The Big Idea

The Centennial of the National Park Service in 2016 provides an historic opportunity to launch a decadal effort to bring America’s “best idea” to where it is most urgently needed now — our ocean.

“No water, no life. No blue, no green.”

The Risk

The effects of climate change, coastal development, and the increasing number of ocean users brings both challenges and opportunities. There is already a rise in ocean conflicts placing additional significant stress on ocean ecosystems and our nation’s ability to protect its people and exercise its sovereign rights.

-- Jane Lubchenco


The Problem


  • 90% of the world's fisheries and other bycatch is already fully exploited or overfished
  • 50% of coral reefs, mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and many other micro and macro organisms have disappeared or are in serious decline
  • Oceans are the repositories of our wastes, creating dead zones that have approximately doubled in size every ten years since the 1960s
  • Ocean acidification, driven by excess atmospheric CO2, is altering ocean chemistry 



The Reality


  • Once considered too vast to be impacted by human activity, our ocean now faces a myriad of local and global threats due to human activities
  • The ocean is changing faster now than at any other time in human history
  • Oceans cover 70% of our planet’s surface, but only 3% is protected making it all too easy to exploit its natural resources
  • Below water, the oceans are out of sight and therefore out of mind



Human Dependance


  • Globally, over 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods and food security. Likewise, the market value of these resources and industries are estimated to be $3 trillion per year, about 5% of global GDP
  • Locally, our nation is blue, over 50% of contiguous U.S. land is under water, over half of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of a U.S. coast, and nearly 39% living directly in coastal counties



Planet Dependance


  • A healthy ocean is needed to preserve the quality life on the planet, protect ecosystems and wildlife, and support local fishermen and businesses, cultural and subsistence practitioners, scientists, tourists, recreationists, and more
  • The ocean is important to planetary chemistry, regulating temperature, governing climate and weather, generating most of the oxygen in the sea and atmosphere, powering the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles, holding 97 percent of both the Earth’s water and biosphere, and harboring millions of species



Why it Matters


Our nation is blue. America’s ocean, known as the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone out 200 miles from U.S. coasts, covers almost 4.5 million square miles, an area 23 percent larger than the nation’s landmass. Over half of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of a U.S. coast, with nearly 39 percent living directly in U.S. coastal counties.
 

People need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, new medicines, a climate we can live in, beauty, inspiration and recreation. We need to know we belong to something bigger than ourselves. We want a better future for those we care about. Because the oceans are the largest ecosystems on Earth, they are the Earth’s largest life support systems. To survive and prosper, we all need healthy oceans.

-- Marine Conservation Institute


A century ago, we knew very little about the ocean, but today we know how important it is to planetary chemistry, regulating temperature, governing climate and weather, generating most of the oxygen in the sea and atmosphere, powering the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles, holding 97 percent of both the Earth’s water and biosphere, and harboring millions of species. Without a healthy ocean, we will not have a habitable planet.

Since the 1950s, human beings have been so efficient with their extraction technologies that 90 percent of many fish species, such as tunas, swordfish, marlin, sharks, cod, and halibut and other ocean wildlife have been depleted as commodities. Half of the coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows and much of the phytoplankton have disappeared or are in serious decline.

Oceans also are the repositories of our wastes, creating dead zones that have approximately doubled in size every ten years since the 1960s. Ocean acidification, driven by excess atmospheric carbon dioxide, is altering ocean chemistry. The ocean is certainly not too big to fail. There is still time to act if we make the next decade and century count for the ocean and wildlife within it.

Scientists tell us at least 30 to 50 percent of the ocean must be highly protected to restore its health.  Today, 13 percent of terrestrial land is protected, but less than  [3 percent] of the global ocean is strongly protected in no-take marine reserves, which are permanently set aside from direct human disturbance and all methods of fishing and extraction of natural materials, including dumping, dredging, mining or construction activities.

A healthy ocean is needed to preserve the quality life on the planet, protect ecosystems and wildlife, and support local fishermen and local businesses. Like our parks and public lands, our ocean is fundamental to the American way of life. Fully and highly protected marine areas are a proven and measurable way to combat the threats to ocean health.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) also allow already damaged areas and ecosystems an opportunity to recover sustainably.  MPAs provide resilience to protect against potentially damaging external impacts, such as global warming and ocean acidification. Those that are established can serve as benchmarks for comparison with altered ecosystems to assess human impact and improve management in some of the last truly “wild” places on Earth.