Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release: Thursday, June 11, 1998


I'm delighted to welcome all of you here today -- in this International Year of the Ocean -- for America's very first National Oceans Conference.

Thomas Mann once wrote that "the sea is not landscape. It is the experience of eternity." I think all of us, at some point in our lives, have felt that sense of romance with the ocean -- the sense that those dark blue waters are more than a source of food and commerce and scientific insight; they are also a source of inspiration and pride. They are perhaps the single greatest natural treasure on God's Earth.

That is why this conference is so long overdue. There is no other natural resource upon which we depend so much -- but about which we know so little. Together, we must find new ways to protect, harvest, and explore the oceans that are so crucial to the fabric of life itself.

Early in the nineteenth century, Lord Byron wrote these words: "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean...ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain...but [man's] control stops with the shore."

That may seem true. But increasingly, we are learning that we can control the dark blue waters -- both for good and for ill.

Oceans have become a rich source of economic growth. They sustain one out of every six American jobs; our coastal areas produce 85 percent of all tourism dollars; and our beaches are now the leading tourist destination in America.

But too many of those precious waters suffer from overfishing and pollution -- threatening our food and water, and jeopardizing the beaches in which our children swim.

Our oceans are an endless universe of exploration and discovery -- home to the dazzling coral reefs that are the rain forests of the sea; a key source of life-saving medicines and treatments; and a crucial barometer of weather and climate.

But for all that underwater potential, oceans are too often a neglected scientific resource. Until recently, we knew more about the surface of the moon that we knew about the ocean floor.

Just moments ago, I was aboard the MBARI's Western Flyer, and I saw the stunning "remotely-operated vehicle" which is able to gather specimens and geological samples, drill holes in the bottom of the ocean floor, and even take broadcast-quality video -- kind of an electronic Jacques Cousteau. It made me realize just how much scientific knowledge is now at our fingertips -- and how important it is for us to harness it.

That is why I was pleased to make several new announcements this morning that will dramatically increase our understanding of the oceans, and also our efforts to protect them.

We will launch a new $4 million effort to explore and map the U.S. domestic ocean -- to discover life-saving drugs, to find new forms of marine life, and to finally assess the full economic value of our oceans.

We will launch new partnerships with states, local communities, and the private sector to reduce pollution in coastal waters, and tell the public when beaches must be closed.

We will develop a new and sophisticated ocean monitoring system, to give us a better understanding of the critical relationship between oceans and global warming.

And we will declassify and release to the public secret Navy and miltary data about the oceans -- data that will teach us an enormous amount about climate and weather systems.

Of course, we have much more to do, in each of the four areas you have covered in today's issue forums:

First, the environment -- how we must balance the economic growth that comes from our seas, and the fish, water, and fragile ecosystems that thrive within it.

Second, commerce. As ports flourish and tourism continues to grow, we must look for creative and sustainable ways to harness the growth that comes from fishing, shipping, and tourism.

Third, exploration and research. In the 21st Century, the oceans can yield profound new scientific breakthroughs. We must seize these new opportunities now, because we don't have a moment to waste.

Fourth, global security. With so much of our security and trade floating upon those dark blue waters, freedom of the seas is in our clear national interest. We must work with other nations to safeguard it.

I'm eager to hear your reports from all four of these forums. I want to discuss your separate conclusions -- and also how these four areas form a synergistic whole. Your work can help us develop a comprehensive agenda to protect and harness our oceans for the 21st Century. There is no greater challenge for all of us, and for all of America.

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