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Moving Forward with Regional Ocean Plans: Update From the Mid-Atlantic

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This summer we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the National Ocean Policy, thanks to which multiple regions across the US have organized regional planning bodies (RPBs) to advance the goals of ocean planning. Leading the nation are the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic RPBs, which both anticipate releasing draft regional ocean plans in the first half of 2016.

In late September, the Mid-Atlantic RPB hosted a meeting in Norfolk, Virginia to update the public on their work over the summer and give an update on their outlook for the next few months. The Mid-Atlantic region is deep into the process of crafting a comprehensive ocean plan to cover ocean waters from Virginia to New York.  This meeting included workshops and roundtable discussions that brought together members of the public, industry, government, tribes and more, seeking input on work products and guidance moving forward.

Overview of the Mid-Atlantic RPB Meeting

Key Materials Released

Key materials were released ahead of the September 22nd – 24th meeting in Norfolk, Virginia. Of particular importance are the draft RPB timeline and outline of the Regional Ocean Action Plan. According to the timeline, the RPB anticipates releasing a draft of its ocean plan for public comment in June 2016. Some of the work products under development also had new drafts released, and were major topics of discussion over the past few days including draft inter-jurisdictional coordination actions that seek to improve coordination among agencies and enhance ocean ecosystems, health, and interactions with industry.

September 22nd: Stakeholder Workshop

A key aspect of ocean planning is strong engagement of regional stakeholders and the public at large. Continuing their effort to provide a platform for strong engagement, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Council (MARCO) hosted a stakeholder workshop to discuss and inform the work products from the RPB. Key topics of discussion included data synthesis updates from the marine life, human use, and regional ocean assessment teams as well as review of the draft inter-jurisdictional coordination committee materials. The discussions that were part of the stakeholder workshop directly informed the RPB member meeting the next two days.

September 23rd-24th: RPB meeting

Building on the Stakeholder Workshop, the RPB agreed on components of the ocean plan outline, identified next steps for both work products and clarified overall next steps as the RPB gets closer to finalizing a regional ocean plan.  It was evident throughout the meeting that significant progress had been made since the last RPB meeting in January 2015.  As development of a regional ocean plan for the Mid-Atlantic continues, we look forward to reviewing and supporting the continued progress.

Ocean Planning continues elsewhere

Like the Mid-Atlantic, the Northeast RPB is deep into the process of crafting an ocean plan for the region.  The Northeast is several months ahead of the Mid-Atlantic in its process, and will be hosting a stakeholder workshop on October 20th where key elements of how the plan will be implemented will be discussed.

While we await the country’s first regional ocean plans, we are already seeing the benefits of ocean planning being done on the state level.  Rhode Island was the first state in the country to complete a plan for its ocean waters, and thanks to that ocean plan, the Block Island Wind Farm project became a reality in record time with significant support from Rhode Island residents and businesses.  We believe this is just a preview of the types of benefits that can come from making informed decisions in coordination with multiple stakeholders and planning smart for the future of our ocean.

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