State Legislators Celebrate World Ocean Day 2022 and the Work Being Done to Improve Ocean Health
June 8, 2022
Celebrating World Ocean Day and the Values the Ocean Provides
Wednesday, June 8 is recognized as World Ocean Day, a time to reflect on the many values our ocean provides and reaffirm collective commitments to ensuring a healthy ocean for generations to come. It can be difficult to quantify just how important the ocean is to life on Earth – after all, 70% of Earth’s surface is covered by the ocean! From supplying the air we breathe to providing critical wildlife habitats, regulating global climate change, and supporting local economies, our planet’s ocean is a critical life source that deserves to be cherished and protected. Below are just some of the values the ocean provides:
- The air we breathe: At least 50% (and up to 80%) of Earth’s oxygen production comes from the ocean according to scientific estimates.
- Feeding the world: Marine habitats are some of the most biodiverse areas in the world and help to feed the approximately 3 billion people who rely on seafood as a primary source of protein.
- Climate regulation: The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, helping to slow rates of climate change
- Clean Energy Potential: U.S. offshore wind has the potential to generate almost double the entire country’s current electricity use.
- Economic support: In 2017, the ocean economy, which includes economic sectors such as tourism and the seafood industry, supported 3.3 million jobs and contributed $307 billion to the United States’ GDP.
Our planet’s ocean provides immense value, but ocean health has been in decline due to human-caused threats such as plastic pollution, offshore drilling, climate change, habitat destruction, and more. So, what are U.S. states doing to address these threats and how can they work together to forge a renewed future for Earth’s oceans?
Ocean Revitalization Through Collective State Action
The theme of this year’s Ocean Day is “Revitalization,” which emphasizes the need for collective action to protect and restore our oceans. Coastal states are working hard to protect our oceans, but their work is made stronger when they act together. That is why legislators from 18 states formed NCEL’s Coastal Working Group a year ago this week. The working group provides state legislators with a platform to convene, work together on policy approaches, share lessons learned, and identify best practices as it relates to a wide array of ocean policy topics.
Making a Splash: How States Are Improving Ocean Health
Members of NCEL’s Coastal Working Group and other coastal legislators have been busy the last year advancing ocean-based solutions in their home states. Below are brief overviews of recent state action and excerpts from Coastal Working Group members working on ocean acidification, offshore wind, blue carbon, and coastal resilience.
- Visit NCEL’s Bill Tracking Map for a comprehensive overview of the ocean policies states have been advancing this year.
Blue carbon ecosystems — ocean and coastal ecosystems that naturally capture carbon — can sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. As we lose blue carbon ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes, and kelp forests, stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere, effectively creating an additional source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Recent State Action: State legislators are working to protect blue carbon ecosystems by funding coastal restoration projects, identifying knowledge gaps related to coastal ecosystems, and incentivizing local action on nutrient pollution.
- This year, Washington passed S.B.5619 supporting the restoration of blue carbon ecosystems.
- In 2021, Rhode Island enacted S.B.35 which established the Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience (OSCAR) fund to allow coastal cities and towns to implement climate resilience projects.
- The same year, Virginia created a task force to study and recommend methods to increase carbon sequestration with state land and marine resources via S.B.1374.
Legislator Spotlight: Washington State Senator Liz Lovelett – “Here in Washington, the Salish Sea is home to an abundance of species that root us in our natural world and broadcasts loudly the realities of climate change. By investing in policies like S.B.5619 which supports the restoration of 10,000 acres of kelp and eelgrass forests, we not only increase ecosystem vitality for the salmon that provide essential food resources for our critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, but also work to sequester carbon and bolster our ocean’s health. As a lifelong island resident, I’m proud to celebrate World Oceans Day with you and I’m committed to collaborating on the preservation of our coastal environments for generations to come.”
Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have caused the ocean to become more acidic, which threatens ocean ecosystems and the livelihood of coastal residents. Species such as lobsters, clams, and oysters are at risk in the acidic water, endangering marine biodiversity and the aquaculture industry of coastal communities. The ocean is acidifying at a rate 100 times faster than any time in the last 200,000 years and is expected to be 70% more corrosive than in the pre-industrial era by 2050.
Policy Approaches: States can address ocean acidification by funding ocean monitoring and research, which Maine has done by establishing the Science and Policy Advisory Council in 2019 (H.P. 926). Legislation to promote coastal restoration projects and curb greenhouse gas emissions will help slow the rate of ocean acidification.
- Certain coastal states will be especially affected by ocean acidification due to the importance of coastal economies and environments. To address these concerns, Massachusetts created an Ocean Acidification Commission comprised of experts on fisheries, aquaculture, coastal management, and environmental protection as well as members of the state legislature, including NCEL members Representative Dylan Fernandes and Senator Julian Cyr, who spearheaded a recent report (H.D.4500) on recommendations to comprehensively address the ocean acidification crisis in Massachusetts.
Legislator Spotlight: Massachusetts State Representative Dylan Fernandes – “If we act urgently and collaboratively, we have the opportunity to change the trajectory of the climate crisis and limit ocean acidification, utilizing our ocean resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the livelihoods of our coastal communities.”
Offshore wind is an increasingly popular form of renewable energy in the U.S. that, if deployed fully, could generate more than 7,200 TWh per year, or almost double the nation’s current electricity use. Offshore wind farms can also create jobs and act as marine preservation areas for aquatic species.
Recent State Action: More states have begun investing in offshore wind in recent years — this year alone, legislators introduced nearly 30 bills across 10 states related to offshore wind.
- This year, Louisiana authorized a study on the feasibility and pathways to an offshore wind energy pilot project by 2026 (H.R.25) and Maryland strengthened the renewable energy credits program to incentivize offshore wind production (S.B.0526).
- On June 7, the Rhode Island Senate passed S.2583A, sponsored by Senator Dawn Euer, which would require a request for proposal for up to 600 megawatts of new offshore wind by October 2022.
- South Carolina’s House passed a bipartisan resolution in 2022 (H.J.R.4831) that would direct the Department of Commerce to conduct a study on the state’s economic and workforce readiness to compete in the offshore wind industry.
Coastal Resilience and Restoration
Sea level rise and severe weather events are threatening the natural and built landscapes of coastal areas. Coastal communities provide 45% of U.S. gross domestic product, but flooding, erosion, and storms are jeopardizing the health of these ecosystems and communities.
Recent State Action: Many state legislators are working to make their coastlines more resilient by funding flood and storm-resilient infrastructure.
- Virginia’s Coastal Resilience Master Plan outlines more than 500 resilience projects and the state legislature implemented recommendations from the first plan this year (S.B.551).
- North Carolina recently amended its Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, originally focused on restoring fisheries, to also prioritize wetland protection, meeting environmental standards, water quality improvements, and habitat mapping.
- NCEL recently convened legislators from Southern states in Atlanta, Georgia to strategize and learn more about various environmental policy areas including living shorelines and smart coastal infrastructure.
Legislator Spotlight – North Carolina Representative Pricey Harrison – “North Carolina’s coastal habitats play a vital role in supporting the ecosystems of native species in addition to a thriving tourism and fishing industries. Through the 2021 Amendment to the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan, North Carolina is prioritizing protecting submerged aquatic vegetation and wetlands, abiding by environmental rules, wastewater infrastructure solutions to improve water quality, and habitat mapping. These measures will continue to lay the groundwork for a sustainable, equitable, and resilient future for NC coastal habitats.”
If you are a state legislator and interested in learning more about ocean policy in your state and/or joining NCEL’s Coastal Working Group, please contact Ava Ibanez, NCEL’s Project Manager for Ocean Policy.