New York State achieved a milestone in ocean and Great Lakes protection last Wednesday when the final blueprint for how the state intends to protect and conserve these precious resources was delivered to the Legislature and the Governor's desk (this is the final version of the draft report released in January). As the report's very first line notes, "Despite the grandeur of New York's ocean and Great Lakes ecosystems, they are in trouble." Expeditiously acting on the report's recommendations will go a long way to redressing this sorry fact.
The report makes a few strong additions - including the promise that in two years' time there will be a progress report issued - and largely retains the excellent recommendations found in the draft plan. The New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council, made up of nine state agencies, have called for the following important, ground-breaking actions to change our course and save our resources:
- Developing an offshore renewable energy siting and habitat protection plan to help us safely and properly implement the clean energy of the future that will repower America.
- Creating an Ocean and a Great Lakes Health Index of regular assessments of their health to help pinpoint where improvements are needed and where investments will get us the greatest bang for the buck.
- Creation of overarching regional protection strategies - "action zones" - for New York's ocean and Great Lakes.
The Council report also encourages:
- Continuation of key scientific monitoring efforts to advise management decisions, such as the acoustic whale monitoring project to determine migration routes for endangered whales so that action can be taken to protect these animals from ship collisions and the development of an on-board fishery observer program to scientifically quantify and address where, when, and how many fish species are being unnecessarily tossed back as "bycatch" that the commercial fishery doesn't want to or can't keep. American shad, in particular, is a species that unites management objectives in the ocean and Hudson River Estuary.
- Implementation of the ecosystem-based management pilots in the Great South Bay and the Sandy Creeks Watershed.
- Enhanced development of the ocean and coastal "Atlas" that provides a one-stop shop for accurate information about these resources to all levels of government and the public.
- Partnering with other Mid-Atlantic states on issues of common concern, such as offshore energy siting, climate change, and habitat protection.
The state's work to actualize ecosystem-based management - a more holistic approach that factors in the interplay between different species and their habitats (as opposed to only evaluating things on a species-by-species, problem-by-problem basis) - is cutting-edge. The report promises that the nine agencies will continue to ensure that their ecosystem-based management guidelines are incorporated into their day-to-day decision making. This is essential to work going forward - the agencies must provide a clear and enforceable direction.
It's not always easy to get everyone on the same page, and we congratulate the nine agencies for their hard work in finalizing this critical report. Their coordinated effort and action is one of the reasons New York has emerged as a national leader in ocean protection.
These are challenging fiscal times, but the state just approved $6 million for ocean and Great Lakes projects to help the state continue on the progress we have made to restore the healthy ocean and Great Lakes projects that provide New Yorkers' jobs, income, food, transportation, beaches to lie on and waves to swim in.
There's much work to be done to restore our resources ... but now the state has a path forward.
Want to see more action toward healthy oceans nationwide? Tell your representatives in Congress you want a national Healthy Oceans Act here.