Ocean Protection, Marine Spatial Planning, Updates, Ocean Planning
April 13 2015

Advancing Ocean Planning

by Melissa Gates, Northeast Regional Manager

Surfrider Engages in Ocean Planning on Behalf of Recreational Users

I had the good fortune to score an invitation from the Healthy Oceans Coalition to attend a series of meetings to promote the National Ocean Policy in Washington, D.C., this March.

The National Ocean Policy creates a vision to achieve the lasting stewardship of our nation’s ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes for all people.  Nearly fifty ocean stakeholders descended upon Capitol Hill as part of this effort, meeting with U.S. legislators from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.  A primary goal was to urge these decision-makers to support Regional Ocean Planning, which is a key part of National Ocean Policy implementation.

Regional Ocean Planning is about being smart about how we use the ocean.

With so many new and competing uses of the marine environment, it’s smart to plan for the future of the ocean.  This includes developing shared regional goals and a vision for future use and conservation, rather than continuing to react as conflicts arise (which is often what Surfrider needs to do now when bad development projects are proposed).  Regional Ocean Plans will provide a decision-making framework aimed at improving coordination among agencies, enhancing public participation, and mitigating potential conflicts, while managing new and existing uses with the health of the ocean and coastal ecosystem in mind.

As outlined in the National Ocean Policy, effective ocean planning demands a comprehensive and integrated Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) approach.  EBM is a place-based approach to natural resource use that aims to restore and protect the health, function and resilience of entire ecosystems for the benefit of all organisms.  What sets it apart from traditional approaches is something Surfrider members have known for a long time: EMB recognizes that humans are part of the environment, and that we have significant influences on the ecosystem.

Through EBM, planners examine not only the individual effects of activities like fishing, pollution and coastal development, but also seek to understand the collective impacts of those and other activities over time.

The National Ocean Policy also requires a heavy focus on stakeholder participation in the regional ocean planning process, which is where the Surfrider Foundation fits into the picture. 

Regional Planning Bodies (RPB) are comprised of officials from federal and state agencies, as well as tribal nations in the given region.  In the same way that most people don’t sit on their city council but are empowered to partake in the council’s decision-making processes, the Surfrider Foundation does not have a seat on any RPBs but is a stakeholder in the public process for Regional Ocean Planning.  We represent Surfrider members and the larger non-consumptive recreational community (i.e., non-motorized activities that don’t involve taking anything from the sea but pictures, sweet rides on waves &/or memories).

To encourage participation from stakeholders, Surfrider continually reaches out to thousands of recreational businesses and groups to inform them about ocean planning progress and opportunities for engagement.  Realizing that not everyone can attend weekday meetings personally, Surfrider’s staffers analyze documents and proposals put forth by RPBs as those bodies work to develop an Ocean Plan.  We then develop positions on those proposals to advocate for the advancement of actions relating to healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems and the enhancement of ocean recreation user interests. We share these positions with members and the recreational community for their review and input, and urge stakeholders who agree with us to sign petitions or letters, or submit comments in line with our recommendations.  Our staffers engage in ocean planning meetings and report out to the public via email lists, websites, blogs and social media to promote public involvement in the process through outreach and education, with the help of chapter volunteers.

To support the ocean planning processes around the U.S., Surfrider has conducted ocean recreation studies to collect data on where and how people use the coast in a given region for low impact enjoyments, like surfing, beach going, or wildlife viewing.  In the Northeast, we are part of a project team that was contracted by the Northeast RPB to conduct a study characterizing recreational ocean uses.  If you’ve visited the coast from New York’s Long Island Sound area to far northern Maine at least once in the last 12 months, you can participate by filling out this survey: http://bit.ly/NE_Rec.  All data collected will be integrated into an online decision support tool, the Northeast Regional Data Portal, which the Northeast RPB will use for ocean planning. 

In addition to helping advance regional ocean planning efforts, the Surfrider Foundation supports the creation of a National Endowment for the Oceans to provide sustainable funding for ocean management, science, and stewardship, and we staunchly oppose anti-National Ocean Policy amendments tacked onto federal legislation.

Ocean planning provides us with a proactive opportunity to identify ocean recreation areas so they’re part of the broader context of ocean planning efforts.  For Northeast residents and visitors, we hope you’ll engage in the public process with us by taking these three actions:

1. Take the survey before April 30, 2015, & share it with your friends!  Learn more:  http://bit.ly/NE_Study.

2. Like our Northeast Regional Facebook page to get the latest news on ocean planning as well as other work.

3. Join or renew your Surfrider Foundation membership to help support our work.

If you’re not in the Northeast, we encourage you to reach out to the policy manager in your region to find out how to engage in ocean planning in your area. Zip us a line if you’re not sure who to contact: info@surfrider.org.  Thanks!