Ocean Planning in the Northeast

Website for the Northeast Regional Planning Body Northeast RPB Projects Marine Life and Habitat

Marine Life/Habitat and Ocean Planning

New Englanders have treasured marine life, such as the North Atlantic right whale, piping plover, Atlantic cod, and oyster, for millennia. Today, some species and their habitats—where they live, eat, and breed—are struggling amid a rapidly changing climate and the effects of human activities. Understanding the distribution and abundance of key species and their habitats, and how those habitats are changing, can help us preserve and protect marine life for future generations.

What’s Been Done

Identifying Natural Resource Conservation Issues

In winter/spring 2013, ocean planning staff and Regional Planning Body (RPB) members conducted a series of meetings with 20 conservation organizations in each coastal New England state. The goal was to better understand natural resource conservation issues for ocean planning from these organizations’ perspectives. The meetings resulted in a preliminary list of conservation-related issues:

  • A desire for ocean planning to identify important, significant, or valuable (different terms were used) habitat or areas and to determine how to incorporate this information into decision-making.
  • The opportunity for ocean planning to inform and coordinate funding for regional science and research priorities.
  • Concerns about how environmental shifts, such as those stemming from climate change and other drivers, will be incorporated into natural resource mapping and management decisions.

Mapping marine life and habitats

In 2013, in collaboration with the Northeast Sea Grant Consortium and The Nature Conservancy, ocean planning staff worked with regional scientists to develop specific recommendations for characterizing the distribution and abundance of the region’s marine life. A technical committee composed of 20 New England scientists with expertise in marine mammals, sea turtles, birds, shellfish, and finfish guided the project, which drew on existing data, models, and interviews with scientists to investigate the potential use of existing information in ocean planning. The final recommendations provided guidance for integrating existing data sources to map marine life distribution and abundance, develop measures scientific certainty, and consider the potential effects of climate change.

The RPB used these recommendations to develop a Request for Proposals which resulted in the hiring of the Marine Life Data and Analysis Team (MDAT) composed of Duke University’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab, NOAA National Center for Coastal Ocean Science, Loyola University, and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. MDAT is working with the RPB, ocean planning staff, and regional scientists to develop data products and other information that characterize marine mammal, sea turtle, bird, and fish distribution, abundance, and trends.

In early 2014, through contract support from E&C Enviroscape, the RPB inventoried federal and state programs to identify datasets and products that could contribute to a regional characterization of marine life distribution and abundance. Also, guided by the Framework for Ocean Planning in the Northeast, E&C and planning staff reviewed regional efforts to identify areas of ecological importance or measure the health of the marine system. The result of this work provides the background for marine life data product development and for RPB decisions about any additional assessments it could conduct for ocean planning. The draft report can be found here. While it includes many findings, most importantly it identifies the management application as a key driver for how data products and additional assessments, such as identifying important ecological areas, are developed.

On June 25, 2014, the RPB held a Natural Resources Workshop to kick off the marine life distribution and abundance work, and to review and consider the applicability of other potential natural resource assessments for ocean planning. Over 130 participants from varied backgrounds attended the workshop and provided perspectives on data and methods for characterizing marine life distribution and abundance, and whether and how the RPB should consider additional assessments. The workshop summary is available here.

Work Groups

Three work groups composed of RPB agency staff, academics, and scientists from industry and environmental organizations have been established to support the development of marine life products. Their charge is to inform the RPB and MDAT about sources and methods for developing products that characterize the distribution, abundance, trends, and scientific uncertainty for marine mammals, sea turtles, birds, and fish by spring/summer of 2015 using existing data sources. The work groups have also been asked to identify data and science priorities that may require a longer timeframe so that they are considered for future development by the RPB and others. Work group participants and meeting summaries can be found below.

Marine mammal and sea turtle work group

Avian work group

Fish work group

Next Steps

Expert work groups will continue to meet throughout the year to inform the development of marine life products. Members of the public will continue to be engaged through webinars, workshops and other public venues as the RPB determines how to integrate natural resource data and how to use those data to achieve regional ocean planning goals and objectives.

Example Map

Map of selected pelagic fish species on the Northeast Ocean Data website. All maps are developed through a scientific process that incorporates input from industry, scientists, and managers.

 

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Ocean Planning Timeline

  • November 2012 Inaugural Northeast RPB Meeting: Develop common understanding about the RPB; provide context and lay foundation of regional ocean planning; engage stakeholders and the public, discuss initial focus.
    April 2013 Northeast RPB Meeting: Northeast RPB Meeting: Identify draft goals for regional ocean planning and mechanisms for receiving public input about those draft goals; provide opportunities for public input about topics under consideration.
    May/June 2013 Public Comment Meetings: Ten public meetings throughout New England to discuss draft regional ocean planning goals.
  • January Northeast RPB Meeting: approve goals and objectives; move forward on related tasks.
    May/June Public Engagement: Natural Resources Workshops and focused engagement to discuss progress toward goals of effective Decision-Making and Healthy Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems.
    June Northeast RPB Meeting: Review progress toward all goals.
    Fall Public meetings/workshops and Northeast RPB meeting: Feedback on progress toward each goal.
  • Spring Stakeholder Forum: Review progress on the use of marine life and ocean use data, regulatory coordination, and future scenario development.
    June Northeast RPB Meeting: Review approach to developing draft plan by considering agency use of ocean plan data products; discuss draft outline for regional ocean plan.
    Fall Northeast RPB meeting and public meetings: Review revised products for each goal; discuss future work of the RPB.
  • Winter EBM Working Group: Review progress on Draft Northeast Ocean Plan, marine life and habitat data product development, including IEAs Framework.
    Spring Northeast RPB Meeting (via webinar): Release Draft Plan for public review.
    Summer Collect public comment on the Draft Plan through public meetings and other opportunities.
    Fall September public webinar to review changes to the Draft Plan and October submittal of revised Plan to the National Ocean Council.
  • Winter Northeast RPB members and federal principals of the National Ocean Council sign Plan Adoption Memo.
    Spring See Events and Meetings
    April Informational webinar to prepare for stakeholder forum.
    May Stakeholder forum and RPB public meeting.

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