billion per year compared to $13 billion per year for space.
  • Release classified oceanographic data. Classified ocean data now held by the Defense Department should be reviewed for release to the public.

The second day's venue was San Marcos Park, near Cannery Row. The morning lead-off act was a ho-hum panel discussion with a dozen elected officials, mostly members of Congress. Nothing special or interesting came from this.

Next, President Clinton delivered the keynote address. Again, more recitation about importance of the oceans, but he did launch a nine-point program of "new" initiatives. Generally, they reflected workshop findings from the day before.

These initiatives were minimally financed; several were being done already. As someone said, "it was old wine in new bottles." Thus it was a case of not what was said but who said it. Throughout the conference, from President down to his top officials, strong supporting statements were made for an increased national ocean program. These were Clinton's policy-level people who already have the power to create this program. Now they are firmly on the record. They have done very little the first five and a half years in office. They have only two and half years left to show us the "new way."

We should not forget, however, that this was the first time a President has ever convened a broad-based constituency meeting on national ocean matters. Despite being highly choreographed and its outcomes pre-ordained, this conference was a very positive event.

 

Dr. Walsh is neither marine archaeologist nor treasure hunter. He has spent the past four decades involved with design, manufacture, and operation of submersible systems. A retired naval officer (submarines) he was designated U.S. Navy deep submersible pilot #1 in the early 1970s. During 2001, in addition to Atlantic Sands, hehas participated in diving operations at the battleship Bismarck (16,000 feet) and RMS Titanic (12,500 feet). On 20 July 2001, he had lunch on board the Titanic, when the Mir 2 landed on the bridge so the sub crew could eat.

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