Conservation Law Foundation is dedicated to supporting full implementation of the National Ocean Policy. Last week under the umbrella of the Healthy Oceans Coalition, CLF partnered with the American Littoral Society to organize The National Ocean Policy: New England Healthy Ocean and Coasts Workshop.
Recognizing the importance of our ocean and coastal ecosystems and building off work of previous administrations, in 2010 President Obama issued an Executive Order for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes creating the National Ocean Policy (NOP). The policy includes nine national priority objectives for improving the protection and management of the oceans, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.
Even for those working down in the weeds, the National Ocean Policy (NOP), its implementation, and it applications are a lot to wrap your head around. At the workshop we hoped to clarify confusion for those not regularly involved in the process. It was hailed as a great success.
Participants engaged in thought-provoking conversations about the NOP, conservation and restoration components of marine planning in New England, the NOP’s focus on climate resiliency and adaptation, and opportunities for stakeholder engagement and messaging techniques. In attendance were representatives from 18 New England-based organizations, such as the Watershed Action Alliance and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay. We were also joined by a member of the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) and the two co-leads of the Regional Planning Body’s Healthy and Ocean Coastal Ecosystems Subcommittee.
The presenters offered their expertise on the journey of marine planning in the Northeast and regional restoration priorities. We were also shown a tutorial on the Northeast Ocean Data Portal, which includes a wealth of data and maps that ocean managers or anyone can utilize to better understand New England’s ocean resources.
It’s safe to say that all participants left with a better understanding of the National Ocean Policy and New England Regional Ocean Planning. Now it is up to them to take the lessons back their organizations and get to work!
As New Englanders enjoy the holiday season, the Northeast Regional Planning Body (RPB) continues to work developing a regional ocean plan, something we should all be celebrating!
The Northeast Regional Ocean Plan is the first of its kind. It will be vital for sustaining healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems, gathering important environment, economic, and social data related to the ocean, as well as engaging various stakeholders with an interest in the ocean. In November, the RPB met for the fifth time to review plan options and make next-step decisions specifically on the Healthy Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems and Effective Decision Making goals.
At the November meeting some key decisions (found in the RPB summary document) were made related to these goals including:
To continue work identifying important ecological areas
To continue exploring options for ocean health measures and establishing a baseline for future work
To establish an interdisciplinary work group assigned with exploring ecosystem-based approaches for managing ocean and coastal ecosystems
To continue to develop “Best Available Science”
For the Regulatory Work Group to consider the application of best available science and specific options for agency coordination through primary permitting and leasing authorities and the National Environmental Policy Act
To establish inter-agency work groups to consider specific opportunities for additional agency coordination around emerging ocean uses
All of these are signs of positive forward progress in the planning process—the decision to form an interdisciplinary work group to explore ecosystem-based approaches to ocean management is of particular importance as it is a critical to the long term health of our oceans.
Ocean and coastal ecosystems run like well-oiled machines. The ecosystem as a whole is a compilation of its individual parts, and the health and productivity of the overall system relies on these parts functioning cooperatively. Each marine species, no matter how big or small, relies on another species for food, shelter, or protection. In light of a rapidly changing ocean due to climate change, maintaining these ecosystem connections is needed now more than ever.
Approaching ocean planning from an ecosystem perspective considers these connections while integrating social and economic considerations—an approach necessary to ensuring a healthy ocean and coastal economy for New Englanders. As we look towards managing new and increasing ocean uses together with existing, traditional ocean use practices, moving towards a holistic ecosystem perspective is a must.
Yes, I admit it – I’m not a diver. But I am a surfer, and that makes me a stakeholder in healthy oceans, too. There is a big conservation ethic among surfers, because, in the words of one of the surfiest brands: “Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy.”
Billions of dollars and millions of jobs are created each year by the use and enjoyment of America’s oceans and coasts. In fact, in 2010 alone, ocean-related tourism and recreation supported more than 1.9 million jobs, and contributed almost $90 billion to the nation’s GDP. At the same time, our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes ecosystems face significant challenges to their health and their ability to provide the benefits, goods and services that we all want and rely upon.
These problems may come in the form of harmful “red tide” algae blooms which cause beach closures and damage shellfish farms in Massachusetts, expanding “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nutrient pollution runoff going into the Mississippi River, or the need for better science-based information to repair storm damage to cities and towns and to protect the public in advance of the next monster winter storm.
Being able to solve these ocean and coastal management challenges is difficult for federal and state agencies to do with the tools and resources they currently have, yet as our nation grows more along our coasts and demands more from our oceans these current management challenges are only going to become more difficult to solve.
Thankfully, we have the National Ocean Policy to help coordinate the work of our federal agencies and involve states and all stakeholders — including the public — to work together to help address some of the biggest challenges facing our oceans, and coasts.
But the best initiative the US has ever developed to promote ocean health and the importance of access for all current and future recreational users is under fire right now, and needs your voice of support!
Congress is working to pass the already problematic Water Resources Development Act and one harmful rider to that bill would eliminate the involvement of the US Army Corps of Engineers in any coastal planning, stakeholder engagement or other work that relates to the National Ocean Policy. The WRDA bill has passed the House and Senate and is in conference committee negotiations now.
Since the National Ocean Policy is implemented through current, existing laws and programs – this rider could disallow any involvement by US Army Corps in a range of issues and coastal projects that fall under their regular order of business.
But, check it out, there is one good idea being considered in this conference that needs our support – the establishment of a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) to improve ocean health and support ocean jobs and wildlife.
So consider emailing or calling your representatives and telling them “I support the Senate-passed National Endowment for the Oceans in the WRDA bill, which would help improve ocean health and maximize the economic benefits to our nation. I support the full implementation of the National Ocean Policy and oppose the House-passed Flores rider, which would place damaging restrictions on the use of common-sense ocean management tools like ocean planning and ecosystem-based management found in our National Ocean Policy.”
NOW is the time for you to be part of the planning process that is taking place to better coordinate our coastal and ocean uses in the face of all these changes. Everyone who cares about the ocean and how we use it should have a voice in the planning – a “seat at the table.”
How can you get involved?
Learn about ocean planning! There is a fantastic new film called Ocean Frontiers that tells stories about ocean planning from people and places that might surprise you: farmers in Iowa, shipping companies in New England, and fishermen in Oregon – all committed to planning and doing things better for ocean health. Find an Ocean Frontiers screening near you, or host your own!
We must identify and protect the beautiful places in New England’s ocean that provide food and shelter and spawning areas that can help our ocean thrive. Places like Cashes Ledge, located about 80 miles east of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. It’s a unique underwater mountain range which provides refuge for a vibrant, diverse world of ocean wildlife.
The steep ridges and deep basins of Cashes Ledge create ideal conditions for marine life as currents mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water at a depth exposed to sunlight. Home to the deepest and largest cold water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard, Cashes Ledge provides an important source of food and a diverse habitat for common New England fish and rare species such as the Atlantic wolffish. This abundance draws in even more ocean wildlife like migrating schools of bluefin tuna, blue and porbeagle sharks, and passing pods of highly endangered North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales.
Cashes Ledge is important not only to marine life but also to scientists hoping to learn about the health and function of New England’s oceans – many scientists believe that Cashes Ledge represents the best remaining example of an undisturbed Gulf of Maine ecosystem. As a result, scientists have used Cashes Ledge as an underwater laboratory for decades.
There are many other beautiful places in the Gulf of Maine, some we know about, and some we may not have identified yet. That’s why it’s essential that our regional planning process includes science-driven work to actively identify and protect these ecologically important areas. The basic chemistry of our ocean is rapidly changing, and if our ecosystems are going to adapt, they will need the space and time to do so. Reducing fishing, shipping, and other pressures on certain areas may be one of the best ways to give them these.
Sometimes hardy New Englanders take perverse pride in the bad weather we endure. But that didn’t stop us from getting very concerned when Sandy headed our way last October. And it didn’t help to prevent the tragic losses that piled up during the Blizzard of ’78, which formed off the coast of South Carolina 35 years ago today, then pounded New England for two days after that.
The Blizzard of ’78 was really more of a winter hurricane than a blizzard. And not just a hurricane, but a “bomb” – a meteorological term that refers to how quickly pressure fell during the storm’s formation. People were caught unprepared for the rapidly deteriorating conditions, leading to dozens of fatalities on land and at sea. Not only were thousands of people stranded on the roads, unable to get to safety, but the suddenness of the storm took mariners by surprise as well. In his bestseller Ten Hours Until Dawn, New England author Michael Tougias tells the riveting and tragic story of what occurred as several vessels rushed to the aid of a heating oil tanker that was taking on water after running aground in Salem Sound. The tanker was fine in the end, but the Can Do, one of the boats that attempted to provide assistance, was not – sinking with all hands lost.
The overall devastation from the storm was enormous. Tougias describes the aftermath well:
“In Rockport, cars were flung into the Old Harbor along with a house. Bearskin Neck houses were crushed, then ripped by the seas, including the red wooden building known as Motif #1, a popular subject for artists.”
“Up and down the Massachusetts coast, seawalls were flattened and hundreds of residents became trapped in their houses, encircled by swirling water that prevented them from running to higher ground.”
“Particularly hard hit was Revere, just north of Boston and south of Salem… Three homes were totally leveled and several others suffered extensive damage from fire. However, it was the breaching of the seawall that did the most damage… The Beachmont section of Revere saw the worst devastation. Homes were bobbing down the streets, and many people thought they would literally be swallowed up by the sea.”
Sandy reset our collective notion of “storm damage” in the Northeast. Most of us will never forget the images that scrolled across our screens that awful night (those of us that didn’t lose power, anyway), of subway tunnels flooding and horrible fires and a dark, so dark, New York City. More than three months later thousands of people are still suffering without heat or homes in Sandy’s aftermath. Nobody was really prepared for the scale of Sandy’s ravages. But Sandy was not a complete surprise. There have been some notable forerunners.
We’ve had our share of big storms on the East Coast. The Blizzard of ’78, of course, stands out. And 1938 is legendary for the Hurricane of 1938, or “The Long Island Express,” which rocketed up the coast at an unprecedented 70 miles per hour, taking out communications as it went, preventing people in its path from getting warning about the cataclysm that was headed their way.
1991 was an especially bad year – bringing us Hurricane Bob, the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history at the time, in mid-August, and the unnamed hurricane that sprang, very bizarrely, from the “Perfect Storm” that fall, which damaged parts of New England even worse than Bob had.
We know these big storms will come our way from time to time. We also know that our seas are rising – simply put, as they get warmer they expand. Disturbingly, we have recently come to understand that the sea is rising much faster in the Northeast than the global average. The ocean is coming closer, and the big storms will keep coming as well. It’s time to get our act together and plan better for these big storms. We are weather-hardy in New England, but we are also smart enough to get prepared.
Hopefully it will be a very long time before we have to find out how ready we are for the next big storm – how well we have learned from the Blizzard of ’78, from Sandy, Bob, and the others. But, just in case we don’t have long to wait, let’s roll up our sleeves, get prepared, and make a plan for the worst.
Walking the sandy beaches of the Cape and Islands, kayaking the marshes and salt ponds, or scrambling around the rocky shores of Maine will almost always provide three things: a great outdoor experience, a chance to explore and learn about nature and the amazing diversity of life, and a full review of the waste, refuse, garbage, and pollutants that we cast onto our rivers, shores, and oceans.
While being blessed with the chance to take a recent early morning hike around my favorite little Massachusetts island, I calculated an assortment of the following: the smashed remnants of dozens of lobster traps, several plastic and metal buckets, beer cans, more beer cans, an unopened plastic bottle of cranberry juice (I didn’t try to drink it), a refrigerator door which was probably 30 years old, plastic food wrappers, auto oil filters, boat oil filters, one pretty large piece of fiberglass part from someone’s unfortunately lost vessel, dozens of miles of discarded fishing line, nets and other assorted fishing gear, flip-flops, sandals and shoes, 50 gallon drums, an unused emergency smoke bomb, about two dozen assorted rubber gloves (mostly lefts), about one dozen assorted rubber boots (mostly rights), a vast amount of the highly predictable but still depressing plastic bottles, a few glass bottles, an oddly-placed large chunk of asphalt, a metal chair, some random pieces of wood pallets and tree stumps, two umbrellas, pesticide spray bottles, one display of typical latex birthday party balloons, and two separate displays of very fancy Mylar celebratory balloons.
While shocking in its abundance, it was still a fairly standard composition of junk. Policy makers refer to this aspect of ocean management as “marine debris.” Honestly, I think we can just call it “ocean garbage.” Ocean garbage is a longtime and ever increasing problem. The type of materials we put into waterways and on our beaches in the modern era tend to be more toxic and long-lived than the flotsam and jetsam of past centuries. The debris floating across the Pacific from the terrible tsunami that devastated the coast of Japan last year has brought some attention to the problem, as has the media report so the massive garbage patches. Believe it or not, even the thousands of tons of stuff from a single event such as the tsunami is dwarfed by the annual build-up of daily deposits.
A challenge this broad really does require broad coordination and collaboration. The National Ocean Policy provides the forum for state officials, federal agencies, municipalities and other ocean user groups to help tackle the threat of marine debris. Regional ocean planning is certainly a great tool for coordination in New England.
Condensed from the original post on CLF.org. on 9/13/2012. Photograph by Mixy Lorenzo.
“I love diving with makos, but they have a very different behavior than other sharks. They come in appearing to be more agitated. They’re much more hyper and jacked up.” – Brian Skerry
Mako sharks are built to move. They are very acrobatic – sometimes leaping high into the air – and are also extremely fast. Some scientists think they are the fastest fish, possibly going over 50 mph at times. (Fun fact – makos are one of the only “warm-blooded” fish, which helps explain why they can move so fast, even in colder water.) Makos need wide open spaces and healthy places to eat and reproduce. The health of our oceans depends on healthy top predator populations, and healthy top predators depend on healthy oceans.
Our nation has taken a major step forward in protecting the health of our oceans with the National Ocean Policy – which calls better management through agency coordination, science-based decisions and robust public and stakeholder involvement. One important priority of the National Ocean Policy is to protect ocean habitat and wildlife while supporting sustainable new and traditional uses of our ocean.
Regional ocean planning and ecosystem-based management are two other key components of the National Ocean Policy that can go a long way in protecting our top predators. Regional ocean planning is a process that brings together all our ocean stakeholders – from fishermen to whale watchers, from beachgoers to renewable energy developers – to help us figure out how to share the ocean sustainably. This process helps all New Englanders use and enjoy our ocean and coasts while making sure we protect ocean wildlife and habitats and maintain the benefits these resources provide for us all.
For an example of how regional ocean planning can protect marine wildlife, check out this blog about endangered North Atlantic right whales and shipping lanes.
Collecting and sharing good data, and using it to help make ocean management decisions, are some of the keys to succesful regional ocean planning. If you are wondering how this might apply to mako sharks, check out this app from NOAA that allows fishermen to share information about caught and released makos – to literally put that shark on the map. NOAA says “Overfishing is occurring on the North Atlantic shortfin mako shark population. By releasing shortfin mako sharks that are unintentionally caught or caught for sport, fishermen can lead the way for conserving this shark species.” Now that sounds like some good planning.