America's oceans are in crisis and the stakes could not be higher. More than half the U.S. population lives in coastal counties. The resident population in this area is expected to increase by 25 million people by 2015. More than 180 million people visit the shore for recreation every year.
Though a price tag has never been assigned to our coastal economy, it is clear that it contributes significantly to the nation's overall economic activity. Tens of thousands of jobs in fishing, recreation, and tourism depend on healthy, functioning coastal ecosystems. Now, thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment have either been lost or are jeopardized by collapsing fisheries. Pollution and sprawl threaten ocean-related tourism and recreation, far and away the largest component of the coastal economy.
But more than jobs are at stake. All Americans depend on the oceans and affect the oceans, regardless of where they live. Ocean currents circulate the energy and water that regulate the Earth's climate and weather and, thus, affect every aspect of the human experience. Our very dependence on and use of ocean resources are exposing limits in natural systems once viewed as too vast and inexhaustible to be harmed by human activity. Without reform, our daily actions will increasingly jeopardize a valuable natural resource and an invaluable aspect of our national heritage.
In the midst of crisis, there are expressions of hope and signs of success. Striped bass, severely depleted along our Atlantic shores, made a striking comeback when given a chance. North Atlantic swordfish recently did the same in response to lower catch limits and closed nursery areas. Seabirds, kelp beds, and fish communities returned to the coastal waters off Los Angeles after waste discharges were reduced. Proven, workable solutions to the crisis in our oceans exist but such successes will remain the exception rather than the rule until we chart a new course for ocean management.