About toddhallenbeck

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around, you could miss it" - F. Bueller

Megabytes, Megawatts, and Megaphones – A Fellows Reflection on CMSP

As the days come to a close on my WCGA Sea Grant fellowship, I am a little teary eyed looking back on two exciting and intense years with the Oregon Governor’s Natural Resource Office and the Oregon Dept. of Land Conservation and Development, Coastal Management Program. It’s been a long strange trip with many curves and bumps in the road, to be sure, but through my ring side seats for Oregon’s marine spatial planning process, I ultimately learned what I came here to learn; the circuitous process by which science and information translates to policy and decision making.


The author enjoying the Monterey Bay aboard the majestic 16′ Hobie Cat “La Pescadita”

I arrived in Oregon fresh out of graduate school at Cal State Monterey Bay, where I studied seafloor mapping and benthic ecology. Working at the scale of grains of sand was really interesting and I learned a lot about how fish and invertebrates use soft sediments, but I wanted to look at a bigger landscape; policy development and ocean planning. I caught glimpses of the mythic world of policy through the California Marine Life Protection Act, but I wanted to experience the whole complicated thing, and the WCGA fellowship seemed to be the perfect way to do it.  

I was really fortunate to arrive in Oregon when I did. They were just beginning a marine spatial planning process for wave energy and were looking for recruits (i.e. fresh blood) to help record and synthesize public comment and help with GIS work. I was stoked! It meant I got to go to every stakeholder meeting on the coast and see how all these competing interests were being addressed. Hearing all their stories helped me realize that, regardless of their background, everyone was coming to the table with a passion to see the ocean protected and healthy (They just wanted to go about it in different ways.) 

A huge part of the marine spatial planning process was the use of decision support tools (DST) to help engage stakeholders and provide accurate spatial data to decision makers. Simply enabling stakeholders to view and analyze data in meetings provided a common foundation that everyone understood. It allowed individuals to investigate prospective areas for development and feel engaged in the process. That’s not to say that everyone agreed with the data or the plan. Oh goodness, no! But seeing the maps and hearing concerns enabled advisory groups and policy makers to refine their information to better reflect realities on the ground. This two way dialogue was critical to the successful adoption of the plan.


Oregon MarineMap: The decision support tool used it the Oregon Territorial Sea Planning process. My, it’s a busy ocean!

Recognizing the utility of these tools, and wanting to apply them at the regional scale, led me to the other big aspect of my fellowship. The creation and development of a regional framework for increasing access to ocean and coastal data to better inform regional coastal management, policy development, and ocean planning. It started as an idea, echoed by West Coast stakeholders, cobbled together from funding proposals, strengthened by a unanimous vote of need at the National Marine Spatial Planning workshop in Washington DC (see post: Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning – The future is now), and formalized at a workshop the WCGA held in December of 2011. There seemed to be no question that the need existed, but the question was how to go about developing such a system in an era of tough budget cuts. In recognition of this reality, we decided that it would be best to invest in low tech solutions to better connect and support the existing state and federal systems in place. But we needed a group to lead this effort…

The Regional Data Framework ACT was formed to guide the development of the human and technical networks, and in their voluntary efforts, I see the same passion for smart ocean management that guided stakeholders in the Oregon MSP process. The work is just beginning with many foundational steps to be laid, but I hope that in the next year we will be poised to make contributions to pressing West Coast ocean health issues such as adaptation to sea level rise, understanding patterns of ocean acidification, and tracking patterns of marine debris. The ACT just released their formal work plan guiding their work over the next 3-5 years; you should read it here and let them know what you think.

My fellowship has been tremendously rewarding; from experiencing firsthand the struggles and triumphs of working with stakeholders in a marine spatial planning process to learning about the latest GIS technologies, it provided me with all the opportunities I could ask for (and then some). Two years was a perfect amount of time to get my bearings, survey the landscape, and figure out what I wanted to accomplish with the fellowship but now I am ready to move on and apply the things I’ve learned. I am fortunate to be continuing work with the RDF ACT as they move into the next critical phase of their work, and maintain the relationships I’ve developed over the past two years. If it weren’t for the good natured group of fellows, mentors, and colleagues the fellowship would have felt overly daunting at times, many thanks to this group for their support and advice.

Oregon Coastal Managment Program: "Field work" on the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Oregon Coastal Managment Program: “Field work” on the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

I hope that in the future the WCGA will offer similar fellowships to young people interested in how science and policy interact on the coastlines of the West Coast. It’s not always easy or pretty, but it’s a good lesson for the next generation of marine scientists and policy makers that will not be forgotten.

Back to School: The U.S Ocean Policy Report Card and UNCLOS

A recent U.S Ocean Policy Report Card gave the U.S low marks in its efforts to support and implement national and international policies to strengthen our ability to manage ocean resources effectively. The assessment covered how well the Nation did with respect to

  • National Support and Leadership: C
  • Regional, State, and Local Leadership and Implementation: A-
  • Research, Science, and Education: C
  • Funding: D-
  • Law of the Sea Treaty: F

The report card reads like that of a struggling student, meaning well and trying hard, but ultimately failing to make the changes necessary to succeed. In particular, the Joint Ocean Commission, who conducted the assessment, highlights the lack of congressional support for the President’s National Ocean Policy (NOP) and for the ascension to the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Despite shortcomings in many areas, the Commission does give credit to increased Federal agency coordination since the roll-out of the NOP and praises the work of regional ocean partnerships, like the West Coast Governors Alliance (WCGA), in taking leadership roles, engaging stakeholders and achieving on-the-ground success — giving us an A-, not too shabby!

The lowest grade given, an ‘F’, was for the inability of the Senate to vote on ascension to UNCLOS. This international treaty defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. Despite broad support from the business leaders, conservation groups, and security interests, the US has never signed onto UNCLOS, and it is now being debated (again) in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
UNCLOS came into force in 1994 and to-date 162 countries and the European Community have joined in the Convention. The Treaty protects National security interests, secures sovereign rights to vast areas of the ocean and seabed (each countries 200 nm Exclusive Economic Zone), furthers maritime commerce, and promotes ocean resource conservation. UNCLOS provides the framework for International ocean conservation efforts to address the decline of species and habitats, prevent, reduce, and control pollution, and deal with the growing complexity of managing marine debris. As a party to  UNCLOS, the US would serve in a leadership role to help prevent the further decline of ocean ecosystems.

This is an important international treaty that has positive implications for nearly every aspect of maritime activity. In my opinion, it’s a win-win for the U.S; simultaneously asserting it’s sovereign rights while acknowledging the importance of international cooperation in dealing with global issues. I think the US has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and commitment to ocean health by signing on to UNCLOS as soon as possible.

The Oyster in the Shellfish Farm

This is the second part in our three-part investigation of how Ocean Acidification is affecting the West Coast. Please see the Jan. 10th article “A Huge Experiment” for excellent discussion of what Ocean Acidification is and what causes it.

We’ve all heard of the canary in the coal mine, the idea that certain animals can act as alarms of changing conditions. Well, say “hello” to the oyster in the shellfish farm! Just as canaries warned miners of dangerous gasses in mine shafts, oysters are now warning shellfish growers about increasing acidity in the oceans. Shellfish growers are paying attention and working with scientists to develop monitoring approaches to understand how changing ocean conditions are impacting west coast ecosystems, and their bottom line.

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, located on Netart’s Bay, Oregon, is the second largest producer of shellfish larvae for the West Coast. Using nutrient rich water from the bay, their operation spawns, grows and ships billions of baby shellfish to aquaculturists from Canada to South America. In 2008, they had a sudden and mysterious decline in the production of their larvae that nearly crippled their business and their ability to supply larvae to a $100 million industry that depended on them. At this same time, water saturated with high CO2 was hitting the Pacific coast, and it became clear that this corrosive water was severely impacting the ability of shellfish in their vulnerable developing early stages.

I got a chance to visit Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in late 2011 to tour their facility and learn about a collaboration between the co-owner, Mark Weigart, and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, led by George Waldbusser. The collaboration was focused on understanding the physiological processes that the corrosive water was having on larval organisms and developing adaptation strategies to prevent hatchery die-offs. Among the large plastic tanks containing billions of larvae, a small laptop with sensors is hooked up to the piping system that delivers bay water to the hatchery. The team of scientists developed this homemade monitoring system to measure water chemistry and inform hatchery owners if the water will harm shellfish larvae. This helps a lot, and the system also takes advantage of information from offshore Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS) to send a warning to the hatchery when cold highly acidified water is on its way to Whiskey Creek. The operators can then reduce the amount of water they pull from the bay or supplement the water to reduce its impact on the larvae.

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On the West Coast, there are three IOOS regional associations (CeNCOOS, SCCOOS, NANOOS) who work together to provide comprehensive data and forecasts for the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Recently, the West Coast IOOS’ have explored partnerships with the West Coast Governors Alliance (WCGA) on tackling issues of regional significance, like ocean acidification.

These monitoring approaches and adaptation strategies are helping Whiskey Creek and other hatcheries on the coast deal with the effects of ocean acidification and highlight the importance of regional ocean observing data in improving our understanding of changing ocean conditions. Have you seen effects of ocean acidification on your part of the coast?

The Real Cost of Aquatic Invaders

I was interested to read recently that ballast water standards adopted by New York to prevent the spread of invasive species have prompted concern among several Great Lakes Governors, who say that the regulations will halt shipping in the St. Lawrence Seaway and jeopardize thousands of jobs. The new standards, which are more stringent than the Phase One standards proposed by the United States Coast Guard, require vessels transiting through New York waters to install ballast water treatment systems in order to protect the fragile ecosystems in New York and in the Great Lakes.  In 2009, the right of NY to establish standards via the Clean Water Act process was upheld in a New York Court of Appeals suite brought forth by the shipping industry.

The new standards have far reaching effects as all ships entering the Great Lakes need to pass through NY waters and must therefore install the new treatment technologies to “inactivate” biological organisms and pathogens. Systems inactivate organisms using a variety of methods including filtration, UV irradiation, deoxygenation, electrolysis, ultrasound, and something ominously called chemical biocide. Unfortunately, due to a relatively small number of “real world” tests of system performance in a variety of environmental and vessel conditions, there remains a high level of uncertainty with regard to treatment effectiveness.

Ships emptying ballast water at the Port of Oakland . CREDIT: Monaca Noble, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Examples of aquatic invasive species presently found on the West Coast include the European green crab (Carcinus maenas), Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis), zebra mussels (genus  Dreissena), cordgrasses (genus Spartina), and  Undaria pinnatifida. West Coast states have undertaken multimillion dollar projects to control or eradicate these aquatic invasive species.It is widely recognized that aquatic invasive species wreak havoc on our natural systems and infrastructure. By out competing native plants and animals, modifying habitat, and disrupting food webs, their effects can be seen in coastal ecosystems worldwide. What is also known is that invasive species cost the US billions of dollars annually in damage to coastal infrastructure, eradication and control efforts, and disruption to ecosystem services.

The West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health (WCGA) recognized the threat of invasive species to the ecological, social, public health, and economic integrity of the region’s marine resources. The WCGA action plan acknowledged the great work already underway in the region on ballast water through the Pacific Ballast Water Group which acts as a forum for states to coordinate their ballast water policies. On the West Coast, California has had an effective ballast water management program in place since 2000 which has focused on performance standards as well as ballast water exchange. It has served as a model for the West Coast and, unlike the fears raised by the Great Lakes, has not resulted in decreased port activity.

In addition, the WCGA formed the Spartina Eradication Action Coordination Team focused on eradicating and preventing the spread of this invasive cordgrass. While not typically spread through ballast water, non-native Spartina dominates newly restored tidal marshes, changes the hydrology of estuaries by modification of tidal creeks and navigational channels, displaces thousands of acres of shorebird habitat, drastically reduces biodiversity, and decreases available intertidal habitat for commercial shellfish production.

I wanted to talk to someone who knows whether ballast water treatment standards will be effective on the West Coast to preventing the spread of invasive species. Mark Sytsma, the Director of the Center for Lakes and Reservoirs at Portland State University and former co-chair of the Spartina Eradication Action Coordination Team, was gracious enough to answer some of my questions.

Do you think the NY ballast water standards are the answer to preventing the spread and introduction of invasive species in NY and on the Great Lakes?

Mark: Standards are not the only answer to preventing new introductions, [ballast water] treatment is. Standards are [only] a way to direct and evaluate the treatment effectiveness. Unfortunately, no one knows what discharge standards are protective for our water resources. How many new introductions are acceptable? At this point, we don’t know the answer to that.

Are many of the invasive species on the West Coast introduced through ballast water?

Mark: Yes. Look at the 2004 Lower Columbia River Aquatic Non-indigenous Species report on our website about introductions to the Columbia. There is similar literature on SF Bay. It’s hard to imagine how some species could have gotten to the West Coast from Asia, except by hitchhiking in a ballast water tank.

Would ballast water treatment work on the West Coast?

Mark: I think everyone thinks that treatment is the answer. The question is how to treat [ballast water] quickly and effectively. There are a number of systems available and the California State Lands Commission has a report that describes the effectiveness and status of [treatment] systems.

What efforts has the Spartina ACT done to prevent the re-introduction of Spartina?

Mark: The funding that the WCGA provided for the Spartina action plan last year was used to develop environmental documents for Spartina treatment in Humboldt Bay and to do control of S. patens in Siuslaw estuary in Oregon. Both of these could be considered prevention, because infestations from these two sites threatens to spread to other areas on the West Coast. Certainly, those of us in Oregon see the Humboldt work as critical to preventing spread of Spartina to Oregon.

Thanks to Mark I was able to gain some insight from one of the experts on the West Coast. For me the questions raised by the Great Lakes Governors highlight the perceived tension between economic growth and ecological preservation. However, as we have seen in examples from the West Coast and around the world, failing to prevent and/or control aquatic invasive species is costly to infrastructure, jobs, and the environment. It is an investment in the future health of our economy and oceans that I think is worth making.

NOAA approves Rhode Island’s marine spatial plan

I thought it was an auspicious day last month (July 22) when NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco joined Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee to recognize and applaud the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) as the first comprehensive marine spatial plan to be adopted into a state’s coastal zone program. Under the Federal Consistency provision of the Coastal Zone Management Act, the policies in the Ocean SAMP can apply to federal actions in federal waters such as identifying suitable areas for energy projects. Dr. Lubchenco added, “This plan takes into account all ocean uses for enhancing commercial, recreational and environmental goals. This plan is what President Obama envisioned in the National Ocean Policy, and it sets a great example for other coastal states.”

NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Governor Lincoln Chafee, after signing the Ocean SAMP approval document (Image RICMRC)

 I think that a key component of this plan was simply the gathering of information describing where important human use activities and ecological areas occurred. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (RICRC), a group of appointed representatives charged with balancing economic considerations with environmental protection, recognized that the many cultural, social, and environmental areas within the Ocean SAMP study area merit protection. To this end, the Council designated portions of the Ocean SAMP study area as Areas of Particular Concern (APC), which include: areas with unique or fragile physical features, or important natural habitats; areas of high natural productivity; areas with features of historical significance or cultural value; areas of substantial recreational value; areas important for navigation, transportation, military and other human uses; and areas of high fishing activity. The ability to map these areas was central to the success of this process.

Rhode Island Ocean SAMP map showing renewable energy zone (green) overlap with navigation routes and areas of particular concern (Image RICMRC)

 The next step that I see is for Rhode Island to continue to coordinate with their neighbors (New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut) to develop a plan that addresses the priority issues that have been identified for that region (natural hazards, healthy ecosystems, marine transportation, energy). Rhode Islandhas already signed an MOU with Massachusetts agreeing to coordinate planning for offshore renewable energy in an identified “area of mutual interest,” using the Rhode Island Ocean SAMP as a guide. Another step in that direction was the recent launching of a regional data portal by the Northeast Regional Ocean Council. Developed to enhance regional ocean planning efforts, the new Northeast Ocean Data Portal contains regional spatial data on human activities, natural resources, and jurisdictional information forNew England’s coasts and ocean waters. These data are available to the public and can be viewed online and downloaded for use in GIS platforms.

I think the lesson from Rhode Island’s recent mapping exercise is that while individual states can (and should) develop plans for their state waters, the planning process will inevitably reveal the need to coordinate with neighboring states and federal agencies to address broader regional issues. On the West coast, the WCGA has already brought together regional partners to address issues of climate change, renewable energy, seafloor mapping, sediment management, marine debris, water quality, sustainable communities, and integrated ecosystem assessments. I agree with the approach taken on the East coast and am excited the WCGA is preparing to host a West coast regional data portal meeting this winter. This meeting will lay the groundwork to make West coast ocean data more accessible to aid regional planning for these shared issues and priorities and is intended to bring together state, federal, tribal, NGO, and academic data managers to formalize a “human data network” and make recommendations about how a regional data portal can make use of existing data infrastructure.

The West coast covers a large and diverse geographic region with distinct ecological and cultural differences that we need to consider as we plan for coastal and marine uses, but we can learn from one another as we tackle these complex issues.

If you would like to learn more about the West coast regional data portal meeting, please contact me!

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning – The future is now

President Obama recently released the National Ocean Policy that outlines a new way of doing business that focuses on a tool called Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) to achieve national objectives. CMSP is defined as a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean and coastal areas. CMSP identifies areas most suitable for various types of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. While this is a scary and uncertain concept for many people, I think that it boils down to a very old idea – communication is good. At its most basic level, the CMSP framework attempts to provide a mechanism for state, federal, and tribal partners to talk to each other and to stakeholders when making decisions to avoid conflicts between ocean users, industry, and the environment.

Existing ocean uses. Conflicts or opportunities? (Photo: Massachusetts Ocean Partnership)

To kick off this sea change (pun intended!) in ocean policy, the federal government hosted a National CMSP workshop in Washington DC. I was sweating buckets in the humidity, as managers, tribal representatives, and stakeholders got together and starting talking about how CMSP might work in their part of the country. I was excited to see that while the majority of participants were enthusiastic and recognized the need for CMSP, there were concerns raised about the “top down” nature of the National Ocean Policy and the need to strengthen the ability for each region to determine its own objectives and priorities. I think that the West Coast Governors’ Agreement (WCGA) along with other regional partners have a big part to play in helping to articulate these regional objectives.

West Coast breakout session at the National CSMP Workshop. (Photo: Hallenbeck)

The West Coast has been engaged in this type of planning for quite awhile already. California has had experience planning for marine protected areas and is now in the process of designing a data portal that will facilitate sharing of spatial information amongst stakeholders and agencies. Washington recently passed their CMSP Bill, which I believe is a critical first step in providing a mandate for state agencies to coordinate activities and engage in comprehensive planning. Oregon is currently planning for ocean wave energy development in their territorial sea and has gone through an extensive data gathering and stakeholder process to incorporate this new ocean use with the least amount of conflict with existing uses (e.g. fishing, telecommunications, recreation) and ecological resources.

I know the horizon is bright for our nation’s oceans, if we can just keep talking to one another…