An unusual climate of cooperation

I find myself again in Washington DC, this time for a workshop on “Marine Mammals and Sound” sponsored by an interagency group which includes NOAA, the Minerals Management Service, and the Navy. (Interagency cooperation will be one of the hallmarks of the Obama administration.)

The event brought together some ninety participants from the US Navy, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Marine Mammal Commission, and the fossil fuel industry. It also brought some of the brightest minds in the environmental NGO and marine mammal science communities.

It was both and honor and a kick to reconvene with many of the “best in the business” – some of whom I have seen on one side or the other of the noise pollution issue for nearly 20 years. Over these years there have been countless hearings, conferences, meetings, and workshops. Many of these were difficult – even bitterly contentious, largely due to the reluctance of the noise maker’s (US Navy and fossil fuel industry) to submit to regulation or even acknowledge their roles in the problem.

This meeting was markedly different. Everyone in the room participated in examining the issues, fleshing out the details, and offering recommendations on what is needed to move forward. The product of this conference will be an advisory document for government agencies (mostly NOAA) on mitigation protocols, research needs, and regulatory frameworks.

Of course it remains to be seen whether the document gets used; if the recommendations get funded, or if it will just become a “wish list” drawn up by a room full of scientists, sailors, engineers, and policy wonks.

Though if nothing more comes of this than an agreeable, even peaceful encounter of this diverse and disparate group, something good will have happened.