R.I. plays key role in nation’s first ocean plan

R.I. plays key role in nation’s first ocean plan

The Westerly Sun

NARRAGANSETT — Rhode Island played a key role in creation of a regional ocean planning document, the first to be submitted to federal authorities. Members of the Northeast Regional Planning Body, which includes 10 tribes, 10 federal agencies and the Fishery Management Council, submitted the completed plan to the National Ocean Council on Oct. 19.

The Northeast Regional Planning Body is one of nine regional groups to produce ocean plans in compliance with a 2010 Executive Order by President Barak Obama, creating the National Ocean Council to coordinate ocean uses and planning throughout the country. As part of the national effort, the states were directed to develop regional plans.

The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council is the state lead on the Northeast plan, which took 3 ½ years to complete. Council Executive Director Grover Fugate said ocean planning expertise previously gained from the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan, or SAMP, paved the way for the regional plan.

“The Northeast, because of the state efforts that had already preceded it in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, was well-situated to go forward and do that, so we were one of the first regions to put in place the planning capability that we would need to go forward,” he said. “We provided our planning expertise in stakeholder involvement and other areas to help, particularly the federal government, understand how to go about this as we went forward.”

The Conservation Law Foundation has also had a key role in the regional planning process. Priscilla Brooks is the foundation’s Vice President and Director of Ocean Conservation.

“I think that the Northeast Ocean plan is a game-changer for the management of our oceans here in the Northeast,” she said. “It brings unprecedented coordination among state and federal agencies that manage our oceans, while also providing a seat at the management table for Native American tribes and stakeholders of all kinds, including commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, coastal businesses, utility companies, offshore renewable energy developers. All of these entities were involved in the development of the ocean plan.”

The keystone of the national ocean plan is an extensive database on the ocean and ocean uses from the shore out to the 200-mile limit of United States jurisdiction. Federal agencies will now be required to incorporate information from the ocean data portal in their decision-making. Fugate said the CRMC had contributed data it collected for the ocean management plan.

“The data portal has taken and developed some very interesting data sets and makes those available to anybody,” he said. “The federal government is committed to using those in the pre-screening process. So as projects are coming in, they will use it. The amount of data that’s now available in that portal is just incredible compared to when we started the Ocean SAMP, because there was virtually nothing offshore. We actually had to fight federal agencies, and even go around federal agencies to get the data necessary to do the Ocean SAMP….That’s a huge leap forward.”

Brooks said the data base would be indispensable in planning ocean conservation efforts.

“It brings forward the most comprehensive and publicly-accessible ocean science database ever assembled for the region, and that’s going to enable the development of maps that identify places that are important for ocean wildlife and habitats, and traditional ocean uses.”

With offshore ocean uses such as energy production increasing, it has become even more important for states and the federal government to coordinate management efforts and consult stakeholders.

“It tends to focus on the blue water issues — the offshore issues — and it tends to be focused a lot on the federal side, because once you get beyond three miles, obviously those are federal waters,” Fugate said. “Participating with the states and tribes to look at how do we make better decisions to try to preserve our offshore ocean health, and then also, how do we coordinate those decisions better?”

The National Ocean Plan is expected to be enacted before the Nov. 8 election, but Brooks said it will not matter if President Obama’s successor does not have the same degree of commitment to ocean planning, because the Northeast states’ planning tradition will persist regardless of who is in the White House.

“The stakeholders, the federal agencies and the states have first-hand experience with ocean planning and how much it can help manage our oceans, how much more effectively it enables us to capitalize on all the ocean has to offer by way of food, clean energy, transportation, recreation and jobs, while also ensuring that the ocean is healthy and thriving,” she said. “So I think that the region has really adopted ocean planning as the way to manage our oceans, so the region would continue to operate with the ocean plan in place and with the ocean data portal.”

The northeast ocean database is available at: http://www.northeastoceandata.org/about/


Twitter: @CynthiaDrummon4


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