Increasingly, however, we have come to understand that the "boundless" oceans have limits. They cannot provide unlimited fish, nor can they absorb unlimited wastes from human activities. Toxic algal blooms threaten the marine ecology and human health in many coastal areas, and unchecked coastal development can stress ocean and coastal habitats beyond their limits.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore have launched new actions to restore fragile coral reefs, protect our coasts from the risks of offshore oil development, strengthen our national marine sanctuaries, and protect dolphins and other marine mammals. And, to better address the long-term challenges, the President and Vice President launched a national dialogue leading to a comprehensive strategy for strengthening federal ocean policy for the 21st century.
Protecting Critical Areas from Offshore Oil Drilling
Oil and gas recovered from undersea reserves, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, make an important contribution to America's energy supply. However, long-standing concern over the inherent environmental risks of offshore drilling have led to a series of moratoria of new oil and gas leases off most of the U.S. coast. A five-year plan for the Outer Continental Shelf adopted by the Administration in 1997 designated a limited number of areas for leasing while barring new leasing off most of the coast through 2002.
To provide more lasting protection, the President issued a directive in 1998 extending the moratorium on new offshore leasing for an additional 10 years through 2012. In addition, the President permanently barred new leasing in existing national marine sanctuaries. These actions do not affect existing leases in federal waters.
Protecting Marine Mammals
Many marine mammal species that suffered dramatic declines through most of the 20th century are now well on their way to recovery. The gray whale, which migrates each year from Alaska to Mexico, is no longer classified as endangered. Humpback whales in the North Atlantic and North Pacific are steadily recovering. And populations of the California sea lion and Atlantic and Pacific harbor seals are now healthy and robust. Some species appear to be more abundant today than at any other time in recent centuries. Administration efforts to continue rebuilding and maintaining healthy marine mammal populations include:
Strengthening Our National Marine Sanctuaries
America's 12 national marine sanctuaries, encompassing some 11.5 million acres of our coastal waters, are the ocean equivalents of our national parks. From the kelp forests and humpback whales of the Olympic Coast to the rich coral and threatened loggerheads of the Florida Keys, these underwater reserves harbor not only tremendous biological and geologic diversity, but also irreplaceable fragments of our history and cultural heritage. The Clinton-Gore Administration has won significant new resources to better manage and preserve the sanctuaries, increasing their annual budget more than four-fold since 1993. The President is proposing another increase, to $35 million, for the coming year.
Preserving and Restoring Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are among the most exquisite and endangered ecosystems on Earth. Often described as rainforests of the sea, coral reefs support an incredible diversity and abundance of undersea life. Yet worldwide, coral reefs are suffering the effects of pollution, development, overfishing, and rising ocean temperatures brought on by global warming.
In 1998, President Clinton signed an Executive Order directing federal agencies to increase research, protection, and restoration of coral reefs in U.S. waters. A Cabinet-level task force created by the Executive Order recently presented its long-term strategy for better monitoring the health of U.S. coral reefs; expanding research into the major causes and consequences of coral reef damage; and strengthening efforts to protect and restore reefs. Federal agencies have adopted the task force's recommendation to designate 20 percent of U.S. coral reefs as protected ecological reserves.
An Oceans Policy for the 21st Century
In June 1998, President Clinton and Vice President Gore convened a National Ocean Conference in Monterey, California, to examine challenges and opportunities in protecting and restoring the oceans. The conference drew together for the first time the full array of interests with a stake in U.S. oceans policy from government to industry, and scientists to conservationists.
At the conference, the President directed the Cabinet to develop recommendations for strengthening federal ocean policy for the 21st century. In a report entitled Turning to the Sea: American's Ocean Future, the Cabinet recommended nearly 150 actions aimed at protecting, restoring, and exploring America's ocean resources. A high-level task force was appointed to oversee implementation of these recommendations, which include creating new marine protection areas, promoting sustainable use of domestic and international fisheries, and protecting national security and freedom of the seas.
Santa Monica, California
An estimated 800 marine species live and feed in the bay's kelp beds. Veteran fishermen know that albacore and yellowtail tuna often gather beneath the sea plant's fronds. But decades of pollution, coastal development, and climatic changes have destroyed more than 80 percent of the underwater forest.
With help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a local watchdog group called the Santa Monica BayKeeper is spearheading an effort to bring the kelp back. Volunteer scuba divers from the local university plant kelp sprouts at the bay's bottom, then monitor their growth and the marine life they attract. With kelp capable of growing up to two feet a day, the hope is that the forest will quickly spread.
"Diving in the kelp beds and seeing all the life they support is incredible," said Steve Fleischli, executive director of BayKeepers. "But what's really gratifying is seeing the way this community has pulled together, with help from NOAA, to restore this kelp forest. It's one of the most important things we can do to ensure the long-term health of our coast."
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