Opening Remarks of Dr. Jane Lubchenco at the Second National Workshop on Marine Environmental DNA (eDNA)
As prepared for delivery
Good morning! It is my pleasure to join you for the second National Workshop on Marine eDNA.
I thank the visionary leaders who initiated this series – and endorse their vision of eDNA as a ‘powerful, dependable, and efficient tool for ocean observations.” Big thanks to the Federal agencies who played a key role in the workshop. Your timing is excellent.
As you may know, President Biden is a huge fan of science. And whenever he talks about science, he focuses on ‘possibilities – possibilities for discoveries to help solve society’s huge challenges, possibilities to improve people’s lives – all people. And possibilities are exactly what eDNA is all about.
I am here today to share a few thoughts about the opportunities that marine eDNA science has to support goals of biodiversity assessment, conservation, and marine management.
Over the course of my career – as an academic researcher and teacher, NOAA Administrator, the first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean, and now as the Deputy Director for Climate and Environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology – I have been delighted to see the rapid evolution of ‘Omics techniques from concept to testing and now well on their way to maturity and direct application to management and decision-making. I have no doubt that this group and this workshop can accelerate progress toward that goal.
And not a moment too soon!
Here in the Biden-Harris Administration, we don’t just talk about making progress, we listen to partners, stakeholders, and experts, then formulate plans based on science, evidence, and Indigenous Knowledge, and we take action.
We have multiple exciting and transformative initiatives underway for which eDNA data is immediately relevant. Here are 6 of them. I invite you to include these in your conversations over the course of this workshop and work with us on those appropriate to your work.
First, the National Ocean Mapping, Exploration, and Characterization Strategy – or NOMEC Strategy – is an interagency and cross-sectoral effort to map all U.S. waters and explore and characterize the physical, chemical, and biological properties of priority areas. These data are critical to supporting healthy, productive and resilient ocean ecosystems and a sustainable ocean economy – e.g., by informing fisheries management, smart siting of offshore infrastructure, ocean-based climate solutions, and conservation.
With exploration often focused on the deep sea and poorly studied areas, there is great opportunity for NOMEC to facilitate the collection and identification of voucher specimens needed to ground-truth eDNA data, and to collect water for eDNA processing in hard-to-reach places where biodiversity observations are often lacking.
Second, through the America the Beautiful Initiative, the U.S. is accelerating efforts to conserve 30% of land and sea by 2030. At present, 26% of the U.S. EEZ is in Marine Protected Areas, with almost all of that in Fully and Highly Protected status (as defined by the MPA-Guide).
Accurate and consistent assessments of biodiversity can help inform siting of new MPAs as well as provide opportunities to assess the efficacy of existing MPAs.
Third, on Earth Day this year, the Administration announced it would initiate the Nation’s first-ever Federal U.S. National Nature Assessment – a routine stock-taking of biodiversity on land, in freshwaters and in the ocean. The Assessment is being undertaken by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and will be delivered in 2026. With this Assessment, we will know how nature is doing in the United States, the ways in which nature supports us, and how we might do more to embrace nature as a critical part of creating a prosperous and equitable nation.
eDNA has the potential to contribute significantly to this assessment and we hope that many of you will be engaged.
Fourth, in parallel, we are developing Natural Capital Accounts to connect changes in nature with changes in economic performance. These accounts will complement our standard national accounting to measure the economic value that natural assets provide to society — from forests and reefs, to fish stocks and urban parks, to the quality of our air and water. We’ve just released a draft strategy for this effort and welcome your input. For the first time, nature will be on the Nation’s balance sheet.
Here, too, eDNA has a key role to play.
Fifth, until recently, nature-based solutions have been mostly overlooked as we seek to reduce GHG emissions aggressively. Those of us who work on NBS know that they can be powerful tools to achieve multiple goals simultaneously – such as addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, equity and sustainable growth that benefits communities.
The Administration highlighted the importance of NBS in the EO the President signed on Earth Day, and we will be releasing a more comprehensive report on them in the coming months.
And sixth, strong Environmental Justice elements are embedded in each of the above topical areas, with the goal of ensuring that all Americans have access to nature and the benefits that nature provides.
In conclusion, I hope that you are as excited about these initiatives as we are.
I reiterate that sound biodiversity data and knowledge are crucial to smart decision-making both within and beyond our EEZ. While current existing techniques for surveying biodiversity can provide critical information not afforded by eDNA, they are generally limited in their capacity to provide rapid assessments of a full spectrum of biodiversity within and across systems. eDNA will be a powerful complement to other modes of assessing biodiversity and we will want to use them together.
I look forward to hearing from you experts about the outcomes of this workshop and your ideas about ways to apply eDNA techniques to our big goals of achieving the triple bottom-line of protecting the ocean effectively, producing from it sustainably, and benefiting from it equitably.