Oregonians treasure our majestic Pacific coast. The ocean creates a sense of place, provides food for people locally and around the globe, supports the economy of coastal communities, and provides an economic portal to the rest of the world. Oregon's estuaries and near-shore reefs are nurseries for a stunning diversity of marine life. Wild rivers flow through lush forest valleys descending to the ocean and native salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout return from the ocean to those same rivers. Residents and visitors enjoy access to vast public beaches, scenic headlands, and a productive marine environment, thanks to the visionary leadership of Oregonians like Governors Oswald West, Tom McCall and Bob Straub, as well as countless committed citizens who made decisions with the future in mind.
Interestingly, early in our careers, both Governor Kitzhaber and I independently considered becoming marine biologists. Although we took different career tracks, we have both remained concerned about the condition of our oceans.
Oregon has made a fundamental commitment to ocean stewardship, starting in the 1970s with nearshore planning (Oregon was the first state to create an ocean management program) and expanding in the 1990s via the Territorial Sea Plan (within the first three miles of its shoreline, Oregon is responsible for protecting and conserving ocean resources). In recent years, Oregon has continued its leadership. This includes the engagement of stakeholder interests and coastal communities to establish a limited system of marine reserves to evaluate whether these areas are a useful management tool for Oregon. Additionally, Oregon is using a community-based approach to identifying where alternative ocean energy development is most appropriate along the coast. The work on alternative ocean energy balances energy independence with community economic and environmental values, drawing upon home-grown technological and research innovations such as Oregon State University's wave energy testing facility, the only one of its kind in the U.S. and one of only a handful such test facilities in the world.
Finally, Oregon has demonstrated commitment to ocean health on the West Coast by partnering with California and Washington in the West Coast Governors' Agreement to tackle issues of mutual concern that span state boundaries.
This type of leadership has never been more important. Mounting scientific evidence suggests that biological diversity in our nation's oceans is in decline due to climate change, overfishing, and loss and degradation of essential habitats from coastal development and increasing human activities. Read the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (pdf). Oregon is in a unique position to be a leader on this national effort by building upon our existing ocean stewardship.
Reports show that despite innovative fishery-management strategies over the past three decades, several species of West Coast groundfish are overfished and some are estimated to take almost 90 years to rebuild to healthy population levels. Read the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (pdf).
Oxygen-depleted dead zones are expanding off the coast of Oregon, degrading the ability of our reefs to support ecologically and economically valuable fish and crab.
Plastic trash in the oceans has reached staggering proportions. Increasing numbers of fish, whales, seabirds and marine mammals are killed by becoming entangled in the debris or by ingested plastic debris and particles through normal feeding behaviors.
These conditions are compounded by global climate change. One effect of climate change, acidification of ocean waters, is more pronounced in the Pacific Northwest than most other places. Having absorbed one-third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by human activities over the past two centuries, oceans are now 30 percent more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution. By the end of the century, if CO2 emissions continue on the current trajectory, the world's oceans could become 150 percent more acidic. In the Pacific Northwest, acidification is intensified by seasonal upwelling, a natural ocean circulation pattern that pulls water from the deep ocean onto the continental shelf each spring.
This is already having profound implications for oyster fisheries in Oregon and Washington, which in recent years have had to adapt to unprecedented crashes in their larval production due to ocean acidification.
Oregon and other coastal states must step up efforts to protect their marine legacy from overuse, pollution, habitat loss, and the effects of climate change. Oregon's shoreline and marine environments are among our richest, most abundant treasures, and our economy, communities, and way of life depend on careful stewardship and thoughtful action. I hope you'll join me in working to keep our oceans healthy now and into the future.
How You Can Help
Read and learn more. Good stewardship is enhanced by good information and sharing information on ocean issues with others. Read the information cited above. Also, more information on ocean issues and science can be found through COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea).
Get a copy of the Sustainable Seafood Guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is a simple guide that can easily help you avoid making seafood purchasing and consumption decisions that cause sea life to be driven further toward extinction or unsustainable management, while at the same time helping you support locally caught sustainable seafood that in turn supports local communities.
Support and engage the smart, participatory decision-making about future uses of Oregon's ocean, including the Territorial Sea Plan process and related efforts.
Support local fishermen, seafood businesses, and communities that anchor the coastal economy and are at the vanguard of responsible management. A few shining examples are Port Orford Ocean Resources Team and Local Ocean Seafood in Newport.
Avoid buying plastic whenever possible and when you do, recycle like your life depended upon it. The bulk of plastic that makes its way into the ocean is discarded on land. It then washes down streams and rivers. Curbing our consumption and waste of plastic is critical to the health of our oceans.
Visit the marine sciences resources in Newport, Oregon. The Hatfield Marine Science Center, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Operations Center for the Pacific are located in Newport, Oregon. They are a great source of information to people concerned about ocean issues.
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