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Set up marine reserves

MY VIEW • To protect human health, protect ocean health
by: ©2008 RICHARD PRICE, Preserving the Pacific’s ecosystems doesn’t begin just at coastal sites such as Cape Sebastian, Oregon. High school science teacher Tim Kniser urges the creation of marine reserves to protect the ocean’s longterm health.

I grew up working on the Oregon Coast every year at summer camps, leading kids on hikes through undeveloped coastal forests, playing in tide pools and on beaches. Looking at the ocean every day instilled in me a sense of wonder.

I consider myself fortunate to have had that kind of upbringing. And I know I'm not alone. I think many Oregonians have those unforgettable ocean experiences - fishing, whale watching, or just walking on the beach.

Those early experiences have stayed with me. Now, as a high school science teacher in Portland, I show my students how the ocean is connected to everywhere they are and everything they do.

The special connection we have to the ocean is one reason I believe that we, as Oregonians, need to take responsibility to protect it and make sure that it remains healthy and productive for generations of boaters, fishermen and families.

Our ocean is important for practical reasons, too. The Pacific Ocean generates millions of dollars in personal income for Oregon residents, and we rely on it for food, transportation, energy and recreation. We need to manage the health of our ocean in a way that takes all uses into account, including its intrinsic value.

The idea of protecting parts of our ocean from human impact as a way to maintain important marine habitat, fish and wildlife has been discussed among marine scientists for decades, including the scientists who taught me at Oregon State University.

Networks of marine protected areas and reserves can help restore balance to ocean ecosystems that often still are recovering from the stresses caused by past overfishing and overdevelopment.

Marine reserves increase the size, health, fertility, abundance and resiliency of the entire ecosystem, including important fish species.

Oregonians can build on the successes of marine reserves in other parts of the world, like Washington state or New Zealand. Many of us have been waiting for it to happen in Oregon.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office, state agencies, local scientists, coastal communities, fishing interests and conservation groups are hard at work devising a plan to move forward on this idea.

For the first time in Oregon's history, we have the chance to create a meaningful, science-based network of marine protected areas and reserves in our state's ocean waters.

I see marine reserves as win-win. If you want to preserve our ocean ecosystems for the sake of your children's future or if you want to sustain fish stocks for a healthy coastal economy, the solution is the same - a network of marine protected areas and reserves that is science-based and community-created.

There still are many questions to be answered regarding just how Oregon will build this network of protected areas, but those questions should not derail the effort to build what Oregon truly wants and needs: a sustainable healthy ocean.

Tim Kniser is a high school science teacher and sixth-generation Oregonian. He lives in Northeast Portland with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.