Noa Randall, ORI Spring Intern, attended the Stakeholder’s meeting of the NE Regional Ocean Planning Body (RPB) in Salem, Massachusetts on May 12th.
Here is Noa’s report:
About seventy people participated in the planning meeting. The goal of the daylong meeting was to review progress and take comments on data being gathered that maps out the use of marine life and ocean areas. The work was in the context of the RPB’s goal of compatibility among past, present, and future uses and natural resources.
I took the train to Salem. The half hour ride provided views of beautiful salt marshes being encroached on by construction. This reminded me that humans need to be aware of how we affect our surroundings, and what one small change can do for an entire seascape, positively or negatively.
For some background, President Obama’s Executive Order that created the National Ocean Policy in 2010 divided the costal areas of our country into 9 regions, the 5 northeastern coastal states (ME, NH, MA, RI, and CT) comprising one of them. And, Vermont is also participating in the NE Regional Planning effort.
Big news, it was announced that the Planning Document will be completed by June 2016. This consensus document comes out of three years of very deliberative work. It sets planning goals for how we will manage the ocean, and will include details on how the proposed goals will be implemented. Three years may seem like a long time, but ocean management is a tedious process, due to how dynamic and changing ocean ecosystems are. It is important we set up a solid framework for how to collaboratively manage the oceans so we can see where our planning challenges are from the start.
The meeting started off with a presentation about marine uses of the ocean: fishing, marine transportation, recreation, and marine life. What stuck out most to me was that Duke University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) have compiled between 1,000 and 1,500 maps on the distribution and abundance of many species, separately. These include multiple temporal scales, persistence, probability of occurrence, and uncertainty. That is a lot of maps and a lot of information! A challenge that managers will face is how to more effectively synthesize all this data for it to be more useful and accessible. There is already a data portal online (http://northeastoceandata.org/), where people can access these maps and layer them on top of one another, but there is more that can be done.
The best part about this meeting, though, is how much conversation goes on and how much involvement and input all participants get to have. After each presentation we had 30 minutes in our small tables to talk about what we thought on the topics that were just discussed. People with all different opinions from a variety of positions got to say what they thought, and their comments were valued with equal weight. Surfers, Fishermen, Coast Guard officers, NOAA scientists, and tribal representatives all get to have a say in what they think should be included in this plan. Following the small group discussions the mediators compile a list of all the suggestions, questions, and concerns that were raised, which they later write up and bring to the RPB meetings, where decisions are made. That way stakeholders’ input can be considered by the RPB when they create this final plan. One of the main goals of the RPB, as I see it, is to be transparent and capture all comments, and to incorporate as much of what the public, users, and other stakeholders, want as possible. The more stakeholder buy-in they have, the more “teeth” (as one member of my small table said) the plan will have, and the more likely this plan will be to stick, or have sustainability.
One key point that attendees thought was important to keep in mind was connectivity. We may think that setting aside marine protected areas (MPAs) and critical habitat areas is enough to protect the marine life, however, if we remember what everything in the world is connected, then we realize that if we don’t change the way we treat the ocean outside of these sanctuaries, our actions elsewhere will start affecting those “set off” areas as well. The goal becomes to develop responsible stewardship practices. This is where Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) comes in again (the topic of the previous RPB workshop held in Durham, NH). The ultimate goal of ocean management is to keep the oceans healthy, and all the rest is secondary.