Community Voices: Planning for the Future

A typical day at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire, finds it packed with ocean enthusiasts: children and adults touch native starfish, learn from interactive exhibits about ocean habitats, and explore tidal pools along the protected New Hampshire coastline.

The Center doesn’t just aim to teach visitors about the Gulf of Maine, it invites them to explore – to run their fingers through the coarse sand and dip their feet in the chilly saltwater – all in a larger effort to cultivate long-lasting stewards for this precious resource.

As an active advocate for the just-released Northeast Regional Ocean Plan, the Center sees ocean planning as a way to bridge their ocean education mission with the growing necessity to understand the North Atlantic as a complex system with intersecting uses, not just to manage resources better, but as an important way to advance ocean health.

“Ocean planning is a logical priority for the Seacoast Science Center, for a ‘seven generations back, seven generations ahead’ perspective,” says Center director Wendy Lull. “Ocean planning is taking our history and using it to understand our future. What are the intended consequences of the management decisions we make today?”

The massive humpback whale skeleton that stretches above the Center’s entrance serves as a daily reminder of the consequences a lack of collaboration can bring. The whale, named Tofu, was tagged and tracked as part of a study to understand humpback whale movement and quickly became a beloved, if unofficial, mascot for the Center. But, at just two and half years old, Tofu was struck and killed by a ship whose route cut through well-known whale feeding grounds. Had the route been located even a mile off, it could have avoided the whale habitat altogether.

If we continue to manage the ocean without connecting and sharing across industries and communities, argues Lull, water quality may decline, fisheries could suffer, our coastlines will be impacted, and our iconic marine wildlife will no longer find our region a welcoming place to call home. Ocean planning on a regional scale reminds us that, by looking holistically at the ocean using science, data, and technology, small changes like shifting a shipping lane can result in positive impacts for all. Says Lull, “Given the complexity of the ocean, why wouldn’t we take everything we know and use it to do things better?”