Obama, SpongeBob, the CIA, Sea Shepherds and so much more
July 17, 2009
By David Helvarg
Task Force Clears the Dock
Things are moving forward on the president’s Ocean Policy Task Force that is supposed to create a new (first ever) unified marine policy for the United States. The background goes something like this — The United States has always been a maritime nation, its wealth derived from sea-borne trade and the natural abundance of its coastal and offshore waters. In 1793 Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, announced a three-mile territorial limit for the United States (the standard range of a cannon-ball at the time, or so he claimed). In 1983 in one of the most significant but least noted acts of his administration President Ronald Reagan declared a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone stretching out from our shores. At 3.4 million square miles it’s the largest resource-based EEZ in the world, a new saltwater frontier six times the size of the Louisiana Purchase. Belatedly in 2003 and 2004 two major national commissions reported on the state of America’s ocean domain and how the ecological collapse of our ocean waters now pose a threat to our security, economy and environment. Most of their recommendations for a unified “ecosystem based” approach to management of our public seas were ignored by the Bush Administration. Bush did, however, establish the first fully- protected marine wilderness parks in U.S. waters.
On June 12 President Obama not only proclaimed June to be Ocean Month (see Blue Notes #60) but in an impressive display of multi-tasking also announced a 23-member federal task force to establish a comprehensive U.S. Ocean policy. He even said the same thing twice, and they both sounded good, “This policy will incorporate ecosystem-based science and management and emphasize our public stewardship responsibilities,” and, “My Administration also is working to develop a systematic marine spatial planning framework for the conservation and sustainable use of ocean resources.”
Of course some of the 23 representatives to the Task Force including the Navy, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Office of Management and Budget (that got two reps) may not be keen for an ecosystem based approach to our public seas unless it’s revenue neutral and allows for the continued killing of whales by military sonar in the name of national security.
The Task Force’s first meeting was held June 22. While everyone was represented, the only agency and service chiefs to show in person were Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and of course the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Nancy Sutley who’s leading the effort. The meeting was addressed by three members of the U.S. Ocean Commission including its Chair Admiral Jim Watkins (Ret.) Lubchenco had also been a member of the Pew Ocean Commission, whose chair, Leon Panetta now heads the CIA.
While the Task Force is only convening once a month (next meeting July 22) some 40-50 people are involved in its five working groups on public engagement, policy, governance, implementation and marine spatial planning.
At the end of 90 days (late September) they will issue an initial report to the President saying what should be in a national ocean policy. Since marine spatial planning is understood to be at the core of any such policy they will have another 90 days to come up with a practical blueprint for implementing this (Massachusetts by contrast spent four years getting to this point with its ocean planning agenda that still had to exclude fisheries management because of the political difficulties involved). Nonetheless, public hearings around the country are planned to get underway beginning this fall and will continue through the end of the year.
While scientists and some others like the sound of Marine Spatial Planning I’m always nervous about initiating major policy changes based on concepts not first made familiar to the general public (like ‘Cap and Trade’ for climate policy). My own understanding of Marine Spatial Planning is as a kind of ocean and coastal zoning that would incorporate a system of cleaned up watersheds and estuaries, offshore shipping lanes and greener ports, wildlife migration corridors, clearly delineated clean energy, national defense and fishing areas, recreational and marine wilderness parks and other public benefits. For planning purposes it recognizes humans are a part of the marine ecosystem but also that the basic laws of nature including biology, chemistry and physics are not amendable to negotiation and trade offs. Dead oceans don’t respond to market incentives, which, given the best available science, means the time for action has to be now.
That’s the good news. I can also see potential contact mines in the water including a coalescing of Salt Water special interests such as the offshore oil industry and coastal real-estate developers with the same right-wing extremists who’ve blocked Senate ratification of the Law of the Seas Treaty for 30 years fearing it’s a plot to empower the U.N. (even though, or perhaps because, both the Pentagon and Greenpeace agree on the treaty’s necessity).
In 1994 I wrote ‘The War Against the Greens,’ a book that documented how mining, timber and other public lands industries helped create a violent backlash that effectively blocked public lands reform during the Clinton administration. I could see a similar thing happening on our public seas unless the ocean and coastal community recognizes the vast potential for good of a new ecologically sound U.S. Ocean Policy and begins both giving its active input and reaching out to the public to get it done right from sea to shining sea.
10-year old Sponge thriving
Sponge Bob just turned ten and is still living in a pineapple under the sea according to Nickelodeon. With all the money he’s made you’d think he’d have a plantation by now. Actually it’s his creator, marine biologist Steve Hillenburg who’s managed to parley the many strange wonders of the sea and innocence of his cartoon characters into a global franchise.
Of course those who trade on fear for power can find “evil” lurking even in the wide-eyed friendships of a cartoon sponge. In early 2005 a major political evangelist claimed SpongeBob was pro-gay. I responded with a January 26 editorial in the Los Angeles Times, part of which I reprint below in honor of the ‘oh so pretty’ Porifera’s birthday.
“James Dobson of Focus on the Family has tossed a new harpoon in the culture wars, claiming that SpongeBob SquarePants is being used to promote a homosexual agenda. He doesn’t know the half of it. When it comes to sex outside of marriage, the oceans that cover 71 percent of our planet are rife with reproductive strategies and behaviors that would make Caligula, or even Bill Clinton, blush. SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg, who has a background in marine biology, had to be aware that in creating a cartoon sponge he’d be opening himself up to charge of marine-based immorality. Sponges can reproduce asexually, for example. And if Dobson’s followers don’t object to that, I’m sure they’ll be distressed to learn that they also can be hermaphrodites. Single sponges not only produce both sperm and eggs but are broadcast spawners, indiscriminately releasing sperm in such profusion as to turn seawater smoky white. Life in the sea, in fact, is largely about reproduction, not traditional family values. Take the blue crab, pound for pound one of the most fearsome creatures on the planet, yet when the female undergoes her molt of puberty, she releases a scent that makes the male’s aggression dissipate like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the presence of Maria Shriver. They’ll then copulate for between 10 and 48 hours before regressing to single-crab combat. The sex life of the blue crab raises the question, do marine organisms have orgasms? Which leads to related questions such as, do they need to? And how does that make you feel when you order a tuna fish sandwich?
For the full article go to our homepage link at www.bluefront.org
On the Blue Beat
The ‘Wild Pacific,’ documentary series on the Discovery Channel is an amazing tribute to the almost one-third of our planet that is the Pacific Ocean both above and below the water, including great reporting on the threats from climate change, overfishing and other recent changes to the everlasting sea. Whale Wars on Animal Planet about the Sea Shepherd Society’s at-sea campaign against Japanese whaling off Antarctica is another must-see series, showing how strong commitment and occasional poor seamanship on the Southern Ocean can create engaging video. The very thorough “Watching Whales Watching Us,” by Charles Siebert was also the cover story in the New York Times magazine July 12. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young did a nice segment with me about the Coast Guard’s environmental work ‘Duck Scrubbing Heroes’ that aired July 3 and CBS Evening News had a biting report on July 15 about nine shark attack survivors lobbying congress for shark protection. And then there is “Fierce Heart,” the new book from my ‘Rescue Warriors,’ publisher St. Martin’s all about Oahu’s wild West Side culture where surfing, hula and Hawaiian music helped the locals reclaim their heritage and share it with other watermen and women. It’s written by Surfrider Foundation’s Hawaii Regional Coordinator Stuart Coleman and is triple-overhead with Aloha spirit. And speaking of blue ocean books…
The CIA Doesn’t Always Lie
If you don’t believe your president (see ad) listen to CIA Chief Leon Panetta who’s says, “Our oceans are in crisis. These great natural treasures can be saved if the nation is committed to their protection and each of us are committed to their preservation. This book is an important guide for the public to saving our oceans.”