Sometimes You Can’t See The Ocean For The Trees

Editorials & Opinion: Thursday, June 17, 1993


I HAVE the difficult task of trying to bring ocean issues up to tree level in a time when the environmental news is dominated by conflicts surrounding the protection of ancient forests.

This week, Congress begins to determine the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will determine the emphasis placed on the marine environment. It’s about time we recognize some of the obvious places where business and environmental interests in Washington state overlap – in a healthy economy that comes from a healthy – marine as well as terrestrial – environment.

For example, recent data from the Washington State Lodging and Travel Guide reveals tourism is one of the top five industries, with 33 million visitors spending over $4 billion a year generating over $180 million in state tax revenue.

For opportunities to flourish in communities most hurt by changes in the way we harvest our forests and fish, money needs to be invested in such programs as National Marine Sanctuaries. The national recognition given our marine environment by the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary has the ability to promote research, education and interpretive programs that will enhance the conservation of the resource and increase tourism to the communities of the coast.

The importance of such programs as Marine Sanctuaries are particularly relevant as the long-term impacts of our negligence to the marine environment appear in the news. For example, Exxon continues to rewrite history by ignoring the long-term effects of oil spills on long-lived species such as harbor seals, orcas and otters, no matter how clean the beaches are (The Times, 4/16/93).

In addition, recent studies of Alaska’s Prince William Sound found 100,000 tons of herring “missing” from this year’s catch and a high percentage of the fish have lesions under their scales, resulting in a closure of the fishery this year. Closer to home, researchers at Battelle’s lab in Sequim found that diesel oil from the sinking Tenyo Maru, which heavily impacted the Makah Indian Reservation, has become more toxic to kelp over time.

Washington has many scenic splendors and sporting opportunities that are vanishing as our country’s population encroaches on its shoreline. Olympic National Park, with over 3 million visitors in 1992, is the single largest tourist attraction in the state. Although the park has an extensive coastal component, there is little in the way of interpretive facilities for the visitor. There are excellent opportunities to expand public-education programs for the uplands of the park and opportunities through the Olympic Marine Sanctuary for the coast. Other opportunities for cooperation exist between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Coast Guard and Makah Museum. The latter offers Smithsonian Institution-quality exhibits in a setting much more suited for the subject matter than Washington, D.C.

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary has been in the making since 1988 when then-Congressman Mike Lowry and the Washington delegation directed NOAA to designate the sanctuary by June 1990. Since that time, a record number of public participants (more than 900) have commented overwhelmingly in support of the efforts to give one of the country’s most pristine and productive environments the protection it deserves.

Like many programs requiring approval by state, local, federal and tribal representatives, it has wallowed in delays. Some of the delays could be attributed to the environmental hostilities of the Bush administration, while others involved difficult policy decisions that take time. These events included battles over oil and gas development, a favorable decision by the navy to stop bombing of Sealion Rock and the new governor’s insistence that the sanctuary move forward without more delays. Given all the bureaucratic hoops that still need to be cleared, regulations will still not take effect until March, 1994.

The marine sanctuary program is intended to protect the marine and estuarine environment through research, education and, where necessary, regulation. But it also recognizes the importance of human activities as well. The cultural significance of the four coastal tribes along the Olympic Coast are just as important to the designation as the fact that the region contains the highest number of seabirds in the country.

The Olympic Coast Sanctuary will permanently prohibit oil and gas development and will notify on nautical charts all transiting tankers, oil barges and ships over 300 gross tons to stay 25 miles offshore, but will allow fishing. During public hearings, people in the Grays Harbor area were worried the sanctuary would limit commerce to their ports. That’s unlikely. In fact, the proximity of the sanctuary may encourage cruise ships to visit the ports of Grays Harbor, Port Angeles and Neah Bay.

It is imperative that the Washington state congressional delegation support the sanctuary program in the Northwest since there is competition for limited funds between 12 sites around the country. The budget for Olympia National Park is $6.6 million in 1993, equal to the entire Sanctuary’s national budget. If at least $750,000 is not earmarked for the Northwest’s marine environment, NOAA will continue prioritizing sites in Florida and California, whose representatives have been particularly vocal.

Now is the time for residents of the Northwest to become equally vocal for this sanctuary.

Fred Felleman is director, Northwest Regional Office, American Oceans Campaign in Seattle. American Oceans Campaign is located at 3004 Northwest 93rd St., Seattle.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

~ by fredfelleman on June 17, 1993.

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