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Energy & Environment

President Trump’s Bold Vision Will Help Conserve, Manage, and Explore America’s Oceans

5 minute read

Throughout his Administration, President Trump has championed ocean exploration, pursuing a bold vision to accelerate our understanding of America’s oceans and coastlines. In his “Presidential Memorandum on Ocean Mapping of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone and the Shoreline and Nearshore of Alaska” (Ocean Mapping PM), President Trump directed the Federal government to prioritize mapping, exploring, and characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (United States EEZ). At 3.4 million nautical square miles, the United States EEZ is one of the largest in the world, and is larger than the combined land area of all fifty states.

While President Reagan established the United States EEZ in 1983, only about 40 percent of this area has been mapped and significantly less has been explored and characterized. Seafloor maps and exploration and characterization data are critical to a range of activities such as ensuring safe maritime navigation, siting offshore energy, identifying and managing critical fish habitat such as deep-sea coral environments, protecting critical national security infrastructure, and discovering new compounds that have pharmaceutical properties.

When President Trump directed Federal agencies to explore, map, and characterize our Nation’s EEZ, he knew this task could not be accomplished without strong partnerships. Since the President’s issuance of the Ocean Mapping PM, the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, as co-chairs of the Ocean Policy Committee (OPC), have been working with our partners across various Federal agencies, State, tribal, and territorial governments, businesses, academia, and non-governmental organizations to accelerate ocean exploration.

This summer, the OPC—working in partnership with our Federal agencies—released a “National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone” (National Strategy) and the “Recommendations for Increasing the Efficiency of Permitting for Ocean Exploration, Mapping, and Research Activities” (Recommendations). The National Strategy provides a roadmap for the Federal government to map the deep water of the United States EEZ by 2030 and the nearshore waters by 2040. This fall, the OPC’s two Subcommittees released Implementation Plans for both the National Strategy and the Recommendations. The Implementation Plans describe milestones, identify leaders, and set timelines for the various Federal agencies to meet this audacious goal to explore and map the United States EEZ.

This National Strategy calls for Federal agencies and non-Federal partners to build a national enterprise to map, explore, and characterize the United States EEZ. Meeting these objectives will require coordination and collaborative efforts that join scientific inquiry, entrepreneurial enterprise, philanthropic endeavor and public and private investment. As we work towards completing the exploration and mapping of our EEZ, we will dramatically increase our knowledge of our ocean resources—giving us unprecedented, detailed information about the depth, shape, and composition of the seafloor, the physical and chemical features of the water column, and the organisms that live within the United States EEZ. This will enhance our economic competitiveness, strengthen our national security, protect our environment, and preserve continued prosperity.

The Federal government cannot achieve this National priority alone. In the fall of 2019, the White House hosted a Summit on Partnerships in Ocean Science and Technology. The Summit brought together more than 100 leaders and experts from the private sector, academia, and non-governmental and philanthropic organizations with the Federal government to identify opportunities to work together to develop and employ ocean science and technology to meet shared goals.

This year, our Federal partners, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Departments of Energy and the Interior, and the National Science Foundation, are advancing new ocean science and technology partnership agreements. During a time when many of the Federal government’s research vessels are unable to explore the ocean, these agreements provide the Federal government with new information and data. Just this summer, NOAA received data from one of their private-sector partners, Caladan Oceanic, from its recent exploration of the Mariana Trench. In addition to satisfying innate human curiosity about the deepest and most mysterious part of our ocean, this data provides NOAA with key information needed in order to map the Mariana Trench. This partnership with Caladan Oceanic is just one example of the many partnerships that NOAA has formed following the 2019 White House Summit.

Our Nation is poised to harness cutting-edge science, new technologies, and partnerships to unlock the potential of our oceans through increased ocean mapping and exploration. Developing a comprehensive understanding of the United States EEZ is a national goal that will require a national effort to accomplish. The OPC continues to work with our Federal partners to implement the National Strategy, including by developing the Implementation Plan released today, and we look forward to collaborating with all of our ocean partners including explorers, businesses, and philanthropic and academic organizations. To support the conservation, management, and balanced use of America’s oceans, and to improve our understanding, it is imperative that we act on President Trump’s bold vision and fully explore, map, and characterize the United States EEZ.