photo courtesy of Whitehouse.gov

On Friday, July 1, I was given a chance to accompany staff attorney Courtney Johnson to the National Ocean Council’s Public Listening Session.  At this session, we learned about the Council’s Strategic Action Plans as instructed by President Obama’s Executive Order.  These Strategic Action Plans cover nine priority objectives to guide our government agencies as they address some of the most pressing challenges facing our nation’s ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes.

The day began with a plenary session where Dr. Jane Lubchenco (Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere), Kevin Ranker (Senator for the State of Washington), Eileen Sobeck (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Parks), Richard Whitman (Oregon Natural Resources Policy Director) and Alisa Praskovich (Ocean Policy Advisor) gave their opinions on the state of our country’s ocean ecosystems.  They stressed the fact that saving our oceans is a “bottom-up” effort that is driven by local issues.  They told us that in order for the Strategic Action Plans to work effectively, all levels of government and local people must work together towards a common goal.

Representatives of several indigenous tribes were also given a chance to voice their opinions.  It was touching to hear just how much the oceans, streams, and fish of this area are respected and revered by the local tribes.  These are the people that are feeling the effects of pollution, ocean acidification, and melting ice caps.  Although I know that our oceans are in a state of serious decline, it doesn’t touch my life as acutely as it does these people.  It was truly humbling to hear these representatives speak.

After all the speeches were made, everyone was free to wander around and look at the posters detailing the nine Strategic Action Plans.  Representatives stood by each to answer questions and there were opportunities to submit written comments to the Council.  The time for voicing public opinions was relatively short, however, even though the order of the day was for government officials to listen to the people.  As Ecotrope’s Cassandra Profita points out in her July 1st blog post, the listening session “seemed to consist more of the public listening to the officials, than the other way around.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Overall I learned that Oregon and Washington are setting great examples for the rest of the country when it comes to marine policy, but more importantly I learned that we must work together if we are to save the sea; not only for ourselves, but for generations to come.

Alix is a rising senior at Duke University, majoring in Biology with a special emphasis on Marine Biology.  She is interning with Crag through the Duke Engage program.