Third Ocean Frontiers Film Highlights Ocean Management and the ‘Blue Economy’

The crew that brought us Ocean Frontiers: The Dawn of a New Era in Ocean Stewardship and Ocean Frontiers II: A New England Story for Sustaining the Sea is back with a third installment. This newest documentary showcases the progress of ocean management in the context of what it means to be responsible stewards of ocean resources as the ‘blue economy’ grows.

This spring, a number of venues will host screenings of Ocean Frontiers III: Leaders in Ocean Stewardship & the New Blue Economy to allow New Englanders to learn more about the recently approved Northeast Ocean Plan (and its Mid-Atlantic counterpart).

The film rides the waves of the plans’ final approval by the National Ocean Council late last year. It’s a powerful recap of the years-long effort to plan for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

According to Green Fire Productions, which produced the film, it “explores the intersection of national security, maritime commerce, fishing, and recreation, plus expanding industries such as offshore wind energy and aquaculture, coupled with scientific discovery. The film tells the story of how ocean planning helps us manage and balance all the uses of our ocean to keep it thriving for generations to come.”

While the first two installments focused largely on the concept of ocean management and how it applies in New England, the third film explores the effects of larger vessels and heavier maritime traffic coming through our port cities at a time when climate change is impacting the ocean’s ecosystems (and science is rushing to keep up). All of this, paired with new forays into offshore wind, aquaculture, and other emerging industries – and the activities of the armed forces charged with keeping our coasts safe – makes for an increasingly busy ocean.

In this context, coordinated ocean planning couldn’t have come at a better time. From Maine to Connecticut (and down to Virginia), an unprecedented collaboration of state and federal agencies and Native American tribes are working with new, publicly accessible ocean data and listening to the voices of local individuals and groups to keep national security strong, the economy growing, and to protect important ocean habitat.

The accessibility of the best available science and data is crucial, because it means that anyone can explore the intersection of various ocean uses and activities. (See for yourself at northeastoceandata.org how fishing, energy, recreational data and more can be layered to provide a basis for decision making.) This also means that local stakeholder voices play an important role in making sure the ocean plans are implemented in a way that honors our region’s storied and important ocean resources.

Screenings of the new film will take place throughout New England this spring. A March 9 screening is already sold out, so reserve your spot for another upcoming screening today: in Groton, Conn. (3/17 and 4/25), Belfast, Maine (3/21), Salem, Mass. (4/11), Chilmark, Mass. (4/20), Rockland, Maine (5/4), or Portland, Maine (5/18).

Ocean Frontiers celebrates the implementation of the Northeast Ocean Plan, and we encourage all New Englanders to attend a screening and to learn more about our region’s national leadership in smart ocean management.

Learn more about Conservation Law Foundation’s work in pioneering ocean planning here.

Check out the trailer here:

Historic Approval of Northeast Ocean Plan a Testament to Our Region’s Strength

In a historic moment, the White House announced today the official approval of the landmark Northeast Ocean Plan.

This approval by the National Ocean Council sets the Northeast Ocean Plan in motion and into the implementation stage – cementing New England’s legacy as a national leader for protecting and managing our oceans.

The plan is a game changer as our region has committed, on every level, to be smarter about how we collectively use our ocean’s resources. Based on the most comprehensive database of scientific and ocean use information ever compiled for New England’s ocean, as well as intensive stakeholder input, the Northeast Ocean Plan will effectively enable the region to capitalize on all the ocean has to offer – food, clean renewable energy, transportation, recreation, and jobs – all while ensuring that the ocean we all depend upon is healthy and thriving.

Ultimately, through a commitment to science and data-backed decision making, inclusivity, and better collaboration, the new ocean plan will result in increased economic success, fewer conflicts on the water, preservation of New England’s iconic ocean-based industries, and a healthier ocean for all.

A Plan for New England

With climate change upon us, smart ocean planning is more important than ever. The Gulf of Maine is now woefully in the spotlight, its waters heating faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. As conservation leaders for half a century, we at Conservation Law Foundation have witnessed profound changes in our ocean.

We’ll continue to invest in the implementation of the Northeast Ocean Plan, which includes a commitment from the state, federal and tribal members of the regional planning body to identify important ecological areas. We’ll work to ensure decision makers are aware of these areas and push for their protection in planning projects, which will help restore the ocean’s health and build its resiliency to climate change.

This is New England’s plan. Largely crafted by New Englanders, advocated for by New Englanders, and ultimately implemented by many who call this region home – New England’s values are embedded within this plan. No matter the challenges that face us, our region knows how to come together and make things happen – and with this strength, CLF will work to ensure the plan is implemented widely for the benefit of our coastal communities, marine life, businesses, and for future generations.

Read CLF’s official statement on the release of the Northeast Ocean Plan here.

Study Shines Light on Noise and Whale Songs

For decades, humans have been enchanted with the songs of the humpback whale. First recorded in the 1960s, these songs have long captured our imagination and were even central to mobilizing support for the ‘Save the Whales’ Movement throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Despite our fascination with humpback’s and their songs, however, there remain many unanswered questions as to why these whales are so musically inclined.

New research from scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has provided some fresh insight into the world of whale songs. In a paper published this month in the journal Biology Letters, Aran Mooney and his team researched two components of whale songs: sound waves and particle velocity.

Unlike sound waves (the force that vibrates your ear drums), particle velocity (the physical vibration of a substance as sound moves through it) has yet to be studied thoroughly and is not fully understood. While researching off the coast of Maui, Mooney’s team discovered that particle velocity produced by whale songs—originally thought to travel a few meters at most—might travel much farther than originally thought.

Mooney found that they could measure vibrations from 200 meters away, but suspects that they could be felt as far as one kilometer away.

Humpback Whales Live in an Ocean of Increasing Noise

Previous research has shown that humpback whales could be potentially sensitive to particle vibrations in the water column. Unlike many marine mammals, humpbacks’ ear bones are fused to their skulls, which could allow for their jaws to act as giant, mammalian tuning forks, picking up particle velocity produced by other humpbacks, and potentially humans.

The humpback whale’s hearing evolved over millions of years in an ocean environment wholly different from the one we are now witnessing.

Today, a host of altogether new and alien sounds ring throughout the ocean. Offshore oil and gas explorations use literally earth-shaking blasts fired from airguns dragged along the surface. The blasts are powerful enough to penetrate the planet’s crust and bounce back to the surface, releasing the signatures of pockets of hydrocarbons from deep within the rock.

You need not be exploring for oil and gas to be adding to the sonic landscape of the oceans, however. According to Jesse Ausubel, the director of the Human Environment program at the Rockefeller University, “A cargo ship is basically a large rock concert passing by.”

And humpback whales don’t seem to show any affinity for this human-made noise. There is evidence to suggest that humpbacks respond negatively to anthropogenic sound, often ending their songs or even changing their songs’ frequencies in order to be heard over the unending and ever-increasing industrial drone.

With new shipping, mining, and construction ventures happening all the time, and ocean noise doubling every two decades, Mooney and his team’s findings could spell more problems for humpback whales. Most human-made noise in the ocean is low frequency, which contributes to low frequency particle motion. From Mooney’s research, it seems humpbacks could be especially sensitive to this noise. While we humans may not be able to hear well underwater, these sounds could come as relevant communication signals for humpbacks and other marine mammals.

A Call for Ocean Planning

Looking forward, a growing understanding of humpbacks, their songs, and their hearing capacity will continue to inform how we interact with these mammals, but also how we should protect them.

Though Mooney’s study took place off the coast of Maui, it has many implications for our dealings with humpback whales here in New England. Every year, humpbacks migrate mammoth distances, passing through our coastal waters in the spring and fall months, as they move between their tropical breeding grounds and their polar feeding grounds.

For us to be informed and prepared enough to accommodate these whales, it will be essential to look toward ocean planning and its potential for informing our relationship to the ocean. One component of the Northeast Ocean Plan is its data portal, which will include data and findings about marine mammals that’s accessible to everyone, and will be especially key for those in decision-making roles.

In New England, ocean planning continues to be of utmost importance and we hope decision makers will continue to rely on it in order to protect humpbacks and other marine animals traveling along our shores. The recent submission of the Northeast Ocean Plan marked a serious step forward in how we relate to our ocean resources and it will certainly prove invaluable as we look to protect our neighborhood humpbacks.

 

The Future of Offshore Wind in New England is Bright

On a beautiful, brisk, and windy fall day last week, director of ocean conservation Dr. Priscilla Brooks embarked upon a cruise out to the Block Island wind farm for a close-up view of our nation’s first offshore wind farm.

The 13-mile ride was bumpy, but well worth it, Brooks said. Standing some 560 feet high, with a 490-foot wingspan (that’s more than twice the size of a Boeing 747’s wingspan), each GE Haliade turbine is massive in size and symbolism, signifying a turning point toward New England’s renewable energy future.

The turbines are expected to be turned on next month and will produce electricity to power 17,000 homes. Built by developer Deepwater Wind, the Block Island wind farm is monumental as the first-ever offshore wind farm in the United States. And it definitely won’t be the last: Deepwater Wind has additional plans for a larger farm within the same leasing area, called Deepwater One, which will be built in phases and could eventually generate enough power to serve New England and Long Island.

Priscilla Brooks
Vice president and director of ocean conservation Dr. Priscilla Brooks toured the Block Island wind farm last week ahead of next month’s “flipping of the switch” of the five-turbine wind farm.

New York Community Trust, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the John Merck Fund, Mertz Gilmore Foundation, and Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas hosted last week’s boat tour. Representatives from Deepwater Wind and GE Renewable Energy also attended the tour, describing the construction of the wind farm and GE’s state-of-the-art power generation technology.

During the trip, engineers could be seen working high up within the structures, conducting testing in preparation for “flipping the switch” that will make the wind farm fully operational within weeks.

Conservation Law Foundation has been involved in the development of the Block Island Wind Farm for many years, promoting local engagement and environmental consideration in the use of the Rhode Island SAMP – the state’s ocean plan – and as an advocate for the endangered North Atlantic right whale during the project’s pre-construction activities. And now, as the first-in-the-nation Northeast Regional Ocean Plan is set for approval, the Block Island Wind Farm will serve as a “how-to guide” for agencies, developers, the military, and others seeking to implement this new ocean management tool.

Upcoming Blog Series

In the weeks ahead, we’ll dive deeper into the formation of the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind farm, showcasing the steps taken to arrive at this history-making catalyst in New England’s clean energy future: We’ll see what it took to lay the groundwork for offshore wind in Rhode Island, beginning with a legislative mandate that was written by CLF; take a look at the role of ocean planning and bringing stakeholders together in the siting of the wind farm; hear from a local Block Island resident; and learn about CLF’s role in the future of offshore wind for New England.

Offshore wind energy in America is just beginning. When built with proper consideration of the marine life, communities, and other ocean resources in mind, offshore wind energy has the potential to change the game entirely in our quest to rely less and less on fossil fuels and more on clean, renewable energy.

The future is windy – which is to say the future is bright for New England’s renewable energy economy, environment, and for all of us.

Detangling the Risks of Fishing Line for Right Whales

We have many reasons to appreciate the role of modern technology in today’s fisheries. Electronics, equipment upgrades, and other technological advances have led to more efficient, effective, and economical fisheries. However, in the case of modern fishing line, these technological advances have at times come at a serious cost.

Unlike the natural hemp and sisal lines used in decades past, modern fishing line is made from polypropylene, a synthetic material that makes fishing lines and ropes much stronger and more durable than ever before.

Stronger fishing lines may lead to more effective fishing, but when animals – specifically the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale – encounter this fishing line, the risk of entanglement and death is high.

For endangered right whales, stakes are high

This threat to right whales has been the focus of Amy Knowlton, a research scientist at the New England Aquarium, for several years. In an article published by Canada’s CBC on fishing line and the risk for lethal entanglement, Knowlton is quoted saying how this risk is “the biggest threat to these animals right now . . . and unless we can fix it, they could go extinct.”

Knowlton describes how this fishing line frequently gets into their mouths when right whales come in contact with it, which causes them to panic and roll around in an attempt to get free. This motion only causes the line to wrap more around their body, and potentially their flukes, impairing their ability to eat and move.

The frequency of this type of entanglement is alarming, with more than 80 percent of the right whale population showing signs of scarring from synthetic fishing lines. Often, the whales cannot break free from the constraining fishing line because of the incredible strength of the new materials used to make it. This fatal entrapment is a leading cause of death for the already struggling North Atlantic right whale population.

Finding a balanced solution

Knowlton is optimistic about finding solutions for this problem, noting that cooperation and collaboration between the fishing industry and manufacturers could lead to the development of a material for lines and rope that can be strong enough for its intended purpose, but not enough to endanger the lives of right whales.

That all involved parties are invested in finding a solution to this problem exemplifies the foundation of effective ocean management that can be accomplished through a regional ocean plan. While this is just a small micro example of interested parties working together (the regional ocean plan won’t identify solutions for fishing line), on a macro level, these principles can be applied to better management of our ocean resources through collaboration and the use of data. With better information and enhanced coordination, we’re much more likely to be able to effectively identify solutions to these types of challenges.

Ocean planning – a process dedicated to finding solutions to problems before they happen by creating a framework to better anticipate needs, set priorities, and make decisions regarding regional ocean uses – has the potential to positively inform these important conversations.

On a small scale, Knowlton, the fishermen, and the industry are finding a solution to address this specific issue. But on a large scale, a developed ocean plan (that all ocean users abide by) can include acknowledgement of fishing grounds and right whale migration routes and other important factors, allowing for a better mutual understanding of what’s at stake – and pave the way for future decision-making that is better informed and more effective for all involved parties.

Conservation Law Foundation has been actively engaged in the ocean planning process in New England from the beginning, and is committed to ensuring that management measures include safeguards for ocean ecosystems. The Northeast Regional Ocean Plan draft will be available soon, and we all have a responsibility to take part it in it – for the sake of the endangered right whale, our fisheries and coastal economies, and our ocean ecosystems.

Read more about the current status of the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan.

Massachusetts Releases the MA Ocean Management Plan 2.0 – Leading the Nation in Comprehensive Ocean Planning and Management

In 2008, Governor Deval Patrick signed the landmark first-in-the-nation Oceans Act mandating the state to develop and implement a science-based comprehensive ocean management plan to protect ocean wildlife and habitat and promote sustainable use of the ocean and its resources.  The following year, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) issued the MA Ocean Management Plan—the first comprehensive ocean management plan in the United States.  The Oceans Act requires the ocean plan to be updated every five years to ensure that the plan adapts as new information and science develop, policy goals evolve, and underlying conditions change (e.g., due to the effects of climate change).

Hence, in early January 2015, Massachusetts issued the 2015 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan.  Major highlights of the revised plan include updates to the plan’s science and data foundation, identification of preliminary offshore renewable energy transmission corridors, establishment of standards for offshore sand and gravel extraction for beach renourishment, and a schedule for ocean development mitigation fees.

In the works since 2013, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) completed the revised plan with assistance from a 17-member Ocean Advisory Commission and a nine-member Ocean Science Advisory Council. CZM also convened six technical work groups focused on habitat, fisheries, sediment resources, recreational and cultural services, transportation and navigation, and energy and infrastructure. Incorporating information generated by the work groups, the 2015 plan updated the scientific and data foundation of the plan and further refined the designated habitat and wildlife protection areas. Over the next five years, resource managers can use this data to make responsible and scientifically sound decisions about how we use and manage the Commonwealth’s ocean waters.

Addressing the opportunity for clean renewable offshore wind energy, the 2015 plan identifies preliminary transmission routes to bring electricity from the two federal wind energy areas off the southern coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island to landside grid tie-in locations. The Commonwealth expects to conduct further scientific study of these preliminary routes before any final delineation.

The 2015 plan also proposes new environmental standards for offshore sand/gravel extraction—a potential new and controversial use of the state’s offshore public trust resources—to mitigate increasing coastal erosion due to sea level rise and increased storm intensity caused by global warming. To guide the Commonwealth’s continued deliberation about offshore sand extraction, the Ocean Plan provides for the appointment of an Offshore Sand Task Force to provide guidance and advice to the Commonwealth about this issue.

Lastly, the plan, as required by the Ocean Act, establishes a schedule for ocean development mitigation fees to be banked in the state’s Ocean Resources and Waterways Trust and used for planning, management, restoration, or enhancement of marine habitat and uses.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the revision process was the opportunity for extensive and ongoing public and stakeholder participation through hearings and workshops held across the state. This demonstrated the kind of transparency and engagement that is possible—and necessary—in effective decision-making regarding our ocean resources.

To be effective, ocean plans need to be living documents that evolve with new information on and scientific understanding of our ocean environment.  Planning like this will start bringing the benefits of comprehensive ecosystem-based ocean planning closer than ever and none too soon given the already-measured impacts of climate change. Bravo to Massachusetts for putting this principle in motion in the 2015 Ocean Plan and for its continued leadership in ocean planning and management!

Now is the Time to be Part of Ocean Planning in New England!

Amazing wildlife like this feeding humpback whale, gorgeous scenery, a natural playground to enjoy with our children – there are so many reasons to appreciate New England’s ocean. But there is also an unprecedented amount of change in the ocean right now: renewable energy has hit the water, our fisheries are in tremendous flux and some of our most iconic and economically important stocks are in true peril, our waters are rapidly warming and getting more acidic, and we are seeing accelerating coastal erosion in some of our most heavily developed shorelines.

 

The consequences of coastal erosion in New England are likely to be sever in the coming decades, as seen on the coast of Plymouth, MA. Photo by David L. Ryan of the Boston Globe.
The consequences of coastal erosion in New England are likely to be sever in the coming decades, as seen on the coast of Plymouth, MA. Photo by David L. Ryan of the Boston Globe.

 

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.”

 

 

Ralf Meyer, Green Fire Productions Creative Director, on location in Boston Harbor. Photo by Green Fire Productions.
Ralf Meyer, Green Fire Productions Creative Director, on location filming Ocean Frontiers in Boston Harbor. Photo by Green Fire Productions.

 

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!

Be part of the process! We are in the throes of a first-in-the-nation regional ocean planning process, and we need you to get involved! The Northeast Regional Planning Body is holding a series of public meetings throughout New England to tell people what’s going on in ocean planning and to find out what your questions and comments are. This process is so much more effective and meaningful when people who care about the management of our ocean and coasts get involved.

Stay Informed! We will keep bringing you stories about ocean planning here and at CLF.org. Check out the New England Ocean Action Network  to stay up on the latest planning news. NEOAN is a network of diverse groups – fishermen, surfers, aquariums, conservationists, renewable energy developers, and others – who all support the ocean planning process in New England.

Does New England’s ocean inspire you, comfort you, or leave you awestruck? If you care about the ocean, then make your connection with the sea part of our new ocean planning story.