The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Don't Expect New Marine Sanctuaries Under Obama

NOAA Chief Says No Plans to Even Begin Considering New Ocean Reserves


Throwing cold water on hopes for a "sea change" in oceans policy,
the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says it has no
"plans to initiate an assessment" of potential marine sanctuaries
anytime soon, according to correspondence released today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, any such
decisions will be a "part of a comprehensive review of our Nation's
marine waters" - an interagency process expected to take several years.

The cautionary statements were contained in a September 1, 2009
letter from NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to Professor Rick
Steiner, a noted marine conservation specialist at the University of
Alaska, in which she demurred on his suggestion that NOAA undertake the
first steps for designating the very first national marine sanctuaries
in Alaskan waters, specifically in Unimak Pass and Bering Strait.

Lubchenco indicated that NOAA had no funds available to explore the
possibility of new marine sanctuaries and did not foresee any change
"in the immediate future." Her stance stands in ironic contrast to the
prior administration's record where President Bush designated three new
marine national monuments in the Pacific covering more than 150,000
square miles, including the world's largest ocean reserve. Although
President Obama has the same authority under the Antiquities Act to
designate new marine national monuments, Dr. Lubchenco's letter
suggests that this option will not be explored.

NOAA's posture
also raises questions as to whether meaningful Arctic Ocean protections
are under active consideration. Most of Alaska's threatened and
endangered species are marine species. In many regions sea lions,
harbor and fur seals have declined by 80%; sea otters by 60%; and some
seabird populations have declined by 90%. Many of Alaska's apex marine
predators contain some of the highest levels of persistent organic
pollutants of any animals in the world. Thus far, however, Obama's NOAA
has -

  • Pushed ahead with oil and gas exploration planning
    with no Arctic Ocean zone, no matter how sensitive, off limits, with an
    Interior Department touting "energy independence" as its top priority;
  • Given the green light to fish-farming and other open-ocean aquaculture nationally; and
  • Adopted
    the Arctic Policy (National Security Directive 66) unveiled in the
    final weeks of the Bush administration stressing maximum exploitation,
    rather than conservation, of marine resources.

Steiner points out that Alaska has half the U.S. shoreline,
three-fourths of our continental shelf, more marine mammals, seabirds
and fish than the rest of the nation combined but still not one marine
sanctuary or monument. In his July 30, 2009 letter to Administrator
Lubchenco, Prof. Steiner makes the case for these two designations:

Pass and Bering Strait host some of the most important migratory
corridors for marine wildlife anywhere in the world ocean, and can be
looked at as 'marine ecological gateways.' Most of the migration of
whales, seals, walrus, birds, and fish between these three seas [Gulf
of Alaska, Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean] pass seasonally through these
two restricted marine corridors...."

"Thus far the
Obama administration has delivered process without the promise of
protection," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, referring to the
recently announced White House Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force
interim report. "Our worry is that the final inter-agency product will
be so belated and compromised that invaluable resources will be
irretrievably lost."


Read NOAA Administrator's letter

See Professor Steiner's initial request

Compare the massive Bush marine sanctuary expansion

View the National Marine Sanctuary System

Scan the new Obama Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force interim report

Examine the U.S. Arctic Policy

Visit Obama Watch: Change We Still Need - the administration's emerging eco-record

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.