New Poll Shows Support for Ocean Planning and Protection

Like many, I spend my vacation at the beach every year with my family, listening to seagulls and my son’s laughter, as he jumps in the waves with his grandparents. Being able to visit the ocean is a gift. And a healthy ocean that’s home to a rich variety of fish and marine life is one I want to pass on to my son and future generations.

I’m not alone in that desire. NRDC recently worked with two research groups—the bipartisan team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies—to poll Mid-Atlantic residents about their thoughts on oceans. After speaking with residents in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, they found that people overwhelmingly support protecting our ocean.

Here are some findings about the views of Mid-Atlantic residents:

  • 60 percent see the ocean in their state as “extremely” or “very important” to their overall quality of life. 
  • 75 percent consider the ocean important for future generations, but also see it as vulnerable, and not well-managed.
  • Many also see the ocean as “busy,” and,
  • More than one-third (34 percent) do not believe the ocean is “well-managed.”
  • 93 percent ranked providing a place for fish and wildlife to live as the top ocean benefit, when presented with a range of benefits the ocean provides. That’s a full 18 points higher than for any other benefit tested. Some of the other benefits cited include:
  • Providing a place for recreation like surfing, fishing, swimming, walking on the beach, biking or viewing birds and other wildlife (75 percent);
  • Providing a place for children to learn about nature (72 percent); and
  • Providing fresh seafood (72 percent).

Mid-Atlantic residents support ocean planning

This need to protect our ocean and the food, jobs, and recreation it provides was something I heard firsthand at July open house/listening sessions to discuss the first-ever draft Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan. Mid-Atlantic states from New York to Virginia developed the draft plan, along with federally recognized tribes, the regional fishery management council, and eight federal agencies, recognizing that our ocean waters are becoming busier than ever. Once finalized later this year, the plan will guide agencies’ decisions on ocean conservation and sustainable use.

Regional ocean planning represents a new way of governing. Instead of working in silos and sometimes at cross purposes, ocean decision-makers are starting to work together, and with stakeholders and input from the public, to proactively guide ocean development. Planning ahead allows for smarter choices, and helps identify and resolve potential conflicts early.

Nearly four in five of the poll respondents supported development of a Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan when read a description of the planning process. More than 75 percent of respondents in each of the six states support a coordinated plan.

Even after Mid-Atlantic respondents heard statements from supporters and opponents of the action plan, they continued to support the ocean plan—support stayed level at 79 percent.

Mid-Atlantic residents want to conserve marine life

Respondents saw great value in the plan’s ability to identify and conserve areas critical for the long-term health of the region’s marine life, which can be harmed by increasing demands. Upon hearing a list of specific aspects of ocean planning, respondents indicated:

  • 96 percent support identifying areas offshore that are important for the health of marine life;
  • 93 percent support committing agencies to conserve ocean areas important for fish and sea life; and,
  • 90 percent support setting objectives for ocean health and indicators to regularly measure progress in meeting those objectives.

Further, when survey respondents were asked to rank their top two priorities in regional ocean planning among choices of environmental protection, protection of industries and jobs, and recreational uses:

  • 64 percent choose environmental protection as a first priority; and,
  • 80 percent choose it as a first or second priority.

Choice of Top Priority for Mid-Atlantic Ocean Planning

All told, these survey results show that Mid-Atlantic residents:

  • place a high value on the ocean’s contribution to their quality of life;
  • recognize it is vulnerable in the face of increasing demands placed upon it by multiple users; and,
  • strongly support a regional ocean planning process that will help to secure its long-term health.  

Speak up for our ocean

The draft ocean plan is a good start in improving the way we manage our ocean, but we still need changes to ensure a healthy ocean today and in the future.

The regional ocean plan must include a short, definitive deadline—ideally by the end of this year—to identify areas offshore that are important for the health of marine life and to commit agencies to conserve these ecologically important areas and places of high biodiversity. These are goals that are supported by this recent polling—and by most anyone who’s recently spent at day at the beach (or in traffic to get there).

Please help encourage a healthy ocean by reviewing the draft Mid-Atlantic plan and e-mail your comments to


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