New York’s Ocean Action Plan

Congratulations to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, and New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado on last week’s quiet milestone in ocean management—release of the state’s Ocean Action Plan.

The plan is a “first-ever comprehensive 10-year blueprint” that “represents a shared vision of the priority issues and key actions needed to be undertaken over the next ten years” to safeguard our ocean health and the families and businesses that rely on it.

I think of it as New York’s ocean to do list for the next decade.

New York’s ocean is an economic powerhouse and a beautiful place to visit, swim, and fish, but is stressed from problems like pollution, habitat loss, rising water temperatures, and ocean acidification. And our ocean is busier than ever with both traditional uses like shipping and recreation and new uses like aquaculture and offshore renewables.

The New York Ocean Action Plan explores these existing and emerging challenges and provides a menu of projects to advance that all relate back to four interconnected goals:

  • Ensure the ecological integrity of the ocean ecosystem;
  • Promote sustainable economic growth;
  • Increase ocean resilience to climate change impacts; and
  • Empower the public to actively participate in ocean decisions and stewardship.

Sixty-one plan actions over ten years may not seem like a lot, but they are well chosen and substantial. Each is broken out into short-term (implemented in 2 years), near-term (in the next 5 years), and long-term (in the next 10 years) steps. Some steps are already underway.

The plan tackles some of the most pressing issues New York’s ocean faces:

  • Concerned about nutrient pollution in Long Island’s waters? Action 8.
  • Worried about the vast amount of bycatch—fish, turtles and marine mammals that are thrown back, dead and dying, as a result of some types of commercial fishing? Action 9.
  • Wondering how problematic ocean acidification will be for the state’s fish and shellfish? Action 15.
  • Interested in the impacts that growing amounts of underwater noise from shipping and military training are having on marine life? Action 39.
  • Thinking about how aquaculture should be developed? Action 41.
  • Want to know if your area might flood due to climate change? Action 45.

With more than enough work to go around it’s a good thing the plan represents a shared playbook for the entire state on ocean projects. The Departments of Environmental Conservation and State may share the opening note given their significant role in ocean decisions, but there are more agency acronyms in the plan than I knew existed. This upfront coordination is a welcome new way of managing that allows work to proceed in a more cost-efficient and effective manner.

The plan also notes that an annual work plan will be developed to keep track of progress and a stakeholder workshop will be held every two years to ensure that the lead agencies listed are held accountable for this work.

This plan is a great achievement and there is much here to do. Last year, New York State invested a record $15 million toward ocean and Great Lakes protection as part of an expanded Environmental Protection Fund of $300 million. We hope to see the same commitment in 2017. In fact, we already know what important scientific research, management planning and restoration projects we’ll spend the funding on.

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