What do lobster fishermen, recreational boaters, research scientists, family aquaculture businesses and renewable energy developers have in common? They’ve all pulled up a chair at a common table to address important decisions being made about our ocean, through a process called ocean planning.
Last week, nearly 30 ocean users from five coastal, New England states came to Washington, D.C., to talk about the Northeast regional ocean plan with Members of Congress and the National Ocean Council at the White House.
Count Massachusetts as the latest state to take a step towards fighting ocean acidification. Last week I attended a forum hosted by ocean champions Congressman Bill Keating (MA-9th) and Massachusetts State Representative Tim Madden (D-Nantucket) at the Woods Hole Research Center. While there, I learned about a state bill sponsored by Rep. Madden to form a commission that will guide the state’s response to ocean acidification.
The Poets’ Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has put on nearly 50 performances of its show Albatross, based on “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ocean Conservancy supports efforts to protect all marine life, including sea birds like the albatross, so a partnership with The Poets’ Theater seemed natural. We even have an albatross in our logo!
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that tells the tale of a lost sailor and his crew who are helped out of the Antarctic by an albatross. Despite the aid, the mariner kills the giant bird. The mariner then loses his entire crew, suffers great storms, and even faces manifestations of death as punishment for his crime against nature. The mariner is cursed to forever tell his tale as warning to others. Albatross follows the immortal mariner’s travels 300 years later in the year 2015.
“Ocean acidification is a pocketbook issue here. It’s about dollars and cents and jobs,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell in Massachusetts at Monday’s conference on Ocean Acidification and Southern New England. Organized by the Woods Hole Research Center, this workshop brought together fishermen, planners, ocean acidification experts, and policymakers to jumpstart action on ocean acidification. Mayor Mitchell noted, “There is no more appropriate place to discuss ocean acidification” than in New Bedford, where smart fisheries management has led to a scallop boom. In fact, the city is the sea scallop harvest capital of the U.S. and its port consistently brings in the highest commercial fishery revenue in the country each year.
The workshop began reviewing the science of ocean acidification as it relates to Massachusetts’ oceanography and fisheries. There’s still a lot to learn, particularly about how iconic fisheries like sea scallops and lobster respond to ocean acidification. But it’s clear that there is a lot to be worried about in New England. Seawater acidity is greater in these waters today than it was 35 years ago.
Earlier, I wrote about coastal and marine spatial planning and the tools necessary to effectively implement it. Today though, I wanted to discuss the regions and industries that are already putting these ideas to good use.
At the state level, Washington, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island have already created comprehensive ocean plans, and several other states—such as New York and several states along the Gulf of Mexico—are starting to do the same thing. This is a great start, but the ocean does not obey state lines. As a result, regional partnerships are essential in facilitating coordination between federal, state, tribal and local entities.