National Ocean Policy

October 2010
in part from the Pew Charitable Trust's Marine Conservation Campaign
The increasing industrialization of our oceans threatens the fragile health of marine ecosystems. If poorly planned or managed, drilling for oil and natural gas in federal waters, developing aquaculture and building wind, wave and tidal energy facilities all have the potential to damage America's marine environment.

Currently, several federal agencies manage industrial activities in our oceans under a number of statutes, and there is little coordination or consideration of the cumulative impacts their decisions have on the health and productivity of marine ecosystems and coastal communities. Among its cardinal recommendations, the Pew Oceans Commission called for establishing an enforceable national policy to protect, maintain and restore the health of marine ecosystems. This will not only support economically and culturally valuable fisheries, but also provide countless recreational opportunities for the public and protect critically important ecological services, such as air and water purification. The commission also recommended changing the organizational structure and laws governing our oceans to make their protection and productivity a priority, and it urged better coordination and management of the full spectrum of activities affecting marine resources. Finally, it proposed establishing a permanent source of funding for ocean and coastal conservation and management.

Oceans sustain our coastal economies, but more importantly they are essential to the health of the planet's air and water systems. Pew's Campaign for Healthy Oceans seeks the changes needed to restore and protect this vital part of our natural environment.

On July 19th, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes. That Executive Order adopts the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force. It directs Federal agencies to take the appropriate steps to implement them.

The Executive Order strengthens ocean governance and coordination, establishes guiding principles for ocean management, and adopts a flexible framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes.

The Executive Order establishes an interagency National Ocean Council to coordinate ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes issues across the Federal Government and implement the National Policy. Under the Executive Order, coastal and marine spatial planning would be regional in scope, developed cooperatively among Federal, state, tribal, and local authorities, and include substantial stakeholder, scientific, and public input.

Similar to the Massachusetts Ocean Plan where Sailors for the Sea is a partner, the coastal and marine spatial planning framework:

  • Establishes a new regional approach to protect the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes to decrease user conflicts, improve planning and regulatory efficiencies and decrease costs and delays, and preserve critical ecosystem services.
  • Establishes regional planning bodies, bringing Federal, state, and tribal partners together in an unprecedented manner to jointly plan for the future of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.
  • Places science-based information at the heart of decision-making. Emphasizes stakeholder and public participation.

The National Ocean Council will begin building coastal and marine spatial plans during the next 12 months first phase. The National Ocean Council and regional planning bodies will finalize and implement initial coastal and marine spatial plans in all regions by 2015. The full text of the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes may be found at

Take Action

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action

The National Ocean Council will begin the work of implementing National Ocean Policy in 2010, and there will be numerous opportunities for individuals and groups to participate in this process. You can begin now by:

  • Contacting the National Ocean Council online with comments, questions or suggestions at
  • Getting in touch with your local representative work to schedule a workshop, town meeting or hearing about National Ocean Policy. Find out who your representative is here.
  • Learning more about the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, the first of its kind in the nation and an important building block for the Obama Administration's effort to develop a National Ocean Policy built around regional ocean management plans.