We’re getting down to the wire with the 2008 elections. I know who’s getting my vote (running mate rhymes with Poseidon). What are the candidates’ policies on ocean health?

In a recent series of 14 scientific questions posed to Obama and Mccain in the 2008 Science Debate, question #9 on ocean health asked: Scientists estimate that some 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline and habitats around the world like coral reefs are seriously threatened. What steps, if any, should the United States take during your presidency to protect ocean health?

Obama:

Oceans are crucial to the earth’s ecosystem and to all Americans because they drive global weather patterns, feed our people and are a major source of employment for fisheries and recreation. As president, I will commit my administration to develop the kind of strong, integrated, well-managed program of ocean stewardship that is essential to sustain a healthy marine environment.

Global climate change could have catastrophic effects on ocean ecologies. Protection of the oceans is one of the many reasons I have developed an ambitious plan to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases 80 percent below 1990 by 2050. We need to enhance our understanding of the effect of climate change on oceans and the effect of acidification on marine life through expanded research programs at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). I will propel the U.S. into a leadership position in marine stewardship and climate change research. Stronger collaboration across U.S. scientific agencies and internationally is needed in basic research and for designing mitigation strategies to reverse or offset the damage being done to oceans and coastal areas.

The oceans are a global resource and a global responsibility for which the U.S. can and should take a more active role. I will work actively to ensure that the U.S. ratifies the Law of the Sea Convention – an agreement supported by more than 150 countries that will protect our economic and security interests while providing an important international collaboration to protect the oceans and its resources. My administration will also strengthen regional and bilateral research and oceans preservation efforts with other Gulf Coast nations.

Our coastal areas and beaches are American treasures and are among our favorite places to live and visit. I will work to reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Act in ways that strengthen the collaboration between federal agencies and state and local organizations. The National Marine Sanctuaries and the Oceans and Human Health Acts provide essential protection for ocean resources and support the research needed to implement a comprehensive ocean policy. These programs will be strengthened and reauthorized.

McCain:

As a former Navy officer I was constantly reminded of the power, wonder and complexity of our world’s oceans. As Americans we are blessed by our location, surrounded by two of the world’s great Oceans, along with the magnificent Great Lakes along our Northern border. Oceans and coastal waters provide us with critical resources, hours of recreation and protection. The environmental health of the oceans and the Great Lakes is a complex, multi-faceted issue requiring attention and action from numerous perspectives.  It requires effective coastal zone and watershed management, both point and non-point water pollution management, and more effective fisheries management. It requires coordination and action by local, state and federal government agencies, by addressing issues like invasive aquatic species to agricultural runoff.  It is one of the more complex management challenges facing the environment because the ocean ecosystem is affected by so many different activities and sources under so many different management jurisdictions – from sewage discharge treatment facilities, to air pollution depositions, to climate change.  For example, the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico which appears every summer does not result from human activities in the Gulf of Mexico, but from human activities across the Mid-West. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy has provided government leaders with an “Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century” that has many good ideas; however, even it struggled with the enormity of the management challenge that lies before us, and recognized that there are no easy answers. This is at least partly due to the fact that so many of the human activities that adversely affect ocean health are not “ocean activities”, but are landside activities. Regional and ecosystem management concepts are easy to talk about, but are complicated to implement effectively, and they depend of obtaining a commitment from various necessary stakeholders.

Ocean health and policy requires better management focus; however, we also need a better scientific understanding of the oceans.  In no area is this truer than in obtaining a better understanding of the interaction of climate change and the oceans.  We need to better understand the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle, in the effects of the massive amount of fresh water resulting from the melting of polar ice, which could dramatically affect global weather patterns, and in the effects of warmer ocean waters on weather – especially coastal storms – and on marine life.  Ocean science and engineering is a field that deserves greater attention and focus.

Although I have served the State of Arizona in the United States Senate, I have always had an enormous attraction to and appreciation for our oceans. Their health requires an increased focus and commitment from all Americans, not just from those who derive their livelihood from them or live on theirs shores.

These answers are very similar in my opinion, but, to me, Obama’s sounds less like rhetoric and more like pragmatism, which is the reason he’s getting my vote. That said, however, both Obama and McCain (or their staffers) answered this question in a way that made it appear that they understand the issues that face the ocean and what’s needed to promote good stewardship of marine resources. Obama’s specific mention of ocean acidification gave me the impression that he knows the issues in more detail than McCain; I hope it’s true.