What does it mean to protect the ocean for future generations? And how do we measure the costs when we fail?
Nearly a decade ago, the Surfrider Foundation began participating in ocean planning, a public process to plan for the use and conservation of the ocean. For a grassroots advocacy group known for fighting harmful development projects, our foray into ocean planning was a new, proactive way of doing business – and an acknowledgment that defense alone won’t protect special ocean places for the future.
In the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Pacific Northwest, ocean planning has provided a key opportunity to address future ocean development, such as offshore wind farms, while advancing ecosystem protection. In support of ocean planning, Surfrider has conducted outreach to thousands of coastal users and recreational businesses to engage them in the public process. We’ve completed scientific studies to map ocean recreational use and measure economic benefits. And, we’ve flexed our advocacy muscle to ensure that final ocean plans protect ecological and human-use values, and steer potential development to less sensitive areas of the ocean.
A year ago this week, these efforts bore fruit as the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Plans developed by regional planning bodies with public input were formally adopted by the National Ocean Council. Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon completed its state-based Territorial Sea Plan update in 2013 and Washington is on track to finalize a state marine spatial plan in the coming months. These milestones have been lauded by environmental advocates and ocean stakeholders alike as fundamental to ensuring the future stewardship of our ocean.
Video Credit: Green Fire Productions
So, why do state and regional ocean plans matter for the marine environment? In an era of increasing development, these ocean plans equip government agencies, tribal nations, and public stakeholders to better address a range of threats to the ecosystem. As industries from sand mining, aquaculture, oil and gas, and renewable energy stake their claim to the marine environment, ocean plans enable managers to better assess impacts and evaluate tradeoffs of proposed development. This means higher thresholds for project approval, better siting of projects that do move forward, and enhanced opportunities for coastal community members to engage in decision-making.
And the plans are working! Regional planning bodies (RPBs) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have accomplished much in one year, implementing proactive improvements to coastal and ocean management. In the Mid-Atlantic, the Regional Planning Body has made significant progress on a number of actions in the Ocean Action Plan, including varied ocean topics such as: acidification, ecosystem indicators, ecologically rich areas, marine debris, data, sand management, and non-consumptive recreation.
Surfrider, in coordination with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean , hosted a series of workshops focused on non-consumptive recreation in the fall of 2017. RPB members, including state and federal representatives, joined local recreational users to discuss conflicts, management issues, sand nourishment, the value of recreational areas, and ways to improve communication with recreational users. Feedback from the workshops will be used to improve management of non-consumptive recreational uses and to better value recreational areas.
In the Northeast, Surfrider Foundation has successfully worked with the Northeast Regional Planning Body (NERPB), stakeholders and other key NGOs over the last year to ensure that implementation of the Northeast regional ocean plan (NE-Plan) has advanced along the parameters set forth in the plan, with particular focus on actions to identify important ecological areas (IEAs) and to further enhance understanding of non-consumptive ocean and coastal recreation and to begin discussions regarding a plan for updating current datasets we were responsible for contributing to the Northeast Data Portal.
The NE-Plan’s framework for identifying IEAs and its associated science and research priorities have been a primary focus of the NERPB this year. In collaboration with the NERPB, NGO partners and New England Ocean Action Network members, Surfrider has amplified opportunities for public engagement in the vetting of draft data products and methodologies aimed at configuring and optimizing visual display of the five components of IEAs: productivity, biodiversity, abundance, vulnerability, and rarity.
Public engagement and continued buy-in to the regional planning process remains critical to the ongoing success of the regional ocean planning in the Atlantic as we dive deeper into implementation and position ourselves to best protect the health of ocean and coastal ecosystems and recreational areas, before they’re threatened. To support engagement in New England over the last year, Surfrider leveraged support from its five New England chapters, ocean recreation industry leader email list of over 1,000, and our regional and national email, social media and websites to help inform and engage the public in NERPB engagement opportunities.
As the first regional planning bodies in the nation to produce regional ocean plans, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are creating new process and best practices as they move through implementation. This clean slate from which to build has been both a challenge and an opportunity; the critical component driving transparency and good public process has been the continued presence of engaged public representatives championing each sector and ocean interest to guide implementation and ensure its success.
To help advance this process, we encourage you to attend or host a screening of the Ocean Frontiers III film, produced by Green Fire Productions. Learn more by visiting: www.protectandenjoy.org.