WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Bush is proposing $7.9 million to launch a Department of the Interior initiative to help protect ocean and coastal resources through unique partnerships to clean up marine debris, conserve coral reefs, improve ocean science and map vital areas of the U.S. extended continental shelf. This increase is part of the Department’s overall contribution of $956 million to implement the Ocean Action Plan in 2009.
“Marine ecosystems are neither inexhaustible nor indestructible. They are vulnerable natural resources that need our coordinated and concerted care,” Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said in unveiling the initiative today. “By working with state, regional and international organizations, we can better manage and protect ocean areas, coral reefs, barrier islands, bays, deltas and wetlands. We can reduce the spread of aquatic diseases. And by doing that, we can help protect communities, economies and wildlife that depend on these resources.”
Interior has extensive ocean and coastal responsibilities, managing more than 35,000 miles of coastline, 1.8 billion acres of seabed on the Outer Continental Shelf and sharing oversight with other federal agencies of millions of square miles of Exclusive Economic Zones, including those surrounding U.S. Territories in the Pacific and Caribbean. In addition, the Department manages 177 island and coastal refuges and 74 marine or island parks, covering 34 million acres of land and 92 million acres of coral reef ecosystems.
Under this initiative, which supports the President’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan, Interior would join with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and international partners to assess the sources of marine debris, clean up this trash, and launch education programs to engage the public about keeping debris out of our oceans.
Marine debris littering coastlines and deep water areas ranges from empty soda cans and small plastic objects to derelict fishing gear and abandoned vessels. An expanse of debris circulation in Pacific Ocean currents threatens many of the 267 species of birds and wildlife that scientists estimate are impacted worldwide by this problem. An increase of $500,000 would be allocated for the Marine Debris Campaign, which would be bolstered by in-kind and monetary contributions from partner groups.
“On our coasts, nearly 80 percent of U.S. estuaries are threatened,” Secretary Kempthorne said. “We have lost as much as 90 percent of the sea grass in parts of the Gulf Coast. We are losing coastal wetlands that protect us from major storms, purify water, and serve as nurseries for marine fisheries. Pollution and other human-caused threats are stressing coral reefs around the world.”
To help implement the highest priorities of the President’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan, Interior partnering with state and regional organizations would assess human-caused stresses on coral reefs and evaluate the effectiveness of Marine Conservation Areas in protecting reefs and fish. In a project under this initiative, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey will work with the Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium to carry out coral reef research. An increase of $400,000 would be allotted to this aspect of the initiative.
The initiative includes an increase of $1 million to enhance existing regional coastal ocean observing systems and apply USGS’ capabilities to develop science-based decision-support tools for coastal managers, and to implement the National Water Quality Monitoring Network. An additional $2.0 million would fund research meeting the goals and objectives of the Ocean Research Priorities Plan.
Included in the Ocean and Coastal Frontiers Initiative is an increase of $4.0 million to define U.S. jurisdiction of the extended continental shelf under Law of the Sea requirements. Many nations that border the Arctic are now staking seabed claims beyond 200 miles to secure rights to minerals and energy resources in the area. The project would assure the United States has the geologic and geophysical information needed to determine extended continental shelf boundaries successfully. The entire extended continental shelf includes energy and mineral resources with an estimated value in excess of $1 trillion.