Regional Ocean Plan Laudable, But Does Not Go Far Enough, Says Clean Ocean Action

December 21, 2016
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The Sea Bright oceanfront, Dec. 14.

Story and photo by Joseph Sapia

When a regional plan was adopted that unites scores of federal, state and native American agencies, concerned with Atlantic Ocean issues from New York to Virginia, environmental groups applauded.

They want to see the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan, adopted Wednesday, Dec. 7, by the federal government’s National Ocean Council (NCO), properly implemented.

But Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook-based environmental group, questioned if the plan stopped short.

The plan formally unites an estimated 140 or so agencies to discuss such issues as transportation, commercial fishing, wind power, recreation and national security to 200 miles offshore of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The idea of the plan is if groups communicate and share information now, rather than working independently, they will avoid disagreement in the future.

“This plan will connect federal, state and tribal agencies in ways that will serve the public need, while protecting our irreplaceable resources,” said Helen Henderson, ocean planning manager for the Sandy Hook-based American Littoral Society environmental group.

“The plan represents the next level in collaborative and inclusive management for ocean resources,” said Matt Gove, Mid-Atlantic policy manager for the California-based Surfrider Foundation, a surfing-environmental group that has an area Jersey Shore chapter.

The American Littoral Society called the Mid-Atlantic “environmentally and economically crucial.” The area, home to more than 34 million people, generates $2 trillion, or 14 percent, of the county’s annual gross domestic product,

according to the society. Tourism and recreation alone in the Mid-Atlantic generate $30 billion, providing 600,000 jobs, according to the Surfrider Foundation. “We need to make sure that economic driver, and the clean ocean and beaches it relies upon, is protected going forward,” Gove said. The plan not only provides for better communication and coordination between the various agencies, but supports consolidating data and identifies research needs, said Zach Lees, a policy lawyer for the Sandy Hook-based environmental group Clean Ocean Action (COA).

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But the group believes the plan doesn’t go far enough.

“The plan should have included specific commitments from agencies to protect and safeguard the Mid-Atlantic communities, clean ocean economies and marine life and habitats from oil and gas development, harmful industrialization and climate change impacts,” said Lees.

“We’re not overly impressed,” said Cindy Zipf, COA’s executive director. “Yes, it was a step in the right direction. But it didn’t add protection for the ocean. “An oil economy and a clean ocean economy don’t mix,” Zipf said.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body (RPB), part of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, put together the plan. The RPB released a draft July 6.

The RPB then held five forums on the draft in the Mid-Atlantic, including one July 14 at Monmouth University. Representatives of COA, Surfrider Foundation and American Littoral Society were among the 45 groups that turned out for the local forum.

Henderson said “years of time, effort and dedication are represented in this new plan.”

The plan has its roots in 2009, when President Barack Obama created the Ocean Policy Task Force to foster better stewardship of the oceans and Great Lakes. In 2010, Obama created the National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts and Great Lakes.

“Throughout this effort, our goal has been to ensure that the plan will be a blueprint for conservation and management to protect the ocean and its natural resources,” said Tim Dillingham, the American Littoral Society’s executive director. “This final action plan will be the foundation.”

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“Now is when the real work begins,” said Sarah Winter Whelan, the American Littoral Society’s ocean policy program director. “Implementation will bring another set of opportunities and challenges for us to ensure conservation prevails in this plan.”

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