Environmental Advocates Applaud Release of Comprehensive Ocean Management Plan for Massachusetts, First in Nation: Plan Provides Much-Needed Protection for Vulnerable Marine Wildlife and Habitat

Brian Barth

CONTACT:Priscilla Brooks, Conservation Law Foundation, (617) 850-1737
Karen Wood, Conservation Law Foundation, (617) 850-1722 or (978) 857-5389
Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon, (617) 962-5187
Jan Kruse, Mass Audubon, (781) 259-2134 or (781) 738-0034

BOSTON, MA (January 4, 2010) Environmental advocates applauded today’s release of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan as a giant step toward achieving enduring stewardship of the state’s ocean waters. The comprehensive Ocean Management Plan, the first of its kind in the country, is intended to appropriately balance the protection of vulnerable marine wildlife and habitats with responsible ocean uses. The plan, mandated under the Massachusetts Oceans Act that was signed into law by Governor Patrick in 2008, was developed by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs under the direction of Secretary Ian Bowles. The Massachusetts Plan represents a critical first building block for the Obama Administration’s effort to develop a National Ocean Policy built around regional ocean management plans.

Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Audubon, members of the Governor-appointed Ocean Science Advisory Council and Ocean Advisory Commission, respectively,  praised the final plan’s scope and substance, especially its strong protections for special, sensitive and unique marine resources (SSUs).

“This plan is a milestone for Massachusetts and the country,” stated Dr. Priscilla Brooks, Director of Conservation Law Foundation’s Ocean Conservation Program. “Our state’s ocean waters are a critical source of jobs, food, recreation, transportation and energy development, and are under increasing pressure from competing economic interests, not to mention the patchwork of agencies and laws that govern these strategic resources. With the Massachusetts Oceans Act of 2008 and now this sweeping plan to implement it, the Commonwealth has shown the way forward to other ocean and Great Lakes states and the need to act affirmatively and aggressively to protect and manage their marine resources. We applaud Governor Patrick and his Administration for their leadership.”

Jack Clarke, Mass Audubon Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, said, “This is a comprehensive and holistic plan for Bay State ocean waters. It has already provided other states and the Obama administration with a model for state and national marine policy. The plan protects the environment while providing, for the first time, offshore renewable energy uses previously not allowed.”

Clarke continued, “In just eighteen months, with extensive input from the public, and using the best available science, the state developed a comprehensive and forward-thinking plan for marine wildlife conservation, habitat protection, and wind energy development. We now look forward to working with the Governor and his staff on developing a strong and serious implementation strategy.”

CLF and Mass Audubon praised the Plan’s strong protection of SSUs, 11 categories of ocean wildlife and habitat areas that are particularly vulnerable to certain ocean uses such as sand and gravel mining and construction on the seafloor. Such activities can disturb ecologically important habitat areas and disrupt activities of recreationally and commercially important fish or endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale.

The plan achieves another important milestone by establishing a framework to promote offshore renewable energy development, opening up new opportunities for accessing the state’s remarkable wind resources to create clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy development, including wind energy projects, was formerly prohibited in most state waters. The plan designates two areas for development of commercial scale wind energy projects in state waters, the Gosnold Wind Energy Area and the Martha’s Vineyard Wind Energy Area, and establishes boundaries for smaller “community-scale” wind projects in other areas. Both organizations acknowledged that the plan, by design, is a living document that will be updated over time, and that there will be opportunities in the future to build upon this foundation and tap into additional offshore renewable energy potential in state waters.

“We are pleased that the plan promotes development of offshore renewable energy by allowing commercial scale wind projects in state waters for the first time and designating locations where they can be built responsibly,” noted CLF’s Brooks. “While precedent-setting, these provisions are just the beginning of the planning and implementation process. We expect to work closely with the state and others as plans evolve to ensure that well-designed wind energy projects get built as swiftly as possible and at the appropriate scale to deliver real benefit to the region,” Brooks continued.

Background:

Massachusetts is home to a diverse range of ocean wildlife. State ocean waters support rich and diverse populations of fish including the cod, haddock and flounder fisheries that have been the bedrock of New England coastal economies for centuries. Each year, federally-endangered North Atlantic right whales come to Cape Cod Bay to feed and nurse their young.  As many as one-half of the world’s population of endangered roseate terns can be found in Buzzards Bay. The final Ocean Management Plan seeks to proactively protect these vulnerable resources through the designation and protection of special, sensitive and unique resource areas while also establishing a framework to tap into the state’s rich renewable wind energy resources, as Massachusetts is endowed with some of the best offshore wind energy resources in the United States.

Spurred by growing demands on ocean resources for a variety of energy, transportation, food and recreational uses, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Task Force – a 23 member team of diverse stakeholders appointed by the previous Administration and on which CLF and Mass Audubon served– recommended in 2004 that the state adopt a new and comprehensive law to give public agencies clear direction and stronger authority for managing state waters.  The resulting Massachusetts Oceans Act of 2008 was the culmination of four years of negotiation and collaboration between state legislators, state agencies, environmental groups, fishing organizations, energy and utility interests, and other ocean users.

The Massachusetts Oceans Act required the development of a comprehensive ocean management plan by December 31, 2009, to manage current and future uses occurring in ocean waters while protecting the ocean environment.  The Ocean Plan is required to identify and protect special, sensitive, or unique ocean wildlife and habitats.  In addition, the Ocean Act allows for the development of renewable energy facilities in state ocean waters and requires that the Ocean Plan identify areas for appropriate-scale renewable energy development.  Following today’s release of the Ocean Plan, relevant state regulations will be updated to ensure that they are consistent with the plan.

On June 12, 2009, the Obama Administration established an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The Task Force is charged with developing a recommendation for a National Ocean Policy that ensures protection, maintenance, and restoration of oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes. On December 14, 2009, the Ocean Policy Task Force released its Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (Interim Framework) for a 60-day public review and comment period.

# # #

The Conservation Law Foundation (www.clf.org) works to solve the most significant environmental challenges facing New England.  CLF’s advocates use law, economics and science to create innovative strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health and promote vital communities in our region.  Founded, in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Mass Audubon works to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. Together with more than 100,000 members, we care for 34,000 acres of conservation land, provide educational programs for 200,000 children and adults annually, and advocate for sound environmental policies at local, state, and federal levels. Mass Audubon’s mission and actions have expanded since our beginning in 1896 when our founders set out to stop the slaughter of birds for use on women’s fashions. Today we are the largest conservation organization in New England. Our statewide network of 47 wildlife sanctuaries welcomes visitors of all ages and serves as the base for our conservation, education, and advocacy work. To support these important efforts, call 800-AUDUBON (283-8266) or visit www.massaudubon.org.

For more information about the Massachusetts Ocean Coalition, the Massachusetts Oceans Act and the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, visit www.massoceanaction.org.

Focus Areas

Oceans

Places

Rhode Island