Ocean exploration as vital as our reach into outer space

When the lunar module Eagle landed on the moon 40 years ago, I was in Denver with my five sisters, mom and dad watching the blurry, ghostly images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin tentatively walk on a barren sea called Tranquility. The excitement in our living room was palpable. The seemingly impossible goal that President Kennedy charted out eight years before had just happened. I felt emboldened, empowered and infused with the notion that anything is possible.

The previous summer I experienced my own exploration awakening, having the opportunity to study invertebrates at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. As a Colorado native, I was astounded to discover a wealth of life in oceans. It was a world filled with incredible diversity of forms and functions, from seastars to lobsters to exotic small creatures, many of whose daily rhythms were profoundly linked to the far away moon and its influence on the Earth’s tides.

The Apollo triumph had an unexpected impact on how we view our oceans. It energized a new focus on the vast unexplored regions of our own home planet. And through iconic images like the Apollo 8 “Earthrise photo,” an entire generation was inspired to cherish and protect our planetary home, which from the perspective of space is an ocean-dominated world.

Last month, a government report detailed the danger that climate change poses to oceans and coastal areas. Ocean acidification, resulting from the uptake of carbon dioxide by ocean waters, is harming corals, shellfish, and other creatures. Warmer ocean waters are stressing corals, causing systems to move to new places and enhancing diseases. Climate change is leading to greater coastal erosion and stronger storm surges. These changes complicate efforts to protect oceans and coasts already under heavy stress from pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction.

President Kennedy said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills …”

One of our generation’s great challenges is to help restore the bounty and beauty of our oceans. We must be stewards of our own seas, at home and internationally, for the common good and the benefit of ourselves and future generations. Our health, the health of our economy and our national security depend on healthy oceans.

I am fortunate to serve another youthful, dynamic president who is able to grasp the challenges America faces, and forthrightly address them. Recently, President Obama established an Ocean Policy Task Force, which is seeking strong public input as it works to develop policy recommendations to accomplish the following objectives:

—Ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources.

—Enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies.

—Preserve our maritime heritage.

—And provide for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change.

With a national policy as our guide, we may sustain our oceans and the quality of life and way of life our oceans they provide. Forty years ago our nation united behind a great challenge. Today we can unite once more to explore, understand and protect our oceans and therefore ourselves.

Jane Lubchenco, BradentonHerald.com, 29 July 2009. Article.

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