Waves of Change: Planning for a Noisier Ocean

Jan 29, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Shipping and whales on Stellwagen Bank Have you ever been at a noisy party and couldn’t hear the guy next to you? Or been on your phone when a fire truck went by and you couldn’t hear the conversation? Or gone to a rock concert and had a “hearing hangover” for hours afterwards? This sort of thing happens in the ocean, too, except marine life can’t just leave the party or put in earplugs (well, most of them can’t, anyway).

Sound travels really well in seawater, but light does not, so ocean animals rely on sound for a variety of reasons. For example, New England’s oyster toadfish will signal his mate that he’s got a nest ready for spawning by making a “boat-whistle” call. Lots of other fish make and use noise not only to attract a mate, but to scare off predators, or tell other fish to stay out of their territory. Check out this fun set of fish calls to hear more. Marine mammals make noise, too – whales use sound to hunt, navigate, avoid predators, bond with their young, and generally communicate with each other.

But our oceans are getting noisier and it’s harder for marine life to use sound they way they need to. Too much noise can harm ocean animals in a variety of ways. It can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, make it hard for the animal to find food, separate a mother and calf, or even lead to strandings or death. Shipping, ocean dredging, seismic surveys for energy development or seafloor mapping, military exercises, and fishing – all can make for a noisy ocean environment.

Researchers are only just starting to make progress in mapping out our ocean noise, to help us get a handle on how to reduce the impact of it on wildlife. For an example, look at these new maps of ocean noise in the North Atlantic. Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty about what kinds of sound are worst for marine life, and at what levels.

There is not a robust regulatory mechanism for addressing ocean noise pollution in a comprehensive way. The procedures for addressing harm to marine mammals differ among various sound producers—for example, commercial shippers, fishermen and aquaculture operators, the military, the oil and gas industry, and the academic community. In general, ocean and coastal resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often-conflicting laws and regulations.

We need to do better, and we can.

An example of how we can learn to better coordinate ocean noise and wild animals is right here in the Gulf of Maine. Our critically endangered North Atlantic right whales need to be able to hear and use sound even more than they need to be able to see. Researchers from the Cornell University Bioacoustics Research Program have spent the past few years studying whales and noise in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. They have found that today’s whales, as compared to 50 years ago, live in a world of “acoustic smog,” and that “cumulative noise from all the shipping traffic is making it difficult for all the right whales in the area to hear each other most of the time, not just once in a while.”

The researchers suggest that this new knowledge can help adapt current management tools and be used as part of “comprehensive plans that seek to manage the cumulative effects of offshore human activities on marine species and their habitats.”

They are on to something. This call for collaborative, data-driven, practical management is at the heart of Regional Ocean Planning. A good regional ocean planning process can help us coordinate our activities while minimizing and mitigating conflicts among ocean users and protecting healthy ecosystems. It is the process that recently helped researchers in Stellwagen Bank better protect whales from vessel strikes by shipping traffic. And it’s a process that can help us unravel the ocean noise puzzle – and better protect our hearing marine life, while continuing to develop our maritime economy.

Waves of Change: Who’s in Charge Here?

Jan 11, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Rules work better when we all understand them, but what happens when the rules overlap or conflict with one another? And, who is in charge of implementing all these rules anyhow? When it comes to the rules of the road we all learn the same common rules during the drivers’ education course. But, what happens when it comes to the rules which manage and protect our ocean and coasts?

Ocean and coastal resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws and regulations. We use our coasts and ocean for so many things – fishing, boating, swimming, tourism, shipping, renewable energy – and there are no easy guidelines about who is in charge at any given moment, in any given spot.

Fortunately, we are on our way to making this puzzle of governance a bit easier to solve.

The National Ocean Policy directs federal agencies to coordinate management activities, implement a science-based system of decision making, support safe and sustainable access and ocean uses, respect cultural practices and maritime heritage, and increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.

Improving the way in which federal and state agencies work with each other and the public is a distinct goal of the National Ocean Policy. To do this, the NOP presents a set of nine priority objectives for policies and management actions and establishes a new National Ocean Council (NOC), which will be responsible for developing strategic action plans for these priority objectives and leading coordination and collaboration between federal agencies.

A well coordinated group of agencies can better serve the people they are supposed to serve, create the jobs and economic benefits we all need, help us enjoy and safeguard our waters, beaches, and wildlife for our families and our future.

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.