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Meridian Institute

Ocean Leadership Roundtables

Friday, December 11, 2015

Diverse ecosystems, thriving economies, and vibrant coastal communities all stand to benefit from forward-thinking approaches to managing change. In 2015, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) brought together federal, state, and local government representatives, leading scientists, and experts from key industries for two Ocean Leadership Roundtables—one focused on the Arctic and one on the U.S. East Coast. In 2016, two additional roundtables will be held on the West Coast and the Gulf Coast. All four roundtables are designed to gather valuable input on how our nation should be addressing priorities for ocean resources, and are part of JOCI’s effort to develop an Ocean Action Agenda to deliver to current leaders and those taking office after the 2016 elections. Meridian Institute serves as secretariat for JOCI.

The goal of the Arctic Roundtable was to identify critical challenges facing the ocean and coastal communities in the region, opportunities for progress, appropriate federal activities, and potential policy reforms. Toward this end, JOCI held discussions in Washington, DC; Fairbanks, Alaska; and Barrow, Alaska, to engage perspectives at the federal, state, and local levels. The meetings were well-attended and successful in identifying regional approaches to major ocean challenges, showcasing innovative approaches and creative solutions, and inspiring state and local leadership.

While in Barrow, the JOCI team was struck by the deep history and cultural heritage of the region and its people. Whale hunting is especially important to the Inupiat culture, and local men were out on the ice for the spring whale hunt while JOCI was in town. The JOCI team learned that although preserving cultural heritage is a top priority for many people in Alaska, residents are also excited about the opportunities associated with economic development (including offshore energy development) and believe it will create a higher quality of life for those living in the region. In Barrow, since loss of sea ice and coastal erosion are already huge problems, residents and local leaders are now trying to figure out how to protect valuable cultural and environmental resources, while also creating economic opportunities that support sustained growth into the future.

At the East Coast Leadership Roundtable held in New York City, participant discussion focused on the theme of managing dramatic changes in waters off the East Coast, and on four interconnected topics: resilience and adaptation to climate change; offshore energy development; marine transportation and infrastructure; and addressing multiple environmental stressors. Priorities identified by East Coast leaders included: advancing a proactive approach to coastal resilience; promoting a balanced approach to offshore energy development; investing in research on multiple fronts to inform decision-making; leveraging regional approaches to management; enhancing maritime infrastructure; and ensuring long-term funding to support decision making.

Communities up and down the East Coast depend on the Atlantic Ocean as an engine for commerce, a source of health and quality of life, a wellspring of economic opportunity, an integral element of national security, and a haven for recreation. At the East Coast Roundtable, the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy was keenly felt in discussions. As New York and New Jersey continue to rebuild, other communities across the Eastern seaboard, including Norfolk, Virginia, and those in South Florida, are dealing with and preparing for the impacts of sea-level rise. Up and down the coast, towns, cities, and states are responding to new and emerging challenges facing the natural and built infrastructure. Discussions on resilience held during the roundtable were a reminder that, in the face of these changes, governance and policy structures must be responsive and adaptive.

JOCI’s Ocean Action Agenda will capture the complexity of these issues, elevate the various perspectives that local and regional stakeholders brought to the discussions, and identify critical actions for our nation’s leaders to take to address the challenges facing our oceans.