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Secretary's Speech


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Thursday, January 8, 2008


Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez
Remarks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Silver Spring, Maryland


Thank you for the kind words. I’m delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you and to thank you for all you’ve done to predict and protect our environment over the past several years.

As you know, President Bush on Tuesday designated three areas of the Pacific Ocean as Marine National Monuments. Combined, these new monuments represent the largest marine protected area in the world. Oceans conservation has been a key element of the President’s and this Administration’s environmental agenda.

Last September, I had the honor of joining President Bush when he toured the new Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The new exhibit is amazing. It was five years in the making. It will be a wonderful introduction to the riches of our oceans to millions of visitors. We’re very proud that NOAA helped create it. And I want to thank all of you here who had a hand in this project.

At the end of the tour, the President spoke about the importance of protecting our ocean and coastal resources. At that time, he said: “All Americans have a responsibility and obligation to be good stewards of our environment.”

One of the most important duties that all Administrations and all citizens share is to treat our natural resources as assets to be valued and protected.

Over the past eight years, the Bush Administration, the Commerce Department, and NOAA have been aggressively working to increase our scientific knowledge and preserve the precious legacy of healthy oceans and sustainable marine resources.

For example, early on this Administration made a commitment to move Earth observation to the next level to garner critical climate data. In 2005, I presented the Administration’s plan for an integrated U.S. Earth Observation system at an international summit in Brussels.

Through the President’s inter-agency Climate Change Science Program, more than 20 reports have been produced that significantly increase our understanding of our effect on the climate – and the climate’s effect on us.

This leadership has also been carried out on the world stage. More than 120 NOAA scientists were major contributors to last year’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Sound policy depends on sound science. We depend on timely and accurate data to meet many of the biggest environmental challenges of our time. Among these:

  • Protecting lives and property;
  • Sustaining healthy weather-sensitive industries and jobs; and,
  • Conserving our ocean and coastal resources for future generations.

Oceans provide many benefits. They are a source of food, transportation, and recreation. They are a source of important medical tools. And they are a source of economic growth and American jobs.

The statistics tell the story:

  • Over one-third of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product originates in coastal areas.
  • Commercial and recreational fishing generated more than $185 billion in sales and supported more than two million jobs, according to our latest report .
  • Seaport-related businesses add an estimated two trillion dollars in economic activity.
  • One of every six jobs in the United States is marine-related.

President Bush’s Ocean Action Plan was developed to make our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes cleaner, healthier and more productive. I’m pleased to report that the Administration has met or is on target to meet all 88 actions in the Plan. And NOAA has helped to move much of the plan forward. For example:

NOAA was instrumental in creating the single largest conservation area in the United States. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world—nearly 140,000 square miles. It is home to spectacular coral reefs and more than 7,000 marine species, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

NOAA has helped create, restore or protect some of the 3.6 million acres of wetlands across the U.S. to meet President Bush’s goal of stopping the loss and increasing this precious area. A major priority has been restoring wetlands in Louisiana that provide a crucial buffer from dangerous storms like Katrina. We are on pace to restore more than 30,000 acres of wetlands across southern Louisiana.

NOAA worked with Congress to pass the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization. This legislation requires an end to overfishing by 2010 so we can rebuild fish stocks that are at risk. These efforts are paying dividends. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service 2007 report released last summer, seven stocks were removed from the overfishing list, the largest number removed in a single year since NOAA began compiling the report. Equally as important—no new stocks were added to the overfishing list. And NOAA is on track to double the number of Market-Based Fishery Management Programs by 2010.

At Commerce, we’ve also worked aggressively to advance aquaculture to help meet the growing demand for seafood. The Administration introduced an aquaculture bill that would help stimulate domestic investment. Simultaneously, it would ensure that aquaculture is conducted in an environmentally responsible manner.

In 2007, Commerce hosted an Aquaculture Summit. We invited a number of stakeholders to explore developing the U.S. aquaculture industry with the goal of increasing domestic sources for some of the 80 percent of seafood consumed here that’s imported. However, we still need the legislation to move forward, and we are hopeful that the new Congress will act on the aquaculture bill.

Ocean research is a key priority. Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and they support the life of nearly 50 percent of all species on our planet. Even though we are surrounded by water, we may know more about the moon than we do about our oceans.

That’s why President Bush implemented a Ten-Year Ocean Research Priorities Plan.

NOAA has a leading role in expanding ocean research, including creating a program to develop an Integrated Ocean Observing System to improve our understanding of serious ocean conditions, like red tides; to discern more about the effect of oceans on climate change; and to increase our resilience to natural hazards such as hurricanes.

Unfortunately, we can’t prevent severe weather. But the more we can do to predict and prepare for it, the safer our citizens and communities will be. We’ve made great strides in that effort. NOAA’s hurricane forecast model achieved high accuracy during the 2008 hurricane season.

NOAA introduced more geographically targeted severe weather alerts, reducing the area warned by as much as 70 percent. Some estimates indicate that limiting the number of communities under hurricane warnings can save over half a million dollars per coastal mile. That includes the costs of evacuations and other preparations.

NOAA also created a Tsunami Warning System covering the entire Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As we all know, early warnings can save lives, as well as property. Through research and technology, NOAA has increased the lead time on tornado warnings by 50 percent.

With the help of other agencies, we’ve provided public alert radios to all K-through-12 public schools. These radios signal an alarm when hazardous weather or other emergencies threaten an area. We’ve also distributed the radios to more than 180,000 preschools and other non-public schools and school offices.

I’ll close with this. The work you do is critical to our economy and the safety and well-being of the American people, as well as others throughout the world.

I want to again thank all of you here who have a role in the on-going effort to predict the weather, chart the seas and skies, protect ocean resources, and collect data on the oceans, space and sun.

Your efforts are helping to ensure that we pass the blessing of healthy natural resources on to the next generation.

Thank you for sharing your day with me.