Guest Blog: Connecting Ecosystem-Based Projects Along the West Coast

John Hansen, Program Director of the West Coast EBM Network, shares with us his experience at the 2011 West Coast EBM Network annual meeting. Photographs by Alan Lovewell.

The West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management Network (Network) recently held its 2011 Annual Meeting in Eureka, California.  The meeting brought together local project staff from 10 West Coast communities, representatives from ocean and coastal nongovernmental organizations (NGO)s, Washington, Oregon, Southern and Central California, and California Sea Grant, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health (WCGA), along with a number of local, state and federal staff from the Humboldt Bay area. The meeting took place over two days and included over 60 attendees.

John Hansen and the West Coast EBM Network taking a tour through the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary

Early portions of the meeting highlighted the latest efforts taking place in coastal communities along the West Coast, including 10 sites ranging from San Diego to the outer coast of Washington State.  Project staff presented successful ecosystem-based management approaches driven by strong engagement with local stakeholders, including climate change planning, habitat restoration, and supporting local fisheries and working waterfronts, among other topics.  Discussion focused on exchanging local lessons and addressing common challenges, while revealing management experiences for the entire West Coast region.

Christina Holt discusses the National Ocean Policy and the West Coast Governors' Agreement

Following the spotlight on local efforts, presentations were then given by representatives from NOAA and WCGA to provide updates on regional and national-level activities.  NOAA staff summarized the latest activities of the National Ocean Council and the preparation for new regional coastal and marine spatial planning frameworks.  The WCGA Executive Committee updated the group on the latest regional issues along the West Coast, and efforts of WCGA related to broader national-level planning and CMSP.  Finally, the four WCGA Fellows provided a briefing on their respective work plans and ongoing activities related to integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs), climate change and sustainable communities, regional research planning, and a West Coast regional data sharing framework.

Alison Haupt and Kate Skaggs learn about managing the Arcata marshlands

Throughout the meeting, the overlaps between the activities of the West Coast EBM Network and WCGA’s priorities were clearly apparent.  Many local communities throughout the West Coast are directly addressing pressing issues facing their local ecosystems and stakeholders, including preparing for climate change and supporting working waterfronts and local fishing fleets.  These align with the broader goals of WCGA Action Plan and the efforts of the WCGA Action Coordination Teams (ACTs) throughout the three West Coast states.  The activities and expertise housed in the WCGA ACTs were of great interest to the community-level projects at the meeting, and discussions centered on how a stronger connection could be made between the regional ACTs and staff supporting local-level efforts along the coast.

Brian Largay of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation explains the impacts of Spartina on the West Coast wetland environment

On a broader level, the other key lesson taken away from the meeting was the valuable opportunity to grow a mutually beneficial relationship between regional efforts like WCGA and coastal communities.  The WCGA is working towards successful regional approaches throughout the coast, and linking members of their ACTs, on topics that align well with EBM approaches at the local level.  Concurrently, the West Coast EBM Network is working to link coastal communities and successful on-the-ground outcomes, all of which could greatly benefit from a stronger relationship with the WCGA.  Further, local projects may serve as the ideal foundation for regional WCGA efforts, and illustrate the value of enhanced collaboration and planning along the coast through tangible benefits to local stakeholders and communities.

Todd Hallenbeck taking a moment to reflect

The West Coast EBM Network looks forward to continued collaboration with WCGA, including its Executive Committee, ACTs, and Sea Grant Fellows, to highlight the value of this innovative partnership and leverage the benefits to active coastal communities throughout the region.

For more information on the West Coast EBM Network, please visit www.westcoastebm.org.

California Ocean Protection Council Meeting

On August 11, I had a chance to attend the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) meeting in Sacramento.  The OPC was created, pursuant to the California Ocean Protection Act (COPA), to coordinate among agencies to solve issues facing coastal oceans. Basically, the OPC helps to break down the silos of government and to use innovative tools to tackle some of California’s toughest ocean and coastal problems.

OPC meetings, which are open to the public and webcast, are held quarterly and include a spotlight on science; this meeting focused on renewable energy.  I was especially interested to see how members of the OPC, the California Ocean Science Trust (OST), and the public interact to approach issues facing our coast and ocean.  Though my background is based more in science than policy, I worked with fishermen in Mexico and often presented my scientific findings in a similar forum.  The fishing cooperatives that I worked with in Southern Baja California Sur are all part of a larger cooperative system called FEDECOOP and each cooperative has regular meetings called assembleas where scientific information is presented, fishing policies are discussed, and decisions are made much like the OPC meetings.

This meeting’s spotlight on science focused on renewable energy and featured Dr. William O’Reilly, Senior Development Engineer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Margaret Caldwell, Executive Director for Center for Ocean Solutions, who talked about the scientific and logistical needs for coastal and marine spatial planning in order to reduce conflicts surrounding existing and emerging ocean uses such as renewable offshore energy.

Dr. O’Reilly started off with a good nuts and bolts overview of different types of energy available: tidal, wave, current and wind.  I was really interested to hear there are many areas in California that are suitable for renewable energy development and it should be possible to balance the spatial needs of recreational and other ocean uses with the those of renewable energy.  Did you know that because the mass of water is about 750 times greater than that of air, the tidal energy moving through San Francisco Bay on an average day is equivalent to wind energy generated by a hurricane?  Dr. O’Reilly noted that, though it is complex to determine the potential of renewable energy sources, there is likely a lot of unharnessed energy off our shore and most importantly much of that energy is located in state rather than federal waters.  I found his report to be very optimistic about the potential for renewable offshore energy production in California.

An example of a tidal energy turbine

Meg Caldwell then gave insight into the types of data and information necessary for planning for multiple ocean uses such as renewable offshore energy.  I was pleased to hear her highlight the utility of well organized, visualized, and layered geospatial data not only to inform decision making about renewable energy, but for all ocean uses and potential projects.  Caldwell explained that a system to organize these data would: provide tools to more easily implement laws and regulations, identify user conflicts, plan and permit in an efficient manner, and improve governance and transparency.  Caldwell wrapped up by pointing out the OPC can contribute by coordinating and implementing a geospatial information system by capitalizing on California OST and other scientists and experts.  This called to mind the Regional Data Network project spearheaded by the West Coast Governors’ Agreement to establish a data sharing network to improve cross boundary access to geospatial data across the west coast. This network could help connect science to stakeholders much like OPC meetings and the assembleas share science with the public and help inform decision making, as well as sharing information and lessons learned from others’ experiences.

Here is an example of geospatial data associated with a renewable energy site taken from the OR marine map website

It’s great to think we can build on ongoing efforts in other states including Rhode Island and Massachusetts when it comes to how and where to plan for renewable energy projects and other ocean uses.  I hope that meetings like these can help to solidify the thinking process and the types of information needed to move implementation of renewable energy into the forefront not just in California, but across the entire west coast in a manner that is efficient, reduces ecosystem and user conflicts, and offsets substantial portion of our current energy use.  This effort in California can especially learn from and build upon significant efforts already in progress in Oregon and Washington.

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…