Coastal Pollution Policy Issues
The many facets of marine pollution require a multi-faceted approach
to solutions. New
i. Enhance Cooperation Among Federal, State,
and Local Governments
The coastal zone is managed by many different governmental agencies,
yet the waste and pollutants know no political boundaries. Good management
requires agencies to work together. This can lead to better working relationships
and to rules and regulations that extend across political divisions.
Maps still depict the vibrant seas in
featureless monotones with simple borderlines drawn three, twelve,
or two hundred miles offshore. Such limits are grossly misleading.
They overlook the impact of land-based activities on the marine
environment and miss the complexity of ecosystems. A time has
come for better governance, incorporating an awareness of ecological
dynamics in decision making about marine resources ... The domestic
three-mile limit that divides state from federal authority [in
the U.S.] was never based on enlightened ecological thinking,
but was a mere consequence of muddling through. Yet it persists
today. What began as a novel eighteenth century neutrality zone
for warships is much harder to justify as a basis for ocean management.
From Wilder (1998) Listening
to the Sea.
Activities in the Gulf on Maine are regulated by many different state
and federal agencies. The regulations are not consistent with ecosystems
based management of marine resources.
et al (2009).
2. Reduce Pollution From Non-Point Sources
done a good job tackling many of the obvious causes of ocean pollution--ocean
dumping, discharges from industrial facilities, and toxic pollutants," said
Leon Panetta, chair of the Pew Oceans Commission. "Now
we need to get serious about the less obvious sources of pollution
that flow from our cities, farms, and ships if we want to protect
our coastal waters and the communities they support.
From Pew Charitable Trusts report on Protecting
In 1970 when the Environmental Protection Agency was first started, the estimate of its water quality office was that 85% of the problems of water pollution in the country were large point-source discharges, like municipal sewage-treatment plants or industrial operations. Only 15% were non-point sources—the runoff from city streets, suburban lawns, and rural and farm areas. Over the past four decades, we have largely brought the point-source pollution problem under control...By the same token, we have made little or no progress on non-point-source pollution. [Now] 15% of the problem is point sources, and 85% of the [problem] is non-point sources...instituting a top-down solution for this kind of pollution is a lot more difficult than passing laws...efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes...have foundered on the shoals of landowner intractability in the face of regulatory mandates...So what does this all mean for 2010...My own experience...leads me to certain conclusions. First is that people affected by change have to be deeply involved in the crafting of solutions—they are going to pay for them either economically or through changes in how they live. We need more democracy, not less. Trying to enact rules centrally to control the behavior of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people in a watershed when their individual contributions are miniscule, but collectively overwhelming, is futile.
From William Ruckelhaus (2010).
3. Manage Watersheds and Ecosystems Not Bays
This approach has been applied to the Chesapeake Bay
and it is the basis of the traditional ahupua'a divisions of land in
We must encourage all citizens of the Chesapeake
Bay watershed to work toward a shared vision — a system with
abundant, diverse populations of living resources, fed by healthy
streams and rivers, sustaining strong local and regional economies,
and our unique quality of life.
The Chesapeake Bay’s natural infrastructure is an intricate
system of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, linked to the landscapes
and the environmental quality of the watershed. It is composed of
the thousands of miles of river and stream habitat that interconnect
the land, water, living resources and human communities of the Bay
watershed. These vital habitats–including open water, underwater
grasses, marshes, wetlands, streams and forests–support living
resource abundance by providing key food and habitat for a variety
of species. Submerged aquatic vegetation reduces shoreline erosion
while forests and wetlands protect water quality by naturally processing
the pollutants before they enter the water. Long-term protection
of this natural infrastructure is essential.
In managing the Bay ecosystem as a whole, we recognize
the need to focus on the individuality of each river, stream and
creek, and to secure their protection in concert with the communities
and individuals that reside within these small watersheds. We also
recognize that we must continue to refine and share information regarding
the importance of these vital habitats to the Bay’s fish, shellfish
and waterfowl. Our efforts to preserve the integrity of this natural
infrastructure will protect the Bay’s waters and living resources
and will ensure the viability of human economies and communities
that are dependent upon those resources for sustenance, reverence
2000 Agreement. More information is at the Chesapeake
The native Hawai'ian islanders developed
over many centuries a very effective method for managing their environment.
Their very survival depended on their ability to manage their forests,
cropland, and fisheries. They divided their land into ahupua'a:
These divisions (ahupua'a)
radiated from the interior uplands, down through deep valleys,
and past the shoreline into the sea. They became the basic
unit of the Hawaiian socio-economic organization (see illustration).
This type of land division allowed exploitation of all the resource
zones of the island — forests,
agricultural land, shoreline, and ocean — by a single socio-political
group and guaranteed them some degree of self-sufficiency and economic
All of the resources within this strip were restricted to use by
its inhabitants. The name derives from ahu, an altar erected at the
intersection of the land division boundary with the main road around
the island, and pua'a, a pig, represented by a carved wooden image
of a hog's head placed on the altar. Because a pig was an acceptable
tribute, it represented any tribute-in-kind. Residents deposited
gifts at this site each year during the annual harvest festival (Makahiki).
The size of the ahupua'a varied, the larger ones on the island of
Hawai'i being located in the interior.
Rights to irrigation water and fishing areas,
considered very valuable economic assets, were strictly controlled
within an ahupua'a. Water rights were codified to assure the equitable
distribution of free-flowing waters for irrigation. Inshore fishing
rights were explicitly stated. Normally only members of an 'ohana
had rights to exploit specific water areas of the 'ohana lands. These
rights usually included the inshore waters out as far as a man could
stand upright with his head above water. A chief or konohiki, however,
could place kapu on the use of certain types of fish and other marine
resources at certain times or by certain people.
Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast
of Hawai'i Island: Chapter 1.
A sketch of an Ahupua`a on an Hawai'ian island.
From Honolulu Board of Water Safety and HawaiiHistory.
Hawai'i is now returning to these ancient traditions.
The Hawai‘i Coastal Zone Management Program (CZM Hawai‘i)
is currently engaging the Wai‘anae community and other partners
to develop a management framework that applies ahupua‘a (a traditional
land division) values and practices. The Wai‘anae moku, or traditional
land district, is composed of nine ahupua‘a, each unique and
facing different environmental challenges.
From Wai'anae Ecological Characterization: Description.
Modern ahupua‘a management focuses on fostering stewardship
of the land and sea and understanding of the interconnectedness of
the health of our environment and ourselves. It provides opportunities
to promote community-based efforts with localized knowledge to take
an active part in decisions about the use of the ahupua‘a. Partnerships
and the active involvement of stakeholders are essential for integrating
ahupua‘a principles and practices within a modern government
organizational and legal framework.
From Wai'anae Ecological Characterization: Ahupua'a
Management and the WEC.
4. Decentralize Authority Toward
Local Levels Closest to the Problem
Local people know the problems, and they are better able to find solutions
what work best in their area. The coastal problems in Texas differ in many
ways from those in California or Alaska, and they have different solutions.
Many areas not employ a BayKeeper,
a full-time, local person who is a public advocate for that body of water,
and who works with all users of a coastal area. The Galveston
Bay Conservation and Preservation Association has hired a BayKeeper
for their area. San Diego, Mobile
Bay, and the New York Hudson/Raritan
Estuary are some other prominant bays or estuaries with BayKeepers.
5. Restore Coastal Ecosystems So They Are Better
Able to Resist Pollution
Temperate estuaries worldwide are undergoing
profound changes in oceanography and
ecology due to human exploitation and pollution, rendering them the
most degraded of
The litany of changes includes increased sedimentation
and turbidity; enhanced episodes
of hypoxia or anoxia; loss
of sea grasses and dominant suspension
feeders, with a general loss of oyster reef
habitat; shifts from ecosystems once
dominated by benthic primary production to
those dominated by planktonic primary production; eutrophication
and enhanced microbial production; and higher
frequency and duration of nuisance algal and
toxic dinoflagellate blooms, outbreaks
of jellyfish, and fish kills.
Most explanations for these phenomena emphasize “bottom-up” increases
in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus as causes of
phytoplankton blooms and eutrophication, an interpretation consistent
with the role of estuaries as the focal point and sewer
for many land-based, human activities. Nevertheless,
long-term records demonstrate that
reduced “top-down” control resulting from
losses in benthic suspension feeders predated
Vast oyster reefs were once prominent
structures in Chesapeake Bay, where
they may have filtered the equivalent of the
entire water column every 3 days ... Only then, after the oyster fishery
had collapsed, did hypoxia, anoxia, and other
symptoms of eutrophication begin to occur in
the 1930s, and outbreaks of oyster
parasites became prevalent only in the
1950s. Thus, fishing explains the bulk
of the decline, whereas decline in water
quality and disease were secondary factors.
From Jackson (2002) Historical
Overfishing and the Recent Collapse of Coastal Ecosystems.
If the oyster beds were restored, and sedimentation of the bay were
reduced so sea grasses could once again flourish, the influence of
pollution would be much reduced.
6. Put Caps on Local Development
Some bays, estuaries, and coastal wetlands
need to be undeveloped reserves.
7. Restore Damaged Wetlands
Assessment and Restoration Program is the primary office for restoration
in the U.S.
- Damage from each spill is evaluated.
- Cost of restoration is determined.
- Person of corporation causing the damage is fined.
- The fine is used to pay for restoration.
- Case Study: The Mobile
Gypsum Restoration Project, Houston Ship Channel,
- Event. On April 6, 1992,
a 600-foot long section of retaining wall of a gypsum slurry
pile failed at the Mobil Mining and Minerals facility in
Pasadena, Texas, causing 45 million gallons of a 3 percent
phosphoric acid and hydrated gypsum mixture to spill through
a small bayou and into the Houston Ship Channel. The spilled
material had a Ph of 1.5.
- Damage. The spill caused
significant injuries to freshwater, marine, and estuarine
wildlife, fishes, invertebrates, plants and sediments. There
was a significant loss of habitat for terrestrial and aquatic
animals in the upland fields and drainage canals. There was
also direct mortality to terrestrial animals, primarily ground-nesting
birds, rodents, and reptiles. The injury to the surface waters
was widespread. This adversely affected the water quality
within approximately 7 miles of the Houston Ship Channel
for at least one week.
- Fines. Mobil Mining and
Minerals undertook response actions to contain, neutralize
and remove contaminated water and soil and agreed to a compensatory
restoration project. They agreed to pay pay $130,102 in
fines, to undertake and pay for a wetlands restoration project
covering an area of 32 acres of intertidal estuarine marsh
and enhanced uplands habitat, and to pay $100,000 for maintenance
of the project for three years after completion.
- Restoration Work. The trustees
created a high-quality tidal wetland that includes brackish
water finfish nursery habitat. Seventeen acres of sloping
upland areas were lowered to create diverse shelf levels
with increased water circulation. Inlets to the ship channel
were created for improved circulation and access for fish.
The trustees also enhanced a 15-acre freshwater wetland by
removing nutrients and improving water quality. The watercourse
between the ponds and the shallow wetlands now meanders,
increasing the total time that plant outfall water remains
in the system. Additional site-adapted plants enhance water
retention and upland habitat values for birds and wildlife.
8. Establish National
Marine Sanctuaries Where Human Influence
Is Reduced, and Marine Life Can Flourish
To date, networks of fully protected marine reserves are the best-understood
tool for managing marine ecosystems. Over the last 15 years, study of
more than one hundred reserves shows that reserves usually augment population
numbers and the individual size of over exploited species. Reserves provide
protection from three major consequences of overfishing.
- They protect individual species of commercial
or recreational importance from harvest inside reserve boundaries.
- They reduce habitat damage caused by fishing practices that alter
biological structures, such as oyster reefs, necessary to maintain
- Reserves protect from ecosystem overfishing,
in which removal of ecologically pivotal species throws an ecosystem
out of balance and alters its diversity and productivity.
Within reserves, protection from all three types
of overfishing is well known to spark ecosystem rebounds. Examples
of these rebounds form a solid empirical backdrop for the use of reserves
as a management tool.
Ocean Commissions Report on Marine Reserves: A Tool for Ecosystem Management
A swirling mass of jack mackerel Trachurus
ball" which draws feeding seabirds and marine mammals at the Gulf
of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
The largest in the United States
is the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.
most marine protected areas do not ban many harmful activities. For example,
fishing is completely banned in only 14 of 220,000 square miles in the
California Marine Protected Areas. (McArdle, 2002).
9. Simpler Lifestyles
I have lived in places like the Fiji Islands,
where people subsisted on far less income and with far fewer material
goods than I was used to as an American – yet people there
were family-oriented, spiritually rich, and joyful.
From Wilder (1998) Listening to the Sea.
Jackson, J. B. C., M. X. Kirby, et al. (2001). "Historical Overfishing
and the Recent Collapse of Coastal Ecosystems." Science 293
McArdle, Deborah A. 2002 California
Marine Protected Areas: Past and Present. California Sea Grant
College Program, University of California, San Diego. 24 pp.
Turnipseed, M., L. B. Crowder, et al. (2009). OCEANS:
Legal Bedrock for Rebuilding America's Ocean Ecosystems. Science 324
William Ruckelhaus. (2010). "A New Shade of Green." Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2010. Pages R1, R4.
Wilder, R. J. (1998). Listening
to the Sea: The Politics of Improving Environmental Protection. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh
10 May, 2010