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On World Oceans Day, we need a sea change

Science is back, and we have the momentum to take bold climate action. The ocean must be part of the solution.

As congressional leaders on ocean issues, we have witnessed how the climate crisis is affecting both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Off the North Coast of Oregon, changes in ocean conditions and acidifying waters threaten many fisheries. Salmon, one of the iconic species of the region, struggle as waters become more acidic. In the Ocean State, Narragansett Bay has warmed nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1960s, and species Rhode Island fishermen relied on for generations, like the winter flounder, have all but disappeared from our waters.

Changing fisheries are only a part of the problem. Coastal communities face rising seas, erosion, acidifying waters, low oxygen, harmful algal blooms, and more. Now our coastal economies face existential threats. Our ocean is resilient and we can help it heal, but it’s time for Congress to get to work providing that help. If we fail, the legacy of our failure will last for centuries.

We have allies in President Biden and Vice President Harris. The U.S. rejoined the Paris agreement and is working to achieve a new ambitious goal for reducing carbon pollution. Our national plan for cutting emissions specifically identifies the potential of ocean solutions. Climate and ocean experts from our respective states now hold key leadership roles: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is the former governor of Rhode Island, and the president’s nominee for NOAA administrator is Rick Spinrad from Oregon State University. The administration has restored the role of science in decision-making, outlined an ambitious vision for climate action and job creation through the American Jobs Plan, and proposed a framework for protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.

Ocean and coastal ecosystems are often overlooked and undervalued, but they hold tremendous promise. Healthy coastal ecosystems such as seagrasses and marshes can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for centuries, even millennia. According to the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, protecting and restoring coastal blue carbon ecosystems could prevent approximately one gigaton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere by 2050. These ecosystems provide habitat for fisheries, improve biodiversity, protect shorelines from storms and sea level rise, and improve water quality.

Our coastal ecosystems present an opportunity to create good-paying, high-quality jobs. In 2009, federal investments in the wake of the Great Recession helped restore coastal habitats and stimulate economic growth. An analysis of NOAA’s coastal and marine restoration projects found that they created thousands of jobs across the country. We must invest in our ocean and coastal ecosystems and coastal communities as we build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.

With dangerous changes happening so fast in the ocean, we must improve our collection, management, and dissemination of data on the ocean, Great Lakes, bays, estuaries, and coasts. This year marks the beginning of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and we have a tremendous opportunity to scale up investments in ocean observation and monitoring as part of the upcoming infrastructure package. Together we are working with Republican colleagues on the BLUE GLOBE Act — bipartisan, bicameral legislation to promote the research and data necessary to plan the future of the blue economy and grow the marine workforce. It will open the possibility of an Advanced Research Project Agency–Oceans (ARPA-O), to drive big advances in ocean science and technology.

Investments in ocean science will yield enormous benefits. Ocean climate solutions will create good-paying jobs and help the ocean and our coastal communities. Marine energy can capture the power of ocean waves and tides to generate power for our homes and communities. Electrifying our ports and maritime transportation can cut emissions and keep American products competitive globally.

The only way to achieve these benefits is to seize this moment in Washington. We must act decisively with an ambitious climate bill and bold investments in ocean science and protection. Our ocean, our climate, and the wellbeing of all Americans depend on it.

Suzanne Bonamici represents Northwest Oregon in the House of Representatives and is the co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus. Sheldon Whitehouse is the junior senator from Rhode Island and is the co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus.

Tags Gina Raimondo Joe Biden Oceanography Sheldon Whitehouse Suzanne Bonamici World Oceans Day

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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