At a given time, our air is filled with thousands of planes intersecting each other’s flight paths in a coordinated fashion. The same is true for our ocean and its industries – and a new map shows just that. The New England Ocean Action Network (NEOAN), a group of organizations supportive of ocean planning, created the map to illustrate just how many different activities occur in the ocean – ferry routes, shipping lanes, sanctuary boundaries, fishing grounds, whale habitat and proposed wind energy areas, to name a few. Imagine trying to coordinate these uses so that they don’t all end up on top of each other or harm to the ecosystem on which they depend.
This coordination is one of the goals of the National Ocean Policy. Each of nine regions around the country will establish a Regional Planning Body (RPB), comprised of representatives from state and federal agencies, tribal members and the regional fishery management council. These regional groups will be guided by local stakeholders and the public and will work to create a plan to guide the various uses of the oceans for its member states. The New England RPB will be holding its first meeting next week – the first official meeting of any around the country – to begin the creation of a plan for its coasts and oceans.
Mapping the uses and resources in a region is an enormous task in and of itself. To create the most thorough picture, input from those who use the oceans and know them best is essential. To that end, the RPBs will not only be filling in the maps, so to speak, but will work with a variety of people who care about the ocean for different reasons from recreation to storm protection to jobs.
New England is ahead of the game in many respects – two of its states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, already have plans for their state waters. They have also begun coordinating across state boundaries to identify potential wind energy areas in both state and federal waters. The states created maps that allow planners to overlay things like areas of sensitive habitat and areas of high wind energy in order to avoid siting new developments in ways that would damage ecological resources. Now we need to create a regional ocean atlas that can do the same for all New England waters.
Given the variety of ocean uses in New England, along with new developments, such as renewable energy, it is not surprising that it is the first region to kick off the regional planning process. Much work lies ahead and the evolution of maps like these should become decision tools used to ensure a sustainable future for all our ocean resources.