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Question Nine: Ocean Health

Despite representing landlocked states, Senators McCain and Senator Obama have lifelong ties to oceans. Obama grew up on a series of islands, living only minutes from the beach, while McCain comes from a naval family and spent a good portion of his life living on the open sea.

For those reasons, and a mutual understanding of the importance of climate change, both candidates gave similar answer to the Science Debate 2008 question about ocean health. But do their records back up what they said?

According to Kevin Wheeler and Robert Gagosian of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, a non-partisan group that informs the ocean policy of both campaigns, neither candidate has enough of a record on this issue to say. Seeing as they represented inland states during their time in Congress, ocean issues were not high on the agenda of their constituencies. As a result, neither Senator took a seat on a subcommittee dealing with ocean issues, relegating all of their votes on ocean health to giant omnibus bills.

“There’s not enough data to really give a clear picture about either of their positions,” said Wheeler, with Gagosian adding, “when you look at the committees, there really wasn’t that much of an opportunity for them to step up”

However, Wheeler and Gagosian think that even without a record to compare to, McCain and Obama’s Science Debate answers accurately reflect their future policies.

“What is encouraging is that McCain, and the staff that wrote the answer, clearly understand the issues,” said Gagosian. “And when you look through Obama and his staff’s answers, there are some very specific recommendations. A comment on ocean acidification indicates that people in his staff really know what’s going on. Both of them and their staff understand the issue, and that’s positive.”

Wheeler and Gagosian trust the Science Debate answers because ocean health lives at the rare intersection of public desire, political gain and expert advice. Over half of Americans live in costal areas and climate change weighs on the mind of many. That results in an electorate which likely cares about ocean health and more than in any previous election. With the issue free from religious or cultural implications, the candidates can actually focus on crafting policy to solve the problem without worrying about alienating voters. As a result, McCain and Obama find themselves in agreement on this issue.

Today’s article has to punt as neither candidate has enough of a legislative history to compare their answers too. Come back tomorrow when we look at the candidate’s history on water use. Considering one candidate represents a state next to a Great Lake and the other represents a desert state, expect more fireworks than today.

After a year of winnowing down questions from 38,000 scientists and citizens, Science Debate 2008 sent 14 covering health, research, the environment and science to the presidential candidates. Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama answered the questions, and their answers can be read here. However, it’s easy for a politician to make promises, so _PopSci investigated both senator’s voting records to see if their history matched up with their promises for the future. Each day for the next two weeks we’ll present an analysis of the candidate’s voting records as compared with their answers to the ScienceDebate2008 questions. You can follow the entire series at popsci.com/election, where you can also sign up for an RSS feed._

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