“Aspirational…inspirational…perspirational…” These were the words embraced and repeated often by members of the Northeast Regional Planning Body during a public planning session in Mystic, Connecticut, on June 3 and 4.
The Northeast Regional Planning Body was first convened in 2012, following President Obama’s 2010 Executive Order announcing the National Ocean Policy, which called for the development of regional ocean management plans nationwide. The goal: to create a uniquely New England ocean management plan. Growing pressures on our ocean resources will only continue to increase, and a plan will both unify New England states and guide decisions about how our oceans are used-including recreation, shipping, telecommunications, and renewable energy, for example. The Northern Atlantic has long been a precious resource for our region, and now is the time to ensure that it will continue to provide for generations to come.
Since 2012 the Northeast Regional Planning Body, an advisory council consisting of state and federal officials, tribal leaders, and other stakeholders, has met regularly to shape this landmark plan. This June’s meeting was the culmination of nearly three years of planning towards the development of an ocean management plan focused solely on New England.
Over the course of the two-day meeting, I was thrilled to witness the conversation make a marked shift from the “bird’s eye” planning perspective of the past three years towards a more “nuts and bolts” conversation, as the planning body focused on a threefold mission:
- To synthesize years of planning and begin to determine exactly what the ocean management plan draft should look like;
- To further specify goals for ecosystem-based management, which aims to strike a balance between protecting our oceanic habitats and marine life while also preserving human activities; and lastly,
- To begin to consider the metrics that would ensure each goal’s successful implementation.
With these objectives in mind, the planning body reviewed an enormous collection of three-dimensional maps, which illustrated New England’s coastal trade routes; habitats for marine species, underwater grasses; and promising sites for offshore wind turbines.
The impressive swath of data further bolstered a lively discussion of the best ways to determine and define ecologically important areas, followed by a more focused conversation around identifying metrics for the implementation of each goal, which are necessary for a comprehensive and successful regional ocean management plan.
With draft deadline looming, energy builds
To say the least, reviewing such an immense amount of information sparked a lively discussion by the most engaged and animated Northeast Regional Planning Body yet. Each member came to the meeting with a looming date at the forefront of their collective mind: January 2016, the month in which the planning body is required to present a draft ocean plan for public comment.
Knowledge of the impending deadline had a rousing effect for the planning body, and several members spoke to the immense amount of work required to meet it. The call to “roll up shirt sleeves” was coupled with the desire to not fall short with a plan that will sit on a shelf, but that instead will set a new marine planning precedent — defined by tangible, clear goals, stakeholder input, and collective agency and state buy-in.
New England is closing in on its final year of planning for the Northeast Regional Ocean Management Plan. Two more meetings will occur in October and November ahead of the January deadline for a draft plan. The public will get the chance to comment on the draft in April 2016, with the final plan expected to be submitted to the National Ocean Council in June 2016.
For CLF, this latest meeting of the Regional Planning Body marks a critical milestone not only in the process of creating the plan but also for our decades of advocacy for smart, science-based management of our oceans. As an active participant in the development of the first state ocean plans in the country – in Massachusetts and Rhode Island – we’re excited to be a part of the development of this first regional ocean plan.
The Northeast Regional Ocean Management Plan will not only have a positive impact on our vital fisheries, habitats, and marine water quality, but also on the coastal communities that rely on the ocean for their recreation, economy, and way of life. Nearly three years of teamwork and collaboration have resulted in impressive progress, and CLF applauds the hard work and dedication of the Northeast Regional Planning Body. The finish line is approaching!
CLF will continue to be at the table during the planning process, and we will provide updates to you throughout. But better yet…join us at the next meeting!