Obama’s Chance For a Blue Legacy

Today, President Bush will begin for the ocean what President Theodore Roosevelt did when he created the National Park System. The administration is announcing plans to create a national monument that will protect 195,000 square nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean — bigger than the size of California and almost 50 percent larger than all U.S. national parks combined. Sweeping areas of the ocean’s most pristine treasures, including spectacular corals and the deepest canyon in the world, will be protected by law and given the chance to become stronger.

Yet what is most significant about this move is the opportunity it creates for President-elect Barack Obama.

Covering 71 percent of the planet, the oceans are our life-support system. They provide most of the oxygen that we breathe and much of the food that we eat. As the engine that drives our climate, the oceans are the front line of the global climate challenge, absorbing half of the carbon dioxide we’ve pumped into the atmosphere and more excess heat from greenhouse gases than all the rain forests combined. Indeed, the oceans are the unsung hero in the climate change battle — but they are also the most vulnerable victims.

And while today’s designation and protection represent major progress, there is still much to be done. The effects of climate change on the oceans are widespread; higher air and water temperatures alone have produced changes including the loss of sea ice, shifts in ocean circulation, rises in sea level, extreme weather events and harmful changes to fish and other marine wildlife. The increased concentration of carbon dioxide has led to acidification of ocean water, threatening the crucial base of the food web. The need to build ocean resilience is all the more critical since the 27-year moratorium on new oil and gas drilling offshore was lifted last year, threatening further harm to the marine environment while, ironically, doing little to resolve the nation’s energy crisis.

Vikki Spruill, The Washington Post, 6 January 2009. Full article.

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