Waves of Change: An Interview with Ocean Frontiers producer Karen Meyer

Dec 11, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Those who say coordinated and collaborative ocean management can’t be done have yet to see the world through Karen Meyer’s eyes. Karen is the Executive Director of Green Fire Productions and the director and producer of Ocean Frontiers. This groundbreaking movie showcases the real-life experiences of fishermen, conservationists, energy companies, shipping interests, farmers, and local community leaders in four areas of the country who worked together to improve ocean health and the management of our oceans and coasts:

  • Recognizing that their fishing grounds were in jeopardy if they didn’t start planning better, the community of Port Orford, Oregon, united to create a unique Community Stewardship Area that encompasses not only their fishing grounds, but also the upland watersheds that drain into them.
  • A group farmers in Iowa headed to the Gulf of Mexico for a fishing trip to see why the Gulf needs to be protected from the nutrients that flow off Midwestern farmlands into the Mississippi River, and on to the Gulf, where they create enormous dead zones. “I guess I didn’t realize the value of it (the fishing industry) and how important it is” says one farmer, in a series of moving interviews. Some creative and effective nutrient management measures are being implemented across Iowa, with the full support of the farmers that use them – who feel like they have an obligation to not harm their downstream neighbors.
  • An extremely contentious conflict on the coral reefs of the Florida Keys (at one point a Marine Sanctuary Director was hung in effigy) involving the seemingly incompatible uses of tourism, recreational and commercial fishing and diving, and resource conservation led to a difficult but ultimately successful planning process and the creation of a special set of marine zones that could only have happened with the full involvement of all the stakeholders. As one commercial fishing representative said “It really worked out in our best interest that they’re protecting these resources because what they protect helps us in the long run.”
  • Right here in New England’s own Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary the unlikely allies of shipping industry representatives, natural gas companies, conservationists, and scientists came together to work on the difficult problem of shipping traffic around Boston striking and killing endangered whales. After careful and thorough research on the feeding habits of the whales, the shipping lanes in and out of Boston were re-routed to avoid the areas most heavily used by the whales. In a success story that is one of the best examples of regional ocean planning in New England  we find a blueprint for future ocean use decisions.

Karen talked to us recently about the film, and some of the outstanding stories of collaborative ocean management she has documented in Ocean Frontiers. Thousands of coastal residents, governmental leaders, and ocean users are seeing Ocean Frontiers in venues from theaters to the US State Department to home viewing parties. You or your group can host a screening, or find one near you here.

Robin: What is your goal for Ocean Frontiers?

Karen: To share the ocean conservation success stories that are unfolding across the country so that we can all learn from these ocean pioneers and begin replicating their successful approaches in our own communities. Together we are moving in a positive direction. We are educating ourselves about what works and incorporating the lessons learned as we move forward with regional ocean planning. More than a film, Ocean Frontiers is a campaign designed to inspire people to better care for the ocean, for the good of all.

Robin: What was it like talking with people in small towns and rural areas like coastal Oregon and Midwestern farming regions about ocean planning? How did they receive the idea?

Karen: We were talking with people in places where ocean planning was already in the works or actively underway – people who had seen positive results from ocean planning. So, they were happy to share their experiences and insights to help others in different regions where people are just embarking on ocean planning.

One thing we heard often was that people were resistant or concerned about ocean planning at the beginning – and then they realized that this could affect their use of the ocean, so it made sense to be involved. Through the course of ocean planning, when it was done well, people came away with a strong sense of ownership about how the ocean was being managed. They saw their input reflected in decisions that were made, they were proud of the collaboration among all decision makers and stakeholders, and they felt strongly they were ensuring a healthy ocean and healthy communities.

Robin: Who have you seen benefit from regional ocean planning?

Karen: In the Florida Keys, as one example, it’s been all of the stakeholders as well as the ecosystem – the coral reefs and the fish. The stakeholders include: commercial and sport fishermen, the dive industry, recreational boaters, the charter boat industry, scientists – and ultimately everyone who lives in or visits the Florida Keys.

Robin: What is your favorite ocean planning success story, or the one that surprised you the most?

Karen: The commercial fishing town of Port Orford, Oregon is especially significant to me. The town depends on natural resources for their economic livelihood: timber was big here, and commercial fishing makes up 60% of their economy now. The people of Port Orford show us that we can change the way we do business, we can have an environmental ethic around the way we fish and that this could be the key to maintaining a way of life and the economic engine of our coastal fishing towns. The Port Orford community has been willing to address the problems brought on by the boom and bust of the fishing industry and take some risks in pursuing the triple bottom line. They are thinking big, by looking at the entire ecosystem of where they make a living – land and sea – and they designated the Port Orford Community Stewardship Area that encompasses state and federal waters of their historic fishing grounds as well as the watersheds that feed into the nearshore.

Robin: What kind of responses do you get in the surveys you pass out after your screenings?

Karen: There’s been a phenomenal response to Ocean Frontiers. More than 80% of the people surveyed after watching Ocean Frontiers express not only a better understanding about ocean planning, but an intention to participate in ocean planning.  People tell us that they are thrilled to see that collaboration among competing interests is possible – and they see that it’s vital to our success. People respond strongly to the solutions portrayed in Ocean Frontiers and have let us know that they are tired of the doom and gloom stories we so often hear. Witnessing examples of deeply entrenched conflicts where different groups of people could never imagine working together, and then eventually finding solutions that address both economic and environmental concerns is invigorating and motivates the audiences to strive for the same.

Robin:  What has been the best Ocean Frontiers event so far?

Karen: The premiere in Port Orford, Oregon. Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, First Lady Hayes and Republican and Democrat leaders in the state legislature attended and in their opening remarks, all spoke as one, affirming the vital link between healthy oceans and healthy communities. It was a thrill to have this kind of a kick-off for Ocean Frontiers, which set the stage and the tone for all of the events to follow. To date, we have worked with 365 partners to organize 150 events for 10,000 people in 27 states and 7 countries.

Robin: What was it like presenting Ocean Frontiers to the US State Department?

Karen: We were honored to be invited to present Ocean Frontiers to the State Department. They are interested in the film because it highlights how industries, governments, and citizens can work together and find solutions to pressing ocean issues. Their work is primarily international so it was exciting to bring these stories from across the US to them and introduce them to the inspiring work taking place here.

Just going into the State Department and seeing so many people from all over the world there, the pictures of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lining the hallways, it was impressive and an experience I won’t soon forget!

Robin: Who would you most like to see Ocean Frontiers?

Karen: President Obama

Waves of Change: Planning for New England’s Healthy Tourism Economy

Nov 29, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


One Million DollarsWhales, fish, clean beaches, healthy oceans – they all create jobs and huge economic benefits for our region. Just like many other resources, marine wildlife and New England’s ocean are under extreme pressure and could benefit from good planning in order to thrive.

Regional Ocean Planning is a process which can help us better coordinate the increasing demands on our ocean resources while taking care to ensure the health of the things we love – and the things that people love to visit. Need proof? Whale watching is not just a wonderful way to spend a few hours – it’s also a great driver for our coastal economy. Consumers value whale watching  at about $60 per day, beach trips at $20 per day, and a day of recreational fishing at over $200 per day. Need more proof? Here are just a few more examples of how tourism is good for our economy:

  • In 2010 direct spending on travel and tourism in Massachusetts alone was over $15 billion.
  • Marine recreational fishing trips and related expenses generated about $1.8 billion for the New England region in 2009.
  • In Rhode Island, Tourism is the state’s fourth largest industry, generating over 66,000 jobs and $4.9 billion in spending as of 2009.
  • Even with only 18 miles of ocean beach New Hampshire’s tourism industry is the state’s second largest.
  • In Massachusetts, without the jobs generated by the tourism industry, state unemployment would have been as high as 12% in 2010, instead of 8.5%.

Nationwide, despite a still recovering economy, travel and tourism generated new jobs 84% faster than the rest of the U.S. economy in 2010.  Visitors have long traveled to New England to see coasts, local agriculture, forests, and natural landscapes, a history that stretches back to the early 1800s.  In rural New England, tourism jobs now exceed jobs generated by farming and forestry, and tourism constitutes the largest industry in northern New England.

And many of these tourism jobs are on or near the shore. Coastal zone jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector make up around a tenth of total coastal zone employment in New England states.

Percentage Total Employment Generated in the Leisure and Hospitality Sector in Coastal Zone Counties (Data from the National Ocean Economics Program):



New Hampshire


Rhode Island




















Clearly, our natural resources are good for business. But tourism jobs can’t be generated without whales and fish, without the healthy marine and coastal ecosystems where they live, and without clean beaches and water to swim in. Better ocean planning will help keep our economy thriving, and that’s something we can all support.

Superstorm Sandy Leaves a Lot of Questions

Nov 2, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

President Barack Obama hugs Donna Vanzant, the owner of North Point Marina, as he tours damage from Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, N.J., Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The full impact of this hurricane is still becoming known. The storm has taken at least 94 lives, including those of two small boys who were recovered after several days of searching. As a father of two young children this sent a shock wave through my psyche. I feel very fortunate that my extended family and friends along the Atlantic seaboard suffered no more than a power outage and a few lost roof shingles.

As if the floods of early 2010 and Hurricane Irene weren’t enough, the latest photos and news accounts from New Jersey and the New York City area create a smashing realization that the really massive hurricane disasters, the Katrina-like disasters which take years to recover from, aren’t just relegated to the Gulf coast and the Deep South. New England, New Jersey and the other Mid-Atlantic States, and even inland towards the Great Lake states, are all going to have to create new contingency plans for hurricane season.

The immense size and increasing ferocity of the storm’s descent on New England could be both felt and measured. On Monday afternoon a little before 1:00pm the wave height at Cashes Ledge, as indicated by its resident weather buoy 80 miles off the coast of Portland, registered 15.1 feet. About one hour later the wave height was up past 23 feet. This was about the time the trees outside my office in Washington DC started to shed small branches and the same time I’m on the phone with colleagues in Boston over 400 miles away and we are all experiencing the same storm. Do the effects of climate change create a storm such as Sandy or only increase its size and strength? Is that even a pertinent question anymore?

After a decade and a half of the issue of climate change slipping further off the edge of the political and public debate, we see media outlets this week claiming its resurgence. Bloomberg Businessweek gets the full story. The Washington Post has two columnists noting that the climate change issue is back. And, is if timed to make a couple of points, Mayor Bloomberg himself made climate change the centerpiece of his endorsement of the President. Will Sandy really help shift the dialogue, or will the climate deniers and polluters just double down?

Our reaction in the wake of the Superstorm can provide a clear indication of the future and how quickly we can embrace a more realistic, mature approach to crisis management and recovery. Can we start with an honest assessment and some better planning? Or are we going to be stuck – still – in the blatantly self-serving political posturing that avoids real measures to address climate change and its exceptionally well-predicted impacts? There are number of us in New England who both love the ocean and love to use it, and believe that better scientific information and a better process to site new and replaced infrastructure is a great direction to go. We need to develop clean energy sources. We need a healthier ocean and protected habitat. We need existing and new coastal businesses and ocean industries.  The National Ocean Policy is now ready for full implementation. Is there better time to start?

Ocean Planning – New England Leads the Way

Nov 1, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

The multiple uses of our coasts and ocean require coordinated planning.

Ocean planning is a practice proudly developed in New England. We’ve often written about the success of the Massachusetts Ocean Plan and the Rhode Island Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), as well as ways that ocean planning already works in New England. Now we are excited to announce a new network of ocean users supporting the National Ocean Policy. CLF has joined together with dozens of groups throughout New England, including the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Surfrider Foundation, Massport, the New England Aquarium, Sierra Club chapters, and the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association to help build a sustainable future for New England’s ocean, coasts, and the communities that depend on them.

Founded to support the development of the nation’s first regional ocean plan, the New England Ocean Action Network (NEOAN) brings together individuals and organizations from the region’s environmental community, educational and research institutions, fishing industry, clean energy field, recreational ocean users, and other industries and stakeholders to advocate for a healthy ocean and thriving economy.

What does this diverse group of people have in common? We all share a belief that regional ocean planning can help us coordinate our activities while minimizing and mitigating conflicts among ocean users and protecting healthy ecosystems. Visit NewEnglandOceanAction.org to find out more about who we are and to learn about regional ocean planning.

New England’s coast and ocean are among our region’s greatest economic, environmental, and cultural assets – bringing over $16 billion annually to our region’s economy. Safeguarding the natural environment and improving the management of our coast and ocean through a comprehensive ocean planning process will help to grow our region’s coastal and maritime economy, restore and protect ocean and coastal ecosystems, and recognize and acknowledge New England’s unique maritime heritage.

This is why NEOAN supports, monitors, and comments on efforts to develop a comprehensive, region-wide ocean planning process and will advocate for the development of a plan that:

  • Is developed through an open and transparent process that includes the full participation of New England’s ocean and coastal users and coastal communities;
  • Uses the best available scientific, economic, and cultural data; legal information; and local knowledge;
  • Acknowledges and recognizes the economic and cultural importance of the commercial and recreational fishing industries, as well as other historical ocean users;
  • Supports the sustainable development of both our ocean resources and our local and regional economies;
  • Seeks to minimize the impacts of human-induced climate change and ocean acidification;
  • Maintains adequate federal funding for ocean planning efforts;
  • Fosters cooperation between federal, tribal, state and local agencies and governments;
  • Protects, restores and maintains clean coastal waters and healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of human communities and marine wildlife;
  • Educates ocean users, the public, regional decision makers and stakeholders about the need and value of a comprehensive regional ocean plan and planning process.

A good plan needs a good planning process, and a good planning process gives everyone a seat at the table and a voice. NEOAN will work to advocate for an open, transparent, and participatory planning process and will work with stakeholders and the public to help them understand the planning process and the importance of participation. We invite the participation of other ocean users groups in NEOAN. Contact NEOAN for more information at thriving@newenglandoceanaction.org.

Waves of Change: Taking on the Threat of Ocean Garbage

Sep 13, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Trash on a New England beach

Walking the sandy beaches of the Cape and Islands, kayaking the marshes and salt ponds, or scrambling around the rocky shores of Maine will almost always provide three things: a great outdoor experience, a chance to explore and learn about nature and the amazing diversity of life, and a full review of the waste, refuse, garbage, and pollutants that we cast onto our rivers, shores, and oceans.

While being blessed with the chance to take a recent early morning hike around my favorite little Massachusetts island, I calculated an assortment of the following: the smashed remnants of dozens of lobster traps, several plastic and metal buckets, beer cans, more beer cans, an unopened plastic bottle of cranberry juice (I didn’t try to drink it), a refrigerator door which was probably 30 years old, plastic food wrappers, auto oil filters, boat oil filters, one pretty large piece of fiberglass part from someone’s unfortunately lost vessel, dozens of miles of discarded fishing line, nets and other assorted fishing gear, flip-flops, sandals and shoes, 50 gallon drums, an unused emergency smoke bomb, about two dozen assorted rubber gloves (mostly lefts), about one dozen assorted rubber boots (mostly rights), a vast amount of the highly predictable but still depressing plastic bottles, a few glass bottles, an oddly-placed large chunk of asphalt, a metal chair, some random pieces of wood pallets and tree stumps, two umbrellas, pesticide spray bottles, one display of typical latex birthday party balloons, and two separate displays of very fancy Mylar celebratory balloons.

While shocking in its abundance, it was still a fairly standard composition of junk. Policy makers refer to this aspect of ocean management as “marine debris.” Honestly, I think we can just call it “ocean garbage.” Ocean garbage is a longtime and ever increasing problem. The type of materials we put into waterways and on our beaches in the modern era tend to be more toxic and long-lived than the flotsam and jetsam of past centuries. The debris floating across the Pacific from the terrible tsunami that devastated the coast of Japan last year has brought some attention to the problem, as has the media report so the massive garbage patches. Believe it or not, even the thousands of tons of stuff from a single event such as the tsunami is dwarfed by the annual build-up of daily deposits.

There are some good folks, however, who are not going to take this problem lying down. One tremendous collaborative effort is the annual International Coastal Cleanup which is organized each year by our good friends at the Ocean Conservancy. The 2012 ICC, as it is known, happens this Saturday, Sept. 15. Thousands of people around this country and others will volunteer for a day to gather up the coastal and ocean garbage and responsibly deposit it in landfills. You can help out too!

A challenge this broad really does require broad coordination and collaboration. The National Ocean Policy provides the forum for state officials, federal agencies, municipalities and other ocean user groups to help tackle the threat of marine debris. Regional ocean planning is certainly a great tool for coordination in New England.

Waves of Change: Making a Dam Plan for Fish Habitat

Sep 7, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Image Copyright USFWS

An engineer, a politician, and a fish walk into a dam. The engineer says, “We could have built it bigger.” The politician says, “We should have built it cheaper.” Fish don’t talk, but if they did, they probably would have asked for a ladder.

Dams were built in the 18th century to power mills, and in the 1940s to provide cheap electricity and irrigation opportunities – when they were considered great achievements of engineering that would benefit generations to come. Across the nation, dams have been utilized for energy production, flood control, irrigation, and water storage. But, if they are not appropriately planned, sited, and maintained  dams can have devastating impacts on fish populations.

In the early 1900s rainbow smelt supported a robust recreational and commercial fishery in the Northeast, but today NOAA Fisheries Service has listed them as a species of concern in this region. One of the problems in the Northeast has been the loss of suitable spawning habitat due to development like dams, which can prevent fish from moving upstream. But now there may be light at the end of the tunnel for rainbow smelt in southern Maine.

At the end of July, the Great Works Regional Land Trust (GWRLT) announced the removal of Shorey’s Brook dam and the restoration of the Shorey’s Brook on Raymond and Simone Savage Wildlife Preserve in Eliot and South Berwick, Maine.  Fish surveys are already showing rainbow smelt as far upriver as the former location of the dam and further upstream will be suitable for spawning habitat. If other dam restoration projects across the U.S. can be taken as indicators, rainbow smelt may soon be taking advantage of upstream habitats.

Larger scaled restoration efforts are also progressing in Maine. Earlier this summer, Talking Fish reported the demolition of the Great Works Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine – a restoration effort that will open thousands of miles of upstream habitat to Atlantic salmon and other fish for the first time in almost two hundred years. And, here at CLF we have been working to restore native alewives – an important prey species in both marine and fresh waters for many fish, mammals, and birds – to the St. Croix River in Maine. Read more about that work here.

The pressures on our fisheries are enormous, with overfishing, bycatch, pollution, ocean acidification, and habitat destruction all playing a part. We need a better way to plan in the face of all these different stressors. Partnering among local, regional, state, and federal stakeholders in the Northeast alone has culminated in 299 projects to improve and restore fish habitat in rivers, marshes, and estuaries.

New England’s need for habitat conservation and restoration is great, and other regions have similar challenges. Restoring damaged ecosystems to ecological and economic productivity is a fundamental component of the National Ocean Policy, and one more reason why the National Ocean Policy is right for New England.

Waves of Change: Planning for Harmful Algal Blooms

Aug 21, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

How’s the weather? That question is much easier to answer than it used to be. Back in the old days farmers didn’t have the Weather Channel or iPhone forecasts and could only rely on their own knowledge.

Photo by W.S. Walker via Sandy McClearn

Early forecasts of the weather improved because of balloons that were sent up into the atmosphere to gather information – today similar devices are sent up every 12 hours around the world. Combined with satellite and other data, accurate weather forecasts are now at our fingertips. A hundred years ago, it took months to produce inaccurate forecasts.

For farmers, the ability to make plans on accurate weather predictions came down to dollars and sense – a torrential rain or early frost could destroy crops and carry a heavy economic cost. A big storm event could even affect regional and global food prices. The art of weather forecasting took leaps forward when regional monitoring was networked together in the early 1900s.

Shellfish harvesters, like farmers, depend on a crop that grows in waters where other creatures live – some of which, like harmful algae, can have a devastating impact. Generally, algae are essential for shellfish crops – they bloom in the spring and summer and provide food for clams, scallops, oysters, mussels, and other shellfish. But under some conditions, algae can contain toxins that accumulate in shellfish and make them dangerous when humans or other animals eat them. Just as weather predictions about severe storms help farmers on land, forecasting systems that can predict harmful algae could help prevent millions of dollars in damage for shellfish harvesters and farmers. In the Gulf of Maine 23 million dollars was lost as the result of a harmful algae bloom event in 2005.

New research in the North Atlantic Ocean is helping scientists understand why and when blooms of algae occur. Robots that glide to depths of 1,000 meters underwater or hover near the surface collect information on a regional basis. These devices are now being deployed in the Gulf of Maine.  In the Great lakes region, NOAA recently issued its first ever harmful algal bloom forecast. In the Northeast, networks of stationary buoys currently track data and provide forecasts about a variety of physical conditions.  Someday, ocean gliders may be as common as weather balloons, and harmful algae blooms might be as predictable as the weather.

Using the best available data to help make decisions is one of the cornerstones of Regional Ocean Planning. Investing in new technologies and research is essential for developing accurate forecasting systems that can help shellfish harvesters and distributers avoid costly pollution runoff from big storm events. This type of planning and coordination can help us find better ways to manage our valuable ocean resources in the face of the many changes that are already happening to them.

Healthy Sharks – Healthy Oceans

Aug 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Shortfin Mako

I love diving with makos, but they have a very different behavior than other sharks. They come in appearing to be more agitated. They’re much more hyper and jacked up.” – Brian Skerry

Mako sharks are built to move. They are very acrobatic – sometimes leaping high into the air –and are also extremely fast. Some scientists think they are the fastest fish, possibly going over 50 mph at times. (Fun fact – makos are one of the only “warm-blooded” fish, which helps explain why they can move so fast, even in colder water.) Makos need wide open spaces and healthy places to eat and reproduce. The health of our oceans depends on healthy top predator populations, and healthy top predators depend on healthy oceans.

Our nation has taken a major step forward in protecting the health of our oceans with the National Ocean Policy – which calls better management through agency coordination, science-based decisions and robust public and stakeholder involvement.  One important priority of the National Ocean Policy is to protect ocean habitat and wildlife while supporting sustainable new and traditional uses of our ocean.

Regional ocean planning and ecosystem-based management are two other key components of the National Ocean Policy that can go a long way in protecting our top predators. Regional ocean planning is a process that brings together all our ocean stakeholders – from fishermen to whale watchers, from beachgoers to renewable energy developers – to help us figure out how to share the ocean sustainably. This process helps all New Englanders use and enjoy our ocean and coasts while making sure we protect ocean wildlife and habitats and maintain the benefits these resources provide for us all.

For an example of how regional ocean planning can protect marine wildlife, check out this blog about endangered North Atlantic right whales and shipping lanes.

Collecting and sharing good data, and using it to help make ocean management decisions, are some of the keys to succesful regional ocean planning. If you are wondering how this might apply to mako sharks, check out this app from NOAA that allows fishermen to share information about caught and released makos – to literally put that shark on the map. NOAA says “Overfishing is occurring on the North Atlantic shortfin mako shark population. By releasing shortfin mako sharks that are unintentionally caught or caught for sport, fishermen can lead the way for conserving this shark species.” Now that sounds like some good planning.

Waves of Change: Making a Plan for Renewable Energy

Aug 8, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Perry Marine & Construction workers lower the second of four turbines into place in ORPC's TidGen™ turbine generator unit (TGU) which will be installed at ORPC's Cobscook Bay project site in August. Photo courtesy of ORPC.

Ceaseless, predictable, powerful – the tide is all of these things. We may be adding “illuminating” to that list as our nation’s first grid-connected commercial tidal energy project gets underway off the coast of Maine and begins to light up homes sometime in August. As part of a renewable energy plan, tidal energy may hold great promise for a cleaner energy future. It’s a relatively simple process to convert the kinetic energy of tides into power for the grid (not much different from a wind turbine, really) – but the process of siting and building tidal energy farms in our coastal waters is much more complex.

Cobscook Bay off Eastport, Maine may be one of the most ideal spots in the US for tidal energy. It sits at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy – which has the most extreme tidal fluctuations in the world (an average of 24 feet). It also enjoys a high level of biodiversity – with an abundance of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl, as well as finfish, lobsters, scallops, and clams. Critically endangered North Atlantic right whales use the area. Tourism, fishing, and aquaculture are important parts of the economy here. There are many stakeholders involved in an area where so many depend on the ocean for their livelihoods as well as for tourism and recreation.

The Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project from the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) has been ramping up since 2006. The company is set to deploy its first turbine in mid-August, and hopes to add several more in the coming decade.

In general, the process to site and build a tidal energy project involves the input and coordination of several federal, state, and local government agencies working with numerous existing energy production and environmental laws, as well integrating input from citizen and environmental groups, the energy industry, fishermen, and other stakeholders. Maine recently streamlined the process for developing tidal energy projects, and is now the only state on the East Coast with a formal agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure federal and state coordination in the regulation of this new industry. But the process is still quite involved.

Complicated, right? Well, if this small commercial project in Eastport and others like it are successful, tidal energy is likely to grow in our coastal waters, and along with it, the challenges of planning for it. Recent U.S. Department of Energy reports find that ocean current power resources could potentially provide up to 250 terawatt-hours of electricity per year nationally (our current demand is around 4,000 terawatt-hours of electricity per year). Given the likelihood that ocean energy production is going to grow rapidly and dramatically, we need a better way through the process of planning for new energy development while protecting our valuable ocean resources and traditional uses.

The development in Eastport, Maine might provide some useful lessons in how to approach a project like this at a community level, using the principles of Regional Ocean Planning.

Chris Gardner, Executive Director of the Eastport Port Authority, said ORPC began working with the Port Authority and with local stakeholders from the very beginning of the process in 2006. The Port Authority saw the project as potentially benefitting the community economically, but were “very watchful about how they did their business and if they did it the right way” said Gardner. Fishermen were especially concerned about the project – worried that structures or construction activity would interfere with fishing grounds. According to Gardner, the company took the approach that it was ORPC’s own “responsibility to prove their case.”

John Ferland, ORPC Vice President, talked to me about what the company did to garner community support and ease concerns about tidal energy. First and foremost, he emphasized the importance of communicating with local residents and getting them involved as much as possible. “We have had so many meetings over the last several years. For a while there were a couple of community style meetings a year, and all sorts of private interactions and group meetings in between – city council meetings, selectmen, lots of informal meetings” said Ferland. “The State of Maine Ocean Energy Task Force cited ORPC’s efforts as a model for other ocean energy developers to follow,” he added.

The Cobscook Bay Resource Center facilitated a series of stakeholder and community meetings, as well as provided detailed information about the project on their website. (There is a really interesting clip from the PBS “Sustainable Maine” video with interviews of many of the people involved in and potentially affected by the project, as well as footage of how the turbines will work.)

As a result of conversations with local fishermen, ORPC was able to site the project in an area that wouldn’t impede their fishing. As one fisherman said in the PBS video, “You gotta be careful of what goes where.” In Cobscook Bay, Ferland said, tidal energy is ideal in places that are not important to fishing due to the nature of the ocean bottom and the high currents.

In addition to meeting with stakeholders, ORPC has been working with the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences on fisheries concerns, and with the New England Aquarium to minimize future potential impacts on marine mammals. Whenever possible, said Ferland, they prefer to hire local citizens as employees, local subcontractors as service providers, and have trained local residents as certified marine mammal monitors as part of the NOAA NMFS-required data gathering effort.

Any major human activity in our oceans and coastal waters is going to involve making some decisions about the best place for certain uses. Regional Ocean Planning is the process of defining these uses and potential conflicts, and seeking the optimal path of sustainable development and resource protection. Using the principles of ecosystem-based management, gathering and sharing the best possible data about ocean uses and impacts, and making sure every stakeholder has a say in the process – that’s Regional Ocean Planning in a nutshell.

The phrase I heard over and over as I was researching tidal energy in the Gulf of Maine was, “It’s a good idea, as long as it’s done right.” Regional Ocean Planning can be used to help manage ocean uses the right way – by involving stakeholders at the very beginning of a project, and keeping them engaged throughout, by examining the social, economic, and environmental effects of the project, by filling the data gaps needed to make science-based decisions, and by making the process adaptive so that changes can be made as new information comes in.

The current project in Cobscook Bay might be the beginning of major tidal energy development in the Gulf of Maine. The process of planning and implementation will get more complicated as the scale gets bigger – there will be more stakeholders involved, more potential environmental impacts, and more activities in the water. It is important to have a process that works for everyone.

We all have a lot to gain from the full implementation of the National Ocean Policy. For more information about the need for Regional Ocean Planning check out these blogs about sea level rise, coastal pollution, and protecting endangered whales from ship strikes.