The Blog Aquatic » smart ocean planning News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New Case Study Shows How Smart Ocean Planning Helps Put Businesses in the Fast Lane Wed, 02 Jul 2014 20:45:52 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen

Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

This weekend, millions of Americans will head to the beach to celebrate Independence Day—and get stuck in traffic trying to get there.  But we aren’t the only ones getting tied up as we try to use the ocean: Businesses are too.  New business projects in any setting require jumping through some regulatory hoops, but projects in the ocean are notoriously more difficult to navigate. Unlike projects on land, the ocean is managed on a sector-by-sector basis and by multiple agencies (over 20 on the federal level, not counting states). Projects on the sea must often go through a time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating authorization process by multiple levels of government. For many businesses, this can mean months to years of time spent waiting instead of generating new jobs and revenue.

In a new case study released last month, Seaplan (an independent ocean science and policy group) looked at whether smart ocean planning can help.  They reviewed an undersea cable project in Massachusetts – where an ocean plan is already in place for state waters – and asked whether the ocean plan helped speed project approval.  After interviewing both the project administrators and government regulators, the answer was a resounding yes. Click here to read the full study.

Massachusetts was one of the first states in the nation to recognize the importance of smart ocean planning to help manage its coastal resources and promote balance between new and existing ocean uses. In 2009, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan was adopted. The first project under the plan was a collaboration between Comcast and NSTAR Electric Company: the Martha’s Vineyard Hybrid Cable project. When this new cable—a hybrid bundling electricity with fiber optic cables—is finished, it will link Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard. The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan allowed the Martha’s Vineyard project to be looked at comprehensively, so that regulators could streamline the permitting process.

So how exactly did smart ocean planning smooth out the process? Seaplan narrowed it down to three reasons:

  • Anticipation: When authorities developed the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, they used data and maps to make decisions ahead of time on which types of activities are best suited for certain locations. Because these decisions were already laid out, the cable project administrators were able to consider those decisions in project design. This clear direction gave Comcast and NSTAR the incentive to bundle their cables, therefore maximizing use of the space that the Plan dedicated for submarine cables.
  • Streamlining: To make smart decisions, the Plan utilized an online, interactive mapping tool called the Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS).  Government staff were able to use this tool to easily identify potential impacts on the project’s suggested geographic area. Then, using siting standards laid out in the Plan,  they found an ideal route for the cable. This, in addition to the Plan’s requirement for higher interagency communication, drastically cut down the time spent by agencies on reviewing the proposed project site.
  • Protection: The Plan helps decision-makers understand where sensitive marine resources like eel grass exist so that they can avoid those areas when siting projects. And by combining the Comcast and NSTAR projects into one, the cable has a smaller footprint on the ocean floor.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hybrid Cable Project is just the first of many projects to come. It’s expected that as the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan matures, the benefits of smart ocean planning for both businesses and government regulators will increase.


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High Tide on the Hill: Stakeholders Ask Congress for Funding to Prepare for a Changing Ocean Wed, 19 Mar 2014 23:00:42 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of coastal and marine spatial planning, or smart ocean planning. To make smart ocean planning work, decision-makers need accurate data on all the ways the ocean is used. Regional Ocean Partnerships coordinate with stakeholders and officials to collect this data. The Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West Coast regions have already made this data publicly available through data portals.

The ocean economy supported over 2.6 million jobs and contributed $223 billion annually to the U.S. GDP in 2009. However, billions of dollars are lost every year as a result of changing ocean conditions, extreme weather events, and climate hazards that impact the many sectors of the ocean economy. Fortunately, the data that Regional Ocean Partnerships collect and share can be used by decision-makers to make smart planning decisions that promote the resiliency of coastal communities to these threats.

Congress will soon begin negotiations on the FY15 budget bill, and that’s why we’re asking legislators to appropriate $10 million to Regional Coastal Resilience Grants. These grants can be used to support the Regional Ocean Partnerships. With so much relying on our ocean economy and so much to be gained by preparing for coastal threats, $10 million for Regional Coastal Resilience Grants is an incredibly reasonable investment in our ocean future.

So, last week, Ocean Conservancy brought some of the stakeholders that represent our ocean economy to Washington, D.C. to talk to their Congressional members about funding Regional Ocean Partnerships. From offshore wind developers to fishermen, stakeholders already know how critical smart ocean planning and Regional Ocean Partnerships are to our ocean future.  Above is an awesome picture from one of our many great meetings – this is Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island with Bill McElroy of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski, Sailors for the Sea’s Heather Ruhsam and Ocean Conservancy’s own Christine Hopper. Thanks for making Regional Ocean Partnerships a priority, Representative Cicilline!

How you can help

Are you one of the hundreds of millions of people that use our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes? Whether you depend on the water for your livelihood or your leisure, you deserve a stake in our ocean future. If you’re interested in keeping informed on smart ocean planning and how you can get involved, please contact Jayni Rasmussen at with your name, your location, and why the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes matter to you.

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Effective Ocean Planning Needs to Be Coast-to-Coast, Not Beach-to-Beach Fri, 14 Mar 2014 11:00:34 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen

Over the last week, I’ve been discussing what coastal and marine spatial planning (“smart ocean planning”) is, what we would need to do to make smart ocean planning work, and what regions of our country have already started the process of making smart ocean planning a reality. In this last installment of our video series, I want to discuss the National Ocean Policy and what’s happening in the United States at the federal level.

Smart ocean planning is a bottom-up process, but it still needs federal support. Coastal states and the federal government each have jurisdiction over their own individual portions of the ocean, and the rules as you move across jurisdictions can both vary greatly and conflict with each other. Because of this, increasing coordination between state governments, the federal government and the stakeholders using the ocean is essential. Without a collaborative process that brings all the relevant players to the table, our decision-making will be disjointed and ineffective in ensuring a healthy ocean for our children and grandchildren.

The National Ocean Policy is the Obama administration’s attempt to foster as much coordination between the states, the federal government and stakeholders as possible. It provides a coordinating blueprint that takes into account all the moving pieces, and a support network through the National Ocean Council. States already work both independently and together on a voluntary basis, but collaboration with federal authorities, who have jurisdiction over many of the uses that occur in the ocean, is necessary to make the best management decisions. Regional planning bodies, now forming as part of the implementation of the National Ocean Policy, provide a venue for this coordinated planning.

For more information on what progress is being made on the national level, check out this short interview with Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, senior advisor to Ocean Conservancy:

If you can’t watch the video on this page, click here.

Read more blogs from this series:

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A Crowded Ocean Needs a Coordinated Plan Fri, 07 Mar 2014 21:28:03 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen

Photo: Nick Harris via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, we wrote about how Congress’ 2014 budget compromise eliminated grant funding for Regional Ocean Partnerships. Following the release of the president’s budget earlier this week, we thought we’d revisit the issue of ocean-use planning and discuss why Congress should reinstate funding.

Everyone knows the ocean is a big place, but it sure is getting crowded these days. Commercial and recreational fishermen who have lived off the sea for generations are now competing with offshore wind farms that are getting so large they can be seen from space. Whales that have made a comeback from near extinction are once again threatened by increasing deadly interactions with large ships that cross into the whales’ migratory paths. If we aren’t careful, there will be a traffic jam off our coasts and a lot of unnecessary conflict.

Coastal and marine spatial planning, or ”smart ocean planning”, is a tool that brings all of those users together so that everyone can have a say in making smart, ecosystem-based management decisions. Smart ocean planning identifies areas in the ocean most suitable for various types or classes of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses and preserve critical ecosystem services.

The beauty of such a process is that an increase in coordinated ocean management decisions between state and local governments and stakeholders also leads to increased ocean health today and for future generations.

In the coming days, we’ll be explaining more of what goes into smart ocean planning and what we’ll need to make it succeed. For now though, watch this short interview with Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, a marine biologist and senior advisor to Ocean Conservancy, for more information on the basics of ocean planning.

If you’re unable to see the video, you can go here to watch it.

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North America’s First Floating Wind Turbine Raises Need for Smart Ocean Planning Wed, 07 Aug 2013 20:00:43 +0000 Susan Olcott VolturnUS turbine

Photo: Susan Olcott / Ocean Conservancy

When I first saw the VolturnUS, North America’s first floating wind turbine, it was smaller than I had imagined. But once I realized it was just a 1/8 scale model, I knew the potential implications for this new technology were huge.

Developed by the University of Maine’s DeepCWind Consortium, the launch of VolturnUS could mark the beginning of a new industry in Maine. “This project is a first-of-its-kind design to help develop more cost-effective offshore wind technologies,” says Habib Dagher of the DeepCWind Consortium.

Making this happen will be complicated both financially and technologically, but the real question is: How do you decide where to put these turbines?

Back in 2008, the state established an Ocean Energy Task Force to identify ways in which the ocean energy industry could be jumpstarted to provide for cleaner energy sources and local jobs. The task force also wanted to help establish Maine as a leader in the ocean energy arena.

One of the task force’s recommendations was the identification of up to five sites along the coast that would be appropriate for testing ocean energy devices. More than 50 meetings and less than a year later, the agencies involved designated three test sites in Maine’s coastal waters. This was a lot of work to decide what to do with an area less than 5 square nautical miles, which is relatively small compared to the coast of New England.

Collecting data and gathering stakeholder input about ecological and human uses along the entire New England coast is the heady task recently begun by the Northeast Regional Planning Body, an intergovernmental council created by the National Ocean Policy.

The idea of regional ocean planning is to put siting exercises like Maine’s into context by making them part of a region-wide set of publicly accessible information that can be used to inform decisions about what happens where off our coasts, including where to potentially put new uses like renewable energy.

This will mean that ocean businesses won’t have to reinvent the wheel by collecting data and information that are already out there. It will also help us to make the best decisions possible for the long-term ecological and economic health of our coasts.

“Proactive planning can ensure that conflicts with current users are minimized,” says Paul Williamson of the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative. “Planning will also provide market stability and certainty, reducing risks associated with ocean energy projects and encouraging the massive investment that such projects will require.”

Another goal of regional planning is to coordinate the agencies involved in project permitting so that it is clear to those interested in developing new uses how to proceed.

We need a clear map not only of the resources and uses out there, but also of what needs to happen to get a project in the water. This is something that regional planning can help to address.

The Northeast Regional Planning Body is currently reviewing feedback on their draft planning goals to provide a framework for how they are going to tackle this herculean task. Their next meeting will be this fall.

Meanwhile, new maritime technologies will continue to develop, and we would be wise to create a plan designed to help guide them and to be adaptable for whatever might come next.

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Video: Protecting Our Ocean Through Marine Spatial Planning Tue, 30 Jul 2013 18:15:24 +0000 Guest Blogger
This is a guest blog post from Jennifer McCann, Director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Coastal Resources Center and Director of Extension Programs for Rhode Island Sea Grant.  It is part of an ongoing video series on the value of smart ocean planning.

This film highlights the vital connection between economic prosperity and healthy oceans by sharing perspectives on efforts being made to manage ocean environments so they remain healthy and able to support the food, job, transportation and energy needs of economies worldwide.

Watch the other films in this series:


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Happy Anniversary to Vital Ocean Policy Sat, 20 Jul 2013 14:00:45 +0000 Andreas Merkl humpback whale breach

Credit: Phil Wrobel / Photo Contest

It was just three years ago yesterday that President Obama signed the Executive Order establishing the National Ocean Policy. We’ve come a long way so far, and we are starting to realize the policy’s considerable promise.

As I’ve written about before, the National Ocean Policy and the subsequent Implementation Plan are historically significant. President Obama recognized that a healthy ocean is a productive ocean and thus established the policy to ensure that we work together to balance use and conservation.

This policy directly addresses the key challenge of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us. The ocean, of course, is at the center of every aspect of this challenge—food, energy, climate and protection of our natural resources.

Our ability to manage impacts on the ocean will make a crucial difference in making this planet work for 9 billion people. As the ocean is asked to provide in so many ways, it is inevitable that we need to prioritize, coordinate and optimize. That’s where the National Ocean Policy—a set of common-sense principles to help protect our ocean resources—comes in.

This anniversary offers an opportunity to look ahead. Read more at National Geographic’s News Watch blog.

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