Our Ocean

The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (OPA) supports the Our Ocean conferences, which have catalyzed unprecedented action by the global community to fight marine pollution, acidification, and unsustainable and illegal fishing, and to promote the blue economy and maritime security. The Our Ocean conferences focus on the key ocean issues of our time – marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts on the ocean.  The conferences emphasize commitments for action by participants and other stakeholders around the globe.

Marine Biodiversity

The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (OPA) cooperates with other Federal agencies to participate in a number of efforts to conserve marine biodiversity. OPA also works closely with U.S. government agencies and indigenous subsistence communities to develop and coordinate U.S. policy related to the international conservation of marine mammals, notably whales and polar bears.  United States policy on marine mammals is guided by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.  Many of the world’s marine mammals cross international jurisdictions, therefore bilateral and multi-lateral arrangements have been developed to manage these populations.  OPA also works on marine protected areas, such as efforts to implement cooperation related to the world’s largest marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.   ​

Marine Debris

The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (OPA) OPA works with U.S. government agencies, private sector, academic, industry, and NGO stakeholders to engage bilaterally, multilaterally, and regionally on marine debris.  Marine debris generally refers to marine plastic pollution and is a critical global environmental issue that requires locally appropriate solutions. OPA coordinates engagement in international marine debris discussions.  In addition, OPA manages grants that support projects in Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, that seek to reduce marine debris through innovation and capacity building in waste management systems and reducing abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear.

International Oil Spills

Oil spills account for a significant source of marine pollution around the world, and can severely impact marine ecosystems. Due to U.S. expertise in oil spill response, the U.S. Government is often asked to assist in responding to oil spill incidents that occur in other countries. Depending on the nature and location of the spill, the United States will try to offer the appropriate level of assistance, especially when that assistance can enhance our international relations and demonstrate our commitment to protecting the marine environment. In most cases, however, reimbursement for the costs of U.S. Government oil spill response assistance is expected.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency have primary responsibility for containing and cleaning up oil spills that occur in waters of the United States, and are usually the agencies that provide international oil spill assistance. Various other U.S. government agencies help with oil spill response domestically and internationally through the National Response Team (NRT) – a network of 16 federal agencies that provides guidance, assistance, and resources for managing pollution incidents.

When a formal request for oil spill assistance is received, the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs coordinates with relevant U.S. Government agencies to determine whether assistance should be provided and what the assistance priorities are.

The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs also manages U.S. involvement in various international agreements on oil spill prevention and response. The United States has oil spill response agreements with Mexico, Canada, Russia, the Panama Canal Authority, Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands. The United States also belongs to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation, and a Caribbean region oil spill cooperation agreement under the Cartagena Convention.

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Regional Seas Programme

The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs represents United States interests in the Regional Seas Programme (RSP), an initiative created by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1974 to protect the marine environment in specific regions around the world. RSPs currently cover eighteen regions and include 143 coastal States and Territories.  The United States is a member of two RSPs: The Caribbean Environment Programme (Cartagena Convention), and the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

Each RSP is an action-oriented body and focuses not only on the mitigation or elimination of marine debris and conservation of sensitive areas and species, but also on the causes of environmental degradation. RSPs take  a comprehensive approach to combating marine environmental problems through the rational management of marine and coastal resources.  They include both voluntary initiatives and legally-binding agreements.  To implement their mandates, each Regional Seas Programme has an action plan that was developed by RSP members and is overseen through regular meetings of RSP member states.

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