Welcome to Faces of Ocean Planning, where we’ll take you behind the scenes to feature people and organizations who use the ocean in a variety of ways and are engaged in the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan process.
Rich Delaney knows that in order to protect coastal environments, marine mammals, and ecosystems, you must first understand them: What are the unique needs of these places and the animals that depend on them, and what is the best way to protect them?
Answering these questions is at the core of Delaney’s work as President and CEO of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. PCCS has been engaged in this endeavor, focused in Cape Cod, for almost four decades (they’ll celebrate their 40th anniversary on June 11, 2016 – which also happens to be Jacques Cousteau’s birthday). As a private nonprofit, their focus on research, public education, and policy aims to inform high-level decision makers on smart environmental management and conservation – decisions that are best made with the best possible science at the table.
Some of the specific areas of research conducted by the organization are around population studies of endangered marine mammals, studying coastal dynamics (especially related to climate change effects); and water quality assessments for coastal communities and habitats.
Delaney notes that PCCS doesn’t focus on science solely for research’s sake: Their priorities are developing research that results in action.
With this goal in mind, PCCS is well-suited to engage in the Northeast Regional Planning Body (NRPB) process currently happening in New England, as the region is working diligently to draft a regional ocean management plan. Having supplied data for the state-level Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan – including a 30-year humpback whale data set and a 25 to 30-year right whale data set – PCCS continues to provide similar data to the NRPB to support the first phase of the regional planning process.
“An ocean plan is only as good as the data that supports it,” Delaney says. “A science-based plan makes the finished product more credible.” Indeed, a collaborative effort with all players at the table is a good thing – but if no real data is present to assist in solid decision-making, marine ecosystems could be put at risk.
Establishing a long-term balance
Delaney says that conflict is inevitable among ocean users, and that the environment often loses in these conflicts. As human presence and impacts continue to grow, the need for scientific research will remain critically important into the future.
A plan that delineates and outlines all ocean uses may mitigate these conflicts, as long as it outlines a sustainable, long-term balance between ecosystems and human processes.
Delaney says that the NRPB can only make sound decisions with the availability of sound science and a “compatibility study,” which will identify appropriate areas for specific uses, while producing minimal conflict between stakeholders and ecosystems. Because PCCS’s data is open and available to the public, Delaney says it is an excellent source of data for the Northeast’s planning phase, since the NRPB has also made a commitment to transparency and openness throughout the process.
The regional ocean plan, according to Delaney, is “a grand experiment,” and he is optimistic that the process will break down silos and allow all key stakeholders to come to the table to make joint decisions. He also hopes that it will clarify agency roles in the ocean management process.
“As we know better, we do better,” Delaney says. “A regional ocean management plan allows for this process to be transformational over time.”
As we near the finish line for a completed Northeast Ocean Management Plan–expected in the fall of 2016–data provided by PCCS will better inform improved shipping routes, wiser ecosystem management, and provide a reminder that we share the Gulf of Maine equally with a diversity of unique species. Indeed, PCCS embodies the ethos, “research that leads to action”–a belief also shared by those developing the Northeast Ocean Management Plan.