World Oceans Day: Biden Admin Announces National Parks’ Plastic Phaseout, New Marine Sanctuary

Politics
An octopus, sea star, bivalves and dozens of cup coral in Hudson Canyon
An octopus, sea star, bivalves and dozens of cup coral share the same overhang in an area adjacent to the Hudson Canyon off the coast of New York and New Jersey. These are typical of the biodiversity throughout this area. NOAA / BOEM / USGS

The Biden administration announced new steps to protect the nation’s oceans in honor of both National Ocean Month and World Ocean Day.

These measures include the creation of a new national marine sanctuary and a long-awaited phaseout of single-use plastics from national parks and public lands. 

“During National Ocean Month, we celebrate the beauty and bounty of our ocean and reaffirm our commitment to protecting and conserving our marine environments for a sustainable future,” President Joe Biden said, according to a White House fact sheet announcing the new measures. 

The administration said that it had begun the process to designate the deepest Atlantic canyon in the U.S. as a national marine sanctuary. Hudson Canyon is a biodiversity hotspot about 100 miles off the New York and New Jersey coasts. It is two to 2.5 miles deep and provides habitat for cold-water coral, sperm whales, sea turtles and other endangered or vulnerable species. It also stretches 7.5 miles wide, and The Washington Post compared it to the Grand Canyon in scale. Protecting it works towards the administration’s goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

“A sanctuary near one of the most densely populated areas of the Northeast U.S. would connect diverse communities across the region to the ocean and the canyon in new and different ways,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Rick Spinrad said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. “As someone who grew up in New York City and went on to a career in ocean science, I am excited about how this amazing underwater environment can inspire shared interest in conserving our ocean.” 

In an effort to reduce the amount of ocean plastic, the administration also announced that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will issue Secretary’s Order 3407, according to the White House fact sheet. This order will reduce the amount of single-use plastic purchased, sold and distributed at national parks and other public lands, with a goal of phasing these products out entirely by 2032. The announcement comes nearly a year after more than 300 businesses and organizations wrote a letter to Haaland asking for a national-parks plastic ban. The move is also supported by 82 percent of registered U.S. voters surveyed by Oceana

“Our national parks, by definition, are protected areas — ones that Americans have loved for their natural beauty and history for over a century — and yet we have failed to protect them from plastic for far too long,” Oceana’s plastics campaign director Christy Leavitt said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “The Department of Interior’s single-use plastic ban will curb millions of pounds of unnecessary disposable plastic in our national parks and other public lands, where it can end up polluting these special areas. We applaud President Biden and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for recognizing the devastating impact single-use plastic is having on our planet and taking meaningful action to keep this persistent pollutant out of our oceans and communities. We urge the secretary and Interior Department to move swiftly to carry out these changes to protect our parks from single-use plastic.”

The Biden administration made other announcements for World Oceans Day. These include:

  1. The beginning of a partnership between the federal government and Indigenous Tribes to manage the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.
  2. The development of a government-wide Ocean Climate Action Plan that will coordinate marine efforts to adapt to and mitigate the climate crisis, such as green shipping and marine carbon storage. 
  3. The release of an Environmental Justice Position Statement from the interagency Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology. 
  4. The U.S.’s newly-minted membership in the UN Environment Program Clean Seas Campaign, which officially began place June 3. 

The White House also said that more oceanic announcements would be made by different federal agencies throughout the month. 

“The Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing work to harness the clean energy potential of the ocean, conserve and restore its health and productivity, and lead the world toward sustainable ocean policies is informed and motivated by an understanding that a healthy ocean is indispensable to our economy, our health, and to our climate,” the White House fact sheet read. 

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