• By Douglas W. Domenech

Ocean mapping plan targets energy, economy, resources

As one of our nation’s principal stewards of our ocean, Great Lakes and coastal resources, the Department of the Interior recognizes the interplay between the vitality of our nation’s natural resources, the health of our fellow citizens and the strength of our economy.

America’s oceans and Great Lakes are used by millions for recreational boating and fishing, commercial fishing, transportation of goods and transmission of data and information through undersea cables; and they provide our country oil, gas and critical minerals to energize our economy and support national security.

DOI has a “Blue Portfolio” with broad and diverse responsibilities for offshore energy and the revenue it generates, as well as coastal ecosystems with the biological diversity and coastal protection they provide. We also have responsibilities for conservation, recreation, Outer Continental Shelf lease management and foundational science and technology, to support the wise management and use of coastal and ocean resources. To fulfill our mission, we work across the federal family and rely on many partners.

With President Trump proclaiming June 2020 National Ocean Month, on June 11 the White House announced a series of new planning documents developed in response to the president’s memorandum titled “Ocean Mapping of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone and the Shoreline and Nearshore of Alaska.” DOI was one of several agencies that contributed to this cartographic planning, which includes a first-ever national strategy for mapping, exploring and characterizing the U.S. EEZ; a 10-year plan to map the coast of Alaska; and a set of recommendations for efficient permitting and authorization of ocean exploration, mapping and related research activities.

America’s geographic footprint is larger than one might think. The Outer Continental Shelf of the U.S. is roughly 2.5 billion acres of underwater seabed, while the total land area of the 50 United States is 2.4 billion acres; essentially doubling the size of our country. Exploring our nation’s OCS encompassing the areas off of the coastal states, around Hawaii and Alaska, and around America’s 13 territories and possessions, is like discovering a new continent. Describing what exists there and mapping it — in many places for the very first time — will be of tremendous scientific value.

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This is a monumental task. Members from the DOI Ocean Team at the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and others have worked alongside partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and several other federal agencies, to produce the new planning documents. Our work doesn’t stop here. We are already preparing to take the next steps to implement the national strategies laid out in those documents. Staff and scientists at DOI’s BOEM and USGS are well engaged with an array of partners from other federal agencies, private companies, academia and international initiatives — all focused on exploring the ocean areas and helping us identify and prioritize what’s next.

In sharing the vast amounts of data we collect through these partnerships and the scientific research we produce, we advance offshore energy production; ensure the safety and security for offshore infrastructure; prepare coastal communities for hazards such as tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons, sea level rise, land subsidence and storm surge; reduce conflict between the many users of our ocean resources; and support protection and management of offshore and coastal ecosystems.

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Science is the overarching, binding element for DOI’s work on ocean and coastal resources, and the Trump administration has prioritized science in its ocean policy. Using a coordinated approach, DOI is fulfilling its stewardship mission, to ensure current and future generations can benefit from and enjoy healthy, resilient and prosperous ocean and coastal resources.

Douglas Domenech is the assistant secretary of Insular and International Affairs U.S. Department of the Interior. This op-ed was originally published in Boston Herald on June 18, 2020.

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