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Photo Credit: NOAA

In response to impacts from climate change on the oceans, including, intensified storms, ocean warming that is bleaching shallow corals in the Florida Keys and Pacific marine monuments, problems with shell forming organisms like crabs and mollusks, and threats from rising sea levels to coastal communities in the US, House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chair Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act  on Tuesday. For too long, our oceans, marine life, and coastal communities have suffered impacts from climate change with little to no Congressional response. We now have a comprehensive bill before us that will preserve and restore important marine ecosystems and marine life, contribute to reducing climate changing carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and store up excess carbon in natural systems like marshes, seagrasses and mangroves through Blue Carbon solutions.

Oceans make up over 70% of this planet’s surface; they are critical to our economy, our health, and marine life. The services that the oceans provide us are essential to life on the planet. They regulate global temperatures and weather. They generate one of every two breaths of oxygen we take and provide the primary source of protein for billions of people. They are perhaps the world’s largest single carbon sink where one third of the climate change inducing carbon dioxide we create is locked up for very long periods of time. The ocean has absorbed about 90% of the heat we put into the atmosphere. But all these ocean services to us come at an increasing cost to the ocean’s health.

Our oceans are warming at the surface and deep down. Large areas of warm water drive more intense hurricanes, contribute to harmful algal blooms and dead zones where there is very little life giving dissolved oxygen for marine life to survive on. Warming waters are moving fish populations to cooler locations and sometimes speeding invasive species or bacterial diseases in fish or shellfish. Absorption of all that CO2 is causing the ocean to become more acidic; and that acidity makes it more difficult for shell forming organisms like corals, crabs, clams, and tiny organisms at the base of many food chains to create their shells. It also impacts their small larvae and eggs, effecting reproduction.

The ground breaking Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act introduced on Tuesday proposes a broad array of nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. Among the more significant provisions that Marine Conservation Institute will be following are those which: protect coastal and oceanic places where carbon is stored in natural systems like marshes, seagrass meadows, and mangroves – a process called Blue Carbon; increase the use of ocean-based renewable energy like offshore wind and reduce the use of fossil fuels in the maritime sector; increase for the area of ocean protection to 30% strongly protected by 2030. This legislative objective aligns with the rest of our work on getting international organizations like the Convention Biological Diversity, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to adopt similar goals for 2030. It would reinforce our work on increasing the number of marine protected areas in US waters through the marine monument process –a project we are already working on in the hopes there might be a new administration in 2021

The bill is not perfect; but no piece of legislation ever is. So we will follow the legislation’s progress and use our marine science expertise to advocate for improvements. As it advances through Congress we will offer our scientific perspective on how effective different provisions are likely to be for improving the health of our oceans and protecting marine life. Real progress on the bill is not likely until the next Congress that starts in January 2021.  Whether we make that progress depends on a House and Senate that are interested in trying to solve climate change and care about the oceans. Your votes will matter in that regard.

In our press release about the legislation, Lance Morgan, President of Marine Conservation Institute, said “Thank you Chairman Grijalva, Chair Castor and others* for your leadership in bringing this groundbreaking ocean bill to life. We couldn’t be more pleased to support this powerful set of ocean-based climate solutions and lend our marine science expertise to moving it forward. With this bill, the ocean –an area that covers 70% of the globe- moves beyond being merely a victim of climate change to being part of the solution. There are provisions in the bill that will preserve special coastal and ocean habitats for fish and awe inspiring marine life like whales, sea turtles, porpoises, and seabirds. Strongly protecting at least 30% of each representative ecosystem in US oceans  has been at the core of our work for some time and is a critical step in protecting marine life in our changing oceans. ”

*Original co-sponsors of the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act include:

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI), Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), and Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.). Please consider thanking these members for their early support of the bill.