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June 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 27, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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DEMA Versus the National Ocean Policy

our trade association sides with oil companies and housing developers

from the June, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

What does the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) have in common with the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, the National Association of Homebuilders and the National Onion Association? They're all partners in the National Ocean Policy Coalition. That may sound uplifting, as if they're joining forces to create a policy to protect our ocean. In fact, they're actually joining forces to make sure the ocean policy proposed by the Obama administration is left on the cutting room floor. The movements made by Congress on this matter could greatly affect divers here in the U.S.

First, the background. U.S. policymakers have tried to come up with a coordinated ocean-use policy for years. The current effort started in 2000 when Congress passed the Oceans Act, which called for the formation of a U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The commission issued recommendations for a national ocean policy in a 2004 report, but it wasn't until July 2010 that President Obama signed the most recent iteration of the National Ocean Policy (NOP) into place ( www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/oceans/policy ).

The Obama administration says its proposed NOP will help federal agencies better organize marine research efforts, potentially prevent conflicts between ocean users and save money for the government. The policy highlights nine goals to address pressing issues regarding the oceans and Great Lakes. They include shifting government regulators to a more ecosystem-based management perspective; better integrating scientific information in policy decisions; and creating a planning process for determining what kinds of activities should take place in different parts of U.S. waters (a concept officially known as coastal and marine spatial planning). The ultimate goal, of course, is to keep the waters clean and marine life prosperous.

The National Ocean Policy Coalition ( http://oceanpolicy.com ), in which DEMA holds a membership, is pretty much against the NOP. On its "Statement of Principles" page, it states that while it "recognizes the critical role our oceans, coastal areas and marine ecosystems play in our nation's economy," and it wants to conserve "the natural resources and marine habitat of our oceans and coastal regions," it also wants to "enhance commercial and recreational activities, such as oil and gas development, minerals development, marine transport, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and boating, and tourism," and "avoid ceding all regulatory power impacting the oceans and coastal areas to one agency." It also wants federal authority to be "limited to federal waters and should not infringe on state authorities to manage resources and activities under state jurisdiction." The coalition members are all companies and business-focused organizations -- there's not a scientific or environmental group listed.

On its website earlier this year, DEMA announced that it had joined with the National Ocean Policy Coalition. "[It's] one of the many organizations with which DEMA has been working to ensure that appropriate science exists prior to executing this sweeping National Ocean Policy, and that access to dive sites is not encumbered unnecessarily by its implementation," DEMA executive director Tom Ingram said. "The dive industry has agreed that an ocean policy that is designed to stimulate job creation and economic growth while conserving the natural resources and marine habitat of our oceans would be of great benefit to our nation. However, more time and appropriate scientific study is needed to adequately establish justification for many aspects of the policy, based on realities on the ground."

When Undercurrent asked DEMA executive director Tom Ingram why he was with the National Ocean Policy Coalition against the NOP, he replied, "I believe the letter from Doc Hastings, Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives, states the issues for all industries very clearly." Hastings, a Republican congressman from Washington State, wants language to be included in all appropriation bills for fiscal year 2013 to specifically prohibit the use of funds to implement the NOP. He says the policy will increase bureaucracy, hinder job creation, possibly increase the number and scope of lawsuits to stop or delay projects, and divert significant staff time at the federal agencies that must meet multiple required milestones. To Undercurrent's way of thinking, that opposition is more about shrinking government than about protecting our oceans.

When we asked what "appropriate scientific studies" are needed to establish the results DEMA would approve of, Ingram replied, "We believe there is insufficient evidence at this point to conclude that the NOP as outlined is the best solution to protecting federal waters. We also believe ... there is a strong need for understanding the economic consequences of implementing the marine and coastal spatial planning -- essentially "zoning" of federal waters -- as proposed. Given the need for economic considerations, DEMA and the recreational diving industries have gone on record as recommending the following:

  1. A clear balance must be maintained between the overall health of the aquatic resources and access and use by interested parties.
  2. As is understood in many Marine Protected Areas throughout the U.S., there should be a clear recognition that scuba diving and snorkeling are not inherently consumptive activities.
  3. Spatial planning should not unnecessarily include restrictions on non-consumptive activities."

We take from those vague statements that DEMA wants to ensure that divers should not be officially classified as tourists to be kept out of protected marine areas, or charged some sort of luxury or tourism tax to do so, which could drive them away and drive dive operators out of business. However, those issues will never be resolved legislatively, and are not grounds to oppose the NOP because more science is necessary -- it smells similar to the climate-change opposition movement. Issues like diving will be up to regulatory organizations to resolve, and national ocean policy legislation won't address it.

"While the National Ocean Policy Coalition sounds like a conservation organization, many of the members are not known for their environmental track records," says Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for the environmental nonprofit Oceana. "Rather, many of them are known for undermining environmental protections, and doing the exact opposite, and this seems to be another effort to do that."

"Say marine debris is washing onto shore.
With an anti-NOP policy, does that
mean agencies can't go out and collect the
debris and data? That would be detrimental
to many industries, including diving."

On the pro-NOP side are conservationists and environment groups, obviously. But Emily Woglom, director of government relations for the Ocean Conservancy, says there are some ongoing misconceptions regarding ocean-use planning. "It's troubling that some opponents continue to circulate misleading claims, such as President Obama "wants to ban sport fishing." Critics fear that certain groups will be underrepresented, yet the very purpose of the NOP and comprehensive ocean-use planning is to be more inclusive than the current system, where sectors are managed in isolation without coordination."

While DEMA's group of opponents want the states, not the federal government, to manage ocean policy for our nation, Sandra Whitehouse, the Ocean Conservancy's senior policy adviser, says only two states have done the smart ocean planning that's called for in NOP -- Rhode Island and Massachussetts. "Rhode Island has a specific section about recreation diving. When the planning process was happening, it was important to the state's dive industry to ensure that heavy activity would not be done in places listed as dive sites, such as wrecks. By putting those sites on the reference map all agencies use, it makes people make better decisions on where to put things, like wind farms. At the end of the day, the dive industry was pleased that their information was put into the plan, and the agency managers are now better informed because the data was collected and mapped in advance."

The NOP is not a standalone piece of legislation. All the back and forth about it is being done through the appropriations process. While opponents would have to take great measures to stop the NOP from moving forward, the intent by groups like the National Ocean Policy Coalition is for Congress to follow Doc Hastings' suggestion and attach riders to the federal budget stating that no resources can be used to implement the NOP. However, by denying the NOP any funding, the states that want to work on proactive planning will be denied the ability to do so, Whitehouse says. "So, say marine debris is washing onto shore from the Japanese tsunami. The NOP states that agencies will work together to collect data on marine debris. If we take this anti-NOP policy to the next step, does that mean the agencies can't go out and collect the debris and the data? That would be detrimental to many industries, including diving."

Furthermore, she says, "If you cut off funding of the NOP, does that mean government agencies can't do the things they have been doing for a long time on the conservation front, like coastal management and scientific research on the ocean and climate? Hastings wants that language not just on appropriations bills that fund NOAA, but on all bills related to all agencies involved in those activities -- the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard and more."

Shana Phelan, owner of Pura Vida Divers in West Palm Beach, FL, says she understands DEMA's wariness somewhat. "There's always potential for unintended consequences from well-meaning policies, but I feel like the dive community needs to engage in these conversations instead of signing on to resist a policy."

She supports the NOP. "I read the final recommendations, and also those from the Pew Charitable Trust, which reached the same conclusions, and they show there's definitely a need for a hard look at a national ocean policy. The dive community needs to be involved in this conversation and make sure our needs are addressed and met."

How can divers get involved? If you read the NOP's guidelines and agree with them, call or email your Congress representatives and let them know you support the policy's goals. You may think your voice is like one drop in the ocean, but when it comes to creating a national policy that benefits everyone who uses our waters -- and the marine residents living in it -- every voice counts.

DEMA is not looking at NOP from the standpoint of what's essential to save our oceans, but rather from a narrow business standpoint. We recreational divers should support a policy that's not focused on shortterm profits or the financial bottom line, but rather on clean, healthy waters that support diverse life and can be used by future generations of Americans.

If you want to share your view with Tom Ingram, you can email him at info@dema.org

-- Vanessa Richardson

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