The United Nation’s (UN) 25th annual Conference of the Parties (COP25) — a meeting of nearly 200 countries to discuss international action on climate change — took place in Madrid earlier this month. Around 25,000 people attended and focused, among other topics, their efforts on the role of oceans in the climate crisis.

Our oceans, including the Gulf of Maine, are already feeling the effects of climate change. Ocean acidification and sea level rise threaten Maine’s coastal communities and economy. A recent report by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy shows that, without action on climate change, we could see a major decline in fish and irreversible harm to our coral reefs. And September’s U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showed that the climate crisis could lead to sea level rise of more than three feet by the end of the century, coastal homes and islands becoming uninhabitable, and a collapse in fisheries.

Despite these threats, there is reason for hope. Oceans make up two-thirds of Earth’s surface and have the potential to absorb and store more carbon dioxide than land. Increasing the amounts of this “blue carbon” that we capture could help address the climate crisis. Waves, tides, and offshore wind could all also be harnessed to generate “blue” electricity and power our homes and businesses.

As countries around the world are working to develop ambitious policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the health of our oceans is taking center stage. Chile, which is leading the work of COP25, is launching a platform of ocean solutions, like creating marine protected areas, promoting sustainable fisheries, enhancing recycling capabilities, and banning single-use plastics.

While global leaders guide their countries through the climate crisis, our Executive branch has repeatedly failed to act to protect our oceans and waterways, instead dismantling many of the protective policies we already had in place, like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. I want to take this time to tell you how the House of Representatives is acting to protect our oceans, and what I see as being important for the future of Maine’s pristine waters.

Marine debris harms our coastal economies and marine habitats, yet every minute, the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into our ocean — more than 8 million metric tons annually. Tiny pieces of plastic can make their way into marine life, disturbing the ecosystem around them and even killing animals and organisms. We still don’t even know how long it takes for plastic to completely biodegrade: estimates range from 450 years to never.

In the 115th Congress, the Save our Seas Act to reauthorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Marine Debris Program passed unanimously to become law. In the 116th Congress, I’m a cosponsor of the new bipartisan Save our Seas 2.0 Act, which was introduced to improve our domestic response to marine debris, prevent the creation of new marine debris through innovation in waste management systems, and incentivize international action.

I’ve also worked to address rapidly warming and acidifying oceans. Almost 30% of carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by our oceans and the Gulf of Maine is warming at a rate 99 percentfaster than any other body of water on the planet. As our oceans get warmer and absorb more greenhouse gas emissions, the ocean acidifies, changing the way our aquatic plants and animals grow. This threat looms over fisheries, waterfronts, and coastal communities across our nation. If we don’t act, Maine’s health and economy will suffer. In March 2019, I reintroduced the bipartisan Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act, which would require NOAA to study the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification on coastal communities nationwide. This bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on June 5, 2019. I hope to see Senate action on the issue soon.

In Maine, we’re lucky to have organizations like Bigelow Labs, Maine Sea Grant, and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, as well as dozens of small, independent, committed groups and businesses who are all acting with urgency to make sure our oceans are clean, healthy and protected for the next generation. And with a new conversation around ocean protection, I hope to see U.S. policymakers and leaders act with more urgency. Mainers know we cannot afford to wait.

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