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World Reports

The Seaweed Rebellion

Our oceans are in deep trouble and we must immediately take a fresh approach to ensure their survival.

In June, more than 200 activists, lobbyists, educators, and other citizens representing 170 organizations from more than 25 states and territories met to discuss the results of two historic reports, by the Pew Oceans Commission and US Commission on Ocean Policy. The three-day conference developed a grassroots strategy – the “Seaweed Rebellion” – to involve the wider public and encourage the protection, exploration, and restoration of America’s seas and coastal communities.

The last significant review of US oceans policy was in 1969, when the Stratton Commission published Our Nation and the Sea: A Plan for National Action. This led to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (the Magnuson-Stevens Act), which protected US waters from foreign fleets. In 1980, President Reagan signed an executive order creating an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ extends 200 nautical miles from all US possessions and trust territories, an area two-thirds the size of the US’s land area. Over time, ocean policy has turned into a messy, fragmented set of approximately 140 laws managed by six federal departments and executed by dozens of agencies. This has resulted in conflicts of interest, confusion, and politicization of how the oceans are used, leaving them in serious trouble.

The results of two major studies evaluating oceans within the US EEZ have been released in the last two years. The Pew Commission, a privately funded panel of 20 experts, including scientists, fishermen, conservationists, elected leaders, and business officials, released the report America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change in June, 2003.

The US Commission on Ocean Policy was created out of the Oceans Act of 2000. It establishes a Commission that works with the states, a scientific advisory panel, and the public to develop a National Oceans Report. The US Commission on Ocean Policy released its report to the President, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, on September 20. This report makes recommendations to the President and Congress on ocean and coastal issues. The President must submit his statement of proposals to implement or respond to the Commission's findings and recommendations to Congress within 90 days. Commission members are nominated by Congress, with final selections made by the President, and have experience in ocean exploration, resource development, marine transportation, marine science, policy, and law. Both commissions say the same thing – our oceans are in deep trouble and we must immediately take a fresh approach to ensure their survival. The two reports make similar recommendations.

It is this focus that drew participants to the Blue Vision Conference during the hot, humid mid-Atlantic summer. Blue Vision 2004 was put together by journalist and oceans activist David Helvarg. The Conference consisted of three days of expert panel presentations (including members of both commissions), break-out sessions, and evening gatherings. The grand finale on day three was a mass romp on Capitol Hill, where conference participants met with legislators to spread the word that it’s time to enact change for ocean governance.

The Seaweed Rebellion’s outreach will be directed to the public, particularly those folks in the middle of the US who have less frequent contact with the ocean. One thing we discovered during Hill visits is that very few of our legislators are even reading the reports. The first order of the Seaweed Rebellion will be to educate the public, and develop a letter-writing campaign encouraging local politicians to respond to the recommendations of the two commission reports and implement ocean policy changes. Legislators will be urged to consider the recommendations of both ocean commissions seriously and revamp ocean policy.

Various pieces of legislation dealing with ocean policy reform were introduced during this last session of Congress. Perhaps the most significant is Oceans-21, drafted by the House Ocean Caucus. Oceans-21 would set national ocean policy, reform ocean governance and guide ocean science, monitoring, and education policies based on recommendations from the two ocean commission reports. Two separate Senate bills, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC), also aim to improve ocean policy, with the Hollings bill having a chance for passage as early as this current session of Congress. The Seaweed Rebellion will work to educate the public on these bills and urge people to write letters encouraging sponsorship and passage of these reforms.

This is a historic moment for ocean conservation. Two reports have reached the same conclusions and have proposed similar solutions:

  • The oceans are in crisis;
  • The science supporting this is overwhelming and conclusive;
  • We must adopt an ecosystem approach in the formulation of future ocean policy;
  • Our current model has failed to solve the problem and we must change the current system of governance.

We need more Seaweed Rebels to help get out the message and direct legislators to action.

Drew Weiner is director of Reef Protection International.

What you can do: To learn more about how to participate in the Seaweed Rebellion, go to


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