Ocean Protection, Marine Spatial Planning, Updates, Ocean Planning
May 16 2016

The First in the Nation Regional Ocean Plan

by Melissa Gates

How can we protect the ocean as new industries stake their claim to the marine environment? The answer is simple: make a plan for the future! In New England, a collaborative effort is underway to do just that and the result will be our nation's first regional ocean plan. The goal is to protect the ocean ecosystem and important uses like coastal recreation by ensuring that any new development (wind farms, sand mining, etc.) is thoughtfully vetted for possible siting.

The National Ocean Policy created the opportunity for this planning process across the United States, urging the coastal regions to work together and employ ecosystem based management – that is, a new paradigm of management that looks beyond state and federal boundaries, accepts humans as part of the ecosystem, and demands full spectrum viewing of all activity. 

The Surfrider Foundation has participated in ocean planning at the state level in Oregon, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and now in Washington State. At the regional level, we are heavily engaged on the Atlantic Coast, where a planning body comprised of representatives from federal agencies, states and tribal nations formed in the New England region, and one formed in the Mid Atlantic (NY to VA) region, to take the deep planning dive to help protect, restore and maintain the ocean, make better decisions, enhance the public’s involvement in decision-making, and create a more sustainable future for the sea. The proactive opportunity to protect the ocean and recreational areas is so hugely important, that our active efforts are collectively one of the Surfrider Foundation's top six priority campaigns for 2016.

On the Atlantic, the northeast regional planning body is poised to complete the first in the nation regional ocean plan, which will be made public in final draft form by webinar this May 25th, from noon-2PM Eastern for a 60-day comment period.

Surfrider will issue a letter to our email list that we’ll urge ocean users (like YOU!) to sign onto to support our recommendations for improving the plan, to best ensure the plan is positioned to protect ocean and coastal ecosystems and recreational areas, for enjoyment now and into the future (UPDATE: sign our letter before July 25, 2016!).

It seems like commonsense to Surfriders but the idea that coastal users, such as surfers, wildlife watchers and beach goers, need to have representation in decision-making about the ocean, is only recently catching on and taking form in planning settings. We’re some of the staunchest opponents when poorly vetted or plain out right bad development projects move forward. We’re some of the most vocal supporters when plans relating to restoring or protecting the coastal environment surface. Studies indicate that we often live near and build our lives around accessibility to the healthy ocean environment and recreational opportunities. It’s high time we have a seat at the table, to help hold government agencies accountable for the decisions they’re making about the ocean- and ocean planning does just that.

Surfrider had the good fortune to be invited on May 10 & 11 to the Ocean Conservancy’s National Ocean Policy lobby day event in Washington, DC, where I was able to sit down with National Ocean Council Director, Beth Kerttula, to discuss the importance of ocean recreation to the sustainability of New England’s ocean and coast, and our economy. As an avid sea kayaker hailing from the Alaskan coast, Beth understands the importance of a healthy ocean and coastal ecosystem to the public, and the tremendous value the recreation community brings to ocean planning efforts. Beth has been an advocate for planning bodies to include recreation and tourism in their plans.

A delegation of Maine residents, including representatives from Surfrider, Island Institute, a fisherman, a lobsterman and Maine Island Trails Association, also met with Congressman Bruce Poliquin in DC, and spoke about the potential value of the regional ocean plan to help sustain Maine’s coastal jobs.

Our Maine delegation also had the pleasure to meet with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a true champion of ocean issues and the National Ocean Policy, to thank her for her continuing and ardent support.

Surfrider has successfully rallied across the coastal U.S. to support the inclusion of coastal and ocean recreation uses in ocean plans; most recently, the Northeast Regional Planning Body has listened, and included ocean uses in the final draft plan. We look forward to continuing to be an active part of the planning body's public process to ensure our voice remains strong. To learn more about the first in the nation regional ocean plan and take action, be sure to register for Surfrider’s Northeast ocean planning email list, and tune into the webinar on May 25!