| Precis||America is a nation intrinsically connected to and immensely reliant on the ocean. All citizens—whether they reside in the country’s farmlands or mountains, in its cities or along the coast—affect and are affected by the sea. Our grocery stores and restaurants are stocked with seafood and our docks are bustling with seaborne cargo. Millions of visitors annually flock to the nation’s shores, creating jobs and contributing substantially to the U.S. economy through one of the country’s largest and most rapidly growing economic sectors: tourism and recreation.
The offshore ocean area under U.S. jurisdiction is larger than its total land mass, providing a vast expanse for commerce, trade, energy and mineral resources, and a buffer for security. Born of the sea are clouds that bring life-sustaining water to our fields and aquifers, and drifting microscopic plants that generate much of the oxygen we breathe. Energy from beneath the seabed helps fuel our economy and sustain our high quality of life. The oceans host great biological diversity with vast medical potential and are a frontier for exciting exploration and effective education. The importance of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes cannot be overstated; they are critical to the very existence and wellbeing of the nation and its people. Yet, as the 21st century dawns, it is clear that these invaluable and life-sustaining assets are vulnerable to the activities of humans.
Human ingenuity and ever-improving technologies have enabled us to exploit — and significantly alter—the ocean’s bounty to meet society’s escalating needs. Pollution runs off the land, degrading coastal waters and harming marine life. Many fish populations are declining and some of our ocean’s most majestic creatures have nearly disappeared. Along our coasts, habitats that are essential to fish and wildlife and provide valuable services to humanity continue to suffer significant losses. Non-native species are being introduced, both intentionally and accidentally, into distant areas, often resulting in significant economic costs, risks to human health, and ecological consequences that we are only beginning to comprehend.