In 2008, Governor Deval Patrick signed the landmark first-in-the-nation Oceans Act mandating the state to develop and implement a science-based comprehensive ocean management plan to protect ocean wildlife and habitat and promote sustainable use of the ocean and its resources. The following year, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) issued the MA Ocean Management Plan—the first comprehensive ocean management plan in the United States. The Oceans Act requires the ocean plan to be updated every five years to ensure that the plan adapts as new information and science develop, policy goals evolve, and underlying conditions change (e.g., due to the effects of climate change).
Hence, in early January 2015, Massachusetts issued the 2015 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. Major highlights of the revised plan include updates to the plan’s science and data foundation, identification of preliminary offshore renewable energy transmission corridors, establishment of standards for offshore sand and gravel extraction for beach renourishment, and a schedule for ocean development mitigation fees.
In the works since 2013, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) completed the revised plan with assistance from a 17-member Ocean Advisory Commission and a nine-member Ocean Science Advisory Council. CZM also convened six technical work groups focused on habitat, fisheries, sediment resources, recreational and cultural services, transportation and navigation, and energy and infrastructure. Incorporating information generated by the work groups, the 2015 plan updated the scientific and data foundation of the plan and further refined the designated habitat and wildlife protection areas. Over the next five years, resource managers can use this data to make responsible and scientifically sound decisions about how we use and manage the Commonwealth’s ocean waters.
Addressing the opportunity for clean renewable offshore wind energy, the 2015 plan identifies preliminary transmission routes to bring electricity from the two federal wind energy areas off the southern coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island to landside grid tie-in locations. The Commonwealth expects to conduct further scientific study of these preliminary routes before any final delineation.
The 2015 plan also proposes new environmental standards for offshore sand/gravel extraction—a potential new and controversial use of the state’s offshore public trust resources—to mitigate increasing coastal erosion due to sea level rise and increased storm intensity caused by global warming. To guide the Commonwealth’s continued deliberation about offshore sand extraction, the Ocean Plan provides for the appointment of an Offshore Sand Task Force to provide guidance and advice to the Commonwealth about this issue.
Lastly, the plan, as required by the Ocean Act, establishes a schedule for ocean development mitigation fees to be banked in the state’s Ocean Resources and Waterways Trust and used for planning, management, restoration, or enhancement of marine habitat and uses.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the revision process was the opportunity for extensive and ongoing public and stakeholder participation through hearings and workshops held across the state. This demonstrated the kind of transparency and engagement that is possible—and necessary—in effective decision-making regarding our ocean resources.
To be effective, ocean plans need to be living documents that evolve with new information on and scientific understanding of our ocean environment. Planning like this will start bringing the benefits of comprehensive ecosystem-based ocean planning closer than ever and none too soon given the already-measured impacts of climate change. Bravo to Massachusetts for putting this principle in motion in the 2015 Ocean Plan and for its continued leadership in ocean planning and management!