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Introducing the first-ever National Ocean Policy

After a grueling 10-years of implementation, it’s reality! President Obama has just signed into law — for the first time in our nation’s history — a unified National Ocean Policy, which will provide stewardship for all ocean real estate within U.S. borders. Why the big deal? Prior to this sensical umbrella-style policy, ocean management has been hamstrung by a “Seuss-ical” style policy: a regulatory mish-mash of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws, all of which have been overseen by more than 20 separate agencies. Talk about buraucracy!

Familiarly called the CLEAR Act, the policy’s contents are based on interaction and feedback from ocean experts, user groups and citizens. Bear in mind that the National Policy does not establish restrictions on activities, nor does it restrict access. Essentially, the policy provides a comprehensive roadmap for navigating the myriad activities we do in the ocean. Be it oil and gas extraction, scientific exploration, fisheries, recreation, and so much more, all federal agencies that manage marine resources can now make protection and restoration of our coastline and offshore ocean realms a top priority.

If the past 100 days in the Gulf of Mexico have taught us anything, it’s that we must do a better job of protecting America’s aquatic ecosystems. With this law, we now have the authority to demand that federal offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing programs be substantially reformed, which will lead to better safeguards against such catastrophies. Further, the new policy will allow us to protect sensitive ecosystems while still providing avenues for fishing, shipping and developing renewable energy in ways that minimize impacts to the environment. And it establishes a substantial ocean investment fund to pay for projects that conserve, protect, maintain and restore ocean and coastal ecosystems.

Granted, the really hard work begins now as we get down to the brass tacks of implementing the new policy, which comes with a one-year deadline. There will be numerous opportunities for the public to participate in the policy’s implementation, particularly when it comes to plans regarding regional areas. As it stands, there can finally be no more excuses for why we do not have an effective and comprehensive plan for how to best conserve and sustain the ocean’s finite resources.

I have to wonder why has it taken so long to get here, considering that the ocean and its resources govern the health and welfare of all life on the planet. Though an understatement to say enacting this law is long overdue and barely in time, we can only start where we are. In this case, that’s reveling in new hope for the fate of our ocean’s health.

— Judith Lea Garfield, biologist and underwater photographer, has authored two natural history books about the underwater park off La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores. Questions, comments or suggestions? E-mail the first-ever National Ocean Policy

— Judith Lea Garfield, naturalist and underwater photographer, has authored two natural history books about the underwater park off La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores. Send comments to