WASHINGTON (CN) – Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced 50 coastal restoration projects Tuesday that will remove dams and sunken fishing gear to allow fish to move freely, and will restore wetlands and reefs. Experts hailed the projects as a step in the right direction, but said more should be done.
“It is later than we would like and less than we would like,” said Under Secretary of Commerce Jane Lubchenco. “I don’t think anyone believes that this is all that is needed.”
During a teleconference, Locke focused on the economic benefits of coastal restoration, which will take place in coastal areas with some of the highest unemployment, he said.
California, for example, hosts nine projects and has an employment rate of 11.5 percent, well below the national average of 9.1 percent.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided $154 million to remove dams, allowing fish, such as the endangered Atlantic salmon, to migrate. The projects will remove lost fishing nets, which continue to fish, and will restore wetlands, salt marsh, oyster reefs and coral reefs.
Locke argued that healthy coasts will help remedy the nation’s economy. Coastal areas generate half the nation’s gross domestic product and host more than 28 million American jobs.
Fishing alone employs 1.5 million people and adds $111 billion to the U.S. economy.
“These Recovery Act projects will put Americans to work while restoring our coasts and combating climate change,” Locke said, detailing that the projects will sustain 5,000 jobs.
In a phone interview, Ocean Policy Manager Aimee David at the Monterey Bay Aquarium called the projects “relatively modest,” but said she hopes the trend will continue. The projects represent a rare comprehensive effort to fix the nation’s costal habitats. Most restoration efforts are funded in a piecemeal fashion, David explained.
In her support of the projects, David cited California, which has lost over 90 percent of its historic wetlands. “We need to appreciate and care for the wetlands that we have left,” she said.
Twenty-two states qualified for restoration, as well as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory located near Indonesia.
Of the 814 proposals worth more than $3 billion dollars, only 50 projects were approved to receive the $154 million designated by the Recovery Act for coastal restoration.
More than 8,900 acres of habitat will be restored and more than 700 miles of streams will be opened to migrating fish.
When asked whether projects that restore coral reefs, for example, are futile in the face of ocean acidification, David replied that the restorations “will help to provide resiliency against some of the impacts of climate change,” and said the problem must be tackled at all levels.