National Ocean Policy

From Beachapedia


On July 19, 2010 President Obama made history by establishing the first comprehensive National Ocean Policy for the United States. His executive order not only reaffirms the nation's commitment to protecting our oceans and coasts, it also defines new approaches for how we get there. For too long, our ocean resources have been managed in a piecemeal way, with ecosystems - and those who value them - getting the short end of the stick. While an executive order doesn't solve everything, it is a major step forward. Some highlights of the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes include:

  • A commitment to protect, maintain and restore ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.
  • Dedication to maintaining public access to our coasts and waters.
  • A regional approach that promotes improved cooperation among federal, state, tribal, and local entities
  • The use of marine spatial planning to ensure that new uses of the ocean minimize impacts to the environment and existing uses like recreation and fishing
  • Establishment of a National Ocean Council to guide implementation of the new national ocean policy
  • Substantial stakeholder and public input to ensure that local and regional needs are considered and addressed.

All this is great, you may be thinking, but why should we care? That's a valid question for any Surfrider activist entrenched in local battles to save our coasts. In simplest terms, a national ocean policy matters because it provides top-down guidance to federal agencies to prioritize protection of the ecosystem. What Obama's executive order - and the funding and legislation that will hopefully follow - represents is an improved framework for ocean planning and decision-making. Does this mean that all the local battles to save our coasts and oceans will suddenly evaporate? Absolutely not, but it should certainly help level the playing field in our favor. And, that alone is valuable and worth celebrating.

To read the new National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes please click here.

NOP Implementation

The framework established by the National Ocean Council (NOC) to implement the National Ocean Policy (NOP) involves planning for nine separate regions.[1] There are also nine overarching objectives, but each region may have only a few priority objectives that it is focused on, at least initially.[2] To implement objective #2, Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP), the United States will be subdivided into nine regional planning areas: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Great Lakes, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast, Pacific Islands, and Alaska/Arctic regions. Objective #8 uniquely calls for addressing changing conditions in the Arctic, most likely to be considered only in the Alaska region (Alaska is a region by itself due to its size and unique marine-scape).

The nine priority objectives are:

  1. Ecosystem-Based Management: Adopt ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for the comprehensive management of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.
  2. Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning: Implement comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based coastal and marine spatial planning and management in the United States.
  3. Inform Decisions and Improve Understanding: Increase knowledge to continually inform and improve management and policy decisions and the capacity to respond to change and challenges. Better educate the public through formal and informal programs about the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.
  4. Coordinate and Support: Better coordinate and support Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional management of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. Improve coordination and integration across the Federal Government and, as appropriate, engage with the international community.
  5. Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification: Strengthen resiliency of coastal communities and marine and Great Lakes environments and their abilities to adapt to climate change impacts and ocean acidification.
  6. Regional Ecosystem Protection and Restoration: Establish and implement an integrated ecosystem protection and restoration strategy that is science-based and aligns conservation and restoration goals at the Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional levels.
  7. Water Quality and Sustainable Practices on Land: Enhance water quality in the ocean, along our coasts, and in the Great Lakes by promoting and implementing sustainable practices on land.
  8. Changing Conditions in the Arctic: Address environmental stewardship needs in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent coastal areas in the face of climate-induced and other environmental changes.
  9. Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Observations, Mapping, and Infrastructure: Strengthen and integrate Federal and non-Federal ocean observing systems, sensors, data collection platforms, data management, and mapping capabilities into a national system and integrate that system into international observation efforts.

In January 2012 the National Ocean Council released a Draft National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. This draft Implementation Plan lays out the initial steps required to achieve the vision and charge of the National Ocean Policy, and to address the most pressing challenges facing the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. The draft Implementation Plan focuses on the nine priority objectives highlighted under the National Ocean Policy. For each priority objective, a suite of actions and their intended outcomes are described. For each action, key milestones are outlined, lead agencies or other responsible entities are identified, and timeframes are listed.

The final National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan was released in April 2013. The Implementation Plan concludes:

"This Implementation Plan identifies practical, efficient, and responsible actions that Federal agencies will take to support healthy, productive, and resilient ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters, thriving coastal communities, and a robust, safe, and secure marine economy. The Plan will strengthen and build on existing relationships, help forge new partnerships, and enable broad participation from stakeholders and the public in decisions that impact the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. Fundamentally, it will provide the science and tools our Nation needs to sustain and enhance the quality of life for all Americans.

Read some reaction to the plan.

Strategic Action Plans

To implement the goals and objective of the NOP, Strategic Action Plans (SAPs) for each region will be developed. There will likely be a different SAP for each priority objective that the region is addressing. Initial steps in developing an SAP will typically involve identification of key goals, stakeholders, and participants. The major steps in developing an SAP will (1) development of a Plan Outline by the NOC, (2) a Full Draft after public comments are heard, and (3) release of the Final Plan.[3]


The NOC is performing the bulk of the initial work and is charged with various oversight and involvement throughout. In addition to the NOC, Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) will be created to integrate Federal, State, and Tribal representatives in the region-specific planning efforts. The NOC is to be heavily involved with creation of the RPBs.

Public participation appears to be encouraged at most steps of the process.

More Resources

See the new Healthy Oceans Coalition website for more information on the National Ocean Policy and Regional Ocean Efforts.


This article is part of a series on the Ocean Ecosystem looking at the various species of plants and animals which depend on a healthy coast and ocean environment, and the threats that can be posed to them by human activity

For information about laws, policies and conditions impacting the beach ecology of a specific state, please visit Surfrider's State of the Beach report to find the State Report for that state, and click on the "Beach Ecology" indicator link.