Skip to main content

Panetta: Don't take oceans for granted

By Leon Panetta, Special to CNN
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Common dolphins, which travel in a pod, surf the wake of a boat near Long Beach, California.
Common dolphins, which travel in a pod, surf the wake of a boat near Long Beach, California.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leon Panetta has worked in Washington, but his beloved California coastline is home
  • Ocean Commission 10 years ago found depleted fisheries, polluted rivers and bays
  • Panetta: Stewardship of oceans has improved, especially in control of overfishing
  • Still ahead: Curbing development, guarding wetlands, dealing with warmer waters

Editor's note: Leon E. Panetta co-chaired the Pew Ocean Commission and founded the Panetta Institute at California State University, Monterey Bay. A lifelong public servant, he most recently served as secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

Carmel Valley, California (CNN) -- Although my work has been in Washington, D.C., my home and heart have always been along the beautiful coastline of the Monterey Peninsula in California. It's a place where I first developed my dedication to public service. And it inspired what would become a lifelong effort to promote responsible stewardship of our oceans.

Healthy oceans benefit all Americans, whether they live on our nation's coasts or in the heartland. That's why I eagerly agreed in the mid-2000s to help lead the Pew Ocean Commission, a special effort to bring together leading voices from around the United States to examine the health of our oceans through the lens of science, not partisan politics.

Leon Panetta
Leon Panetta

Ten years ago, the commission released its findings, the nation's first comprehensive report on the state of America's marine environment in more than 40 years. Because of leadership from both sides of the aisle in Congress and from Democratic and Republican administrations alike, we've made remarkable progress over the past decade since the release of that report to address many of the problems it identified. But, there's still much work to be done.

Our oceans are a tremendous economic engine, providing jobs for millions of Americans, directly and indirectly, and a source of food and recreation for countless more. Yet, for much of U.S. history, the health of America's oceans has been taken for granted, assuming its bounty was limitless and capacity to absorb waste without end. This is far from the truth.

The situation the commission found in 2001 was grim. Many of our nation's commercial fisheries were being depleted and fishing families and communities were hurting. More than 60% of our coastal rivers and bays were degraded by nutrient runoff from farmland, cities and suburbs. Government policies and practices, a patchwork of inadequate laws and regulations at various levels, in many cases made matters worse. Our nation needed a wake-up call.

The situation, on many fronts, is dramatically different today because of a combination of leadership initiatives from the White House and old-fashioned bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill.

James Cameron's scientific discovery
A different kind of street view

Perhaps the most dramatic example can be seen in the effort to end overfishing in U.S. waters. In 2005, President George W. Bush worked with congressional leaders to strengthen America's primary fisheries management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. This included establishment of science-based catch limits to guide decisions in rebuilding depleted species.

These reforms enacted by Congress are paying off. In fact, an important milestone was reached last June when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it had established annual, science-based catch limits for all U.S. ocean fish populations. We now have some of the best managed fisheries in the world.

Progress also is evident in improved overall ocean governance and better safeguards for ecologically sensitive marine areas. In 2010, President Barack Obama issued a historic executive order establishing a national ocean policy directing federal agencies to coordinate efforts to protect and restore the health of marine ecosystems. President George W. Bush set aside new U.S. marine sanctuary areas from 2006 through 2009. Today, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, one of several marine monuments created by the Bush administration, provides protection for some of the most biologically diverse waters in the Pacific.

Despite the strides made in the 10 years since the Pew Oceans Commission issued its report, challenges remain. Coastal development continues, largely unchecked, and wetlands and marshes continue to shrink. That exposes more than half of the Americans who live along the coasts to the physical and economic damage caused by increasingly high-intensity storms such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

On top of that, major challenges that the commission could not see as clearly in 2003, including ocean acidification and rising ocean temperatures, further threaten some of our most valuable fisheries. The United States must pursue a broader, ecosystem-based approach to build resilience in our oceans and respond to future threats.

Over my many years in public service, I've seen many commissions come and go. But I'm perhaps most proud of the work the Pew Ocean Commission did to warn about the threat posed to our oceans and call for change.

Every time I take my grandchildren to play on the beaches of Monterey Bay, my resolve to keep the issue of responsible ocean stewardship forefront on the agenda of policymakers in Washington becomes even stronger.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Leon Panetta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT