AFP: Obama gives US first national ocean policy

President Barack Obama on Friday set up a task force to craft the first US national policy for sustainably managing the country's oceans, drawing praise from environmentalists who said the move was long overdue.

"We are taking a more integrated and comprehensive approach to developing a national ocean policy that will guide us well into the future," Obama said in a proclamation declaring June "National Oceans Month."

The proclamation was issued along with a memorandum setting up the high-level Ocean Policy Task Force.

"Our nation's economy relies heavily on the oceans ... They support countless jobs in an array of industries including fishing, tourism and energy," the president said.

The task force will be led by the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality -- the main environmental policy adviser to the US president -- Nancy Sutley, the memorandum said.

Made up of senior policy-level officials, it will draft several recommendations and draw up a "comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem-based" framework for sustainably using the resources of US oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes.

"This is something that two US national commissions have called for," said Sarah Chasis, director of the Ocean Initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"The Pew Oceans Commission and the US Commission on Ocean Policy in 2003 and 2004 came out and said we really need an ocean policy to bring together all the disparate authorities that manage our oceans and have a cohesive vision of what we want for the oceans and how to manage them," Chasis told AFP.

The United States, which has the largest ocean area of any country in the world, currently has 140 laws and 20 agencies managing its oceans.

Obama's plan, which would pull together all the different authorities and laws and focus attention on the problems and challenges facing the oceans, their riches and those who manage them.

"There's increasing recognition of the problems of the ocean. It's three-quarters of our planet; it's something we depend on for the air we breathe, the food we eat, for jobs, recreation," said Chasis.

"There's more scientific understanding of the ocean: it's becoming more acidic with global warming and countries are beginning to understand the seriousness of the threat.

"This action by the president is a step in the right direction for the US," she said.