Written by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.
The oceans can seem endless, bountiful and mysterious. And while the oceans are vast, the activity they can support and resources they can provide are finite. Shipping, fishing, recreation and energy development compete with each other for space in the sea—and with migrating whales, endangered sea turtles and countless other species that call the oceans home.
That’s where smart ocean planning comes in. Ocean planning, much like zoning on land, helps ensure the orderly utilization, development and protection of coastal resources to support both economic development and conservation. In 2010, President Obama set forth the first-ever National Ocean Policy, which called for the development of regional marine spatial plans to facilitate communication and coordination among the varied coastal and ocean interests in a region and with the federal government. This was the first time the United States had sought to define a national ocean planning strategy. But it actually came decades after Rhode Island had started doing this important work in our own waters.
The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) has been conducting marine spatial planning since 1983. The agency has now developed eight special area management plans (SAMPs) designed to maximize use of Rhode Island’s beaches, salt ponds and major coastal rivers. The jewel in its crown, however, is the Ocean SAMP.
CRMC, Rhode Island Sea Grant, Roger Williams University and the University of Rhode Island led a two-year cooperative effort with state and federal agencies, scientists, legal experts, industry groups, local governments, trade associations and other organizations to assess nearly 1,500 square miles of ocean. Under the leadership of Grover Fugate at CRMC and Jennifer McCann at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island creatively worked with federal agencies to extend beyond the state’s normal influence of just three nautical miles off its coast to cover the full span of ocean waters between the mainland and Block Island, and even further into the Atlantic Ocean. Rhode Island then joined with other New England states to develop the Northeast Ocean Plan, the first regional plan to be completed under the National Ocean Policy.
I’m proud that Rhode Island’s innovative achievements and the visionary individuals behind them were recognized yesterday with the Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Solutions. Our state’s success building the first offshore wind farm in the United States can be directly credited to their ocean planning efforts. Thanks to this work, right now, wind turbines are spinning off the coast of Rhode Island and delivering clean, renewable energy to the residents of Block Island.
Congratulations to the Rhode Island Ocean SAMP planning team and the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Bodies on this prestigious award and on making Rhode Island a national leader in ocean planning.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has represented Rhode Island, “The Ocean State,” in the U.S. Senate since 2007. He founded the Senate Oceans Caucus to promote creative, bipartisan policy solutions that protect our oceans, our coasts and the people and economies that rely on them. As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Whitehouse has championed efforts to reduce carbon pollution, protect air and water and position Rhode Island as a leader in the clean energy economy.