Senator Lautenberg’s legacy advances ocean conservation

The world’s oceans lost a champion when U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg died June 3 of viral pneumonia.


The late senator was a leader on environmental issues like control of toxic substances, safe transport of hazardous materials and cleanup of contaminated land. He particularly fought for better stewardship of Earth’s oceans.

The senator also authored provisions to fund research and protection of deep-sea corals, another habitat threatened by ocean acidification. Those provisions became law in January 2007 as part of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006.

In March 2009, Congress passed Lautenberg’s Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act, which established a federal committee led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to research, monitor and coordinate activities on ocean acidification across federal agencies.

“Ocean acidification is a serious threat to our environment and to our marine life,” Lautenberg said after President Obama signed the legislation. “Changes in ocean chemistry, caused by carbon dioxide, will affect our food supply and the health of our oceans, yet research on ocean acidification is still in its infancy. This new law will provide the needed research to analyze and address the environmental and economic impacts of ocean acidification.”

Oceans require a balanced pH to maintain water quality favorable to marine life. If oceans become too acidic, the shells of scallops, clams, crabs, plankton, corals and other marine life begin to dissolve. In Lautenberg’s state of New Jersey, sea scallops and clams are some of the most important species for fisheries, valued at $121 million, according to NOAA.

Lautenberg’s measure, in addition to establishing the federal committee, also created an ocean acidification program in NOAA — the federal agency with primary responsibility for preserving the health of oceans and marine life.

The law was supported by a wide range of environmental and conservation groups, including the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Marine Fish Conservation Network, the Climate Institute, Environmental Defense, Gulf Restoration Network, Ocean Conservancy, Coastal States Organization, Oceana, Surfrider Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg,” acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a June 3 statement. “He was a true statesmen, advocate for his constituents and champion of our nation’s oceans, habitats, and coastal communities.

“Our oceans are critical to the economic prosperity of millions around the world. Early on, Senator Lautenberg recognized that the changes and stresses our oceans are experiencing needed to be better understood. He was a pioneer in the efforts to protect critical ocean habitat, such as deep sea corals.”

Bridget Hunter, IIP Digital, 5 June 2013. Full article.

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