Smart ocean planning can bring our economy billions of dollars of benefits according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study examined where to best locate new offshore wind farms in coastal waters around Massachusetts, confirming that smart-planning will help us determine the most efficient way to balance different human activities in our oceans and ensure the continued health of ocean resources. With industrial pressures on our oceans only increasing, this study shows that comprehensive ocean planning is the right choice for our economy, coastal communities, and ocean life.
We demand a lot from our oceans. From fishing and tourism to shipping and energy development, we expect our oceans to deliver valuable resources for generations to come. However, with all these different human activities currently handled on an ad hoc basis—it’s a first-come, first-served system for industries like fishing and oil-extraction—it’s not surprising that our seas are suffering under a barrage of problems. Pollution, overfishing, ocean acidification, and loss of wildlife habitat are putting our food sources, ocean-related jobs, and important marine ecosystems in jeopardy.
Comprehensive ocean planning, also known as marine spatial planning (MSP), offers a common sense solution through smart planning. It allocates space in the oceans for various uses, balancing multiple demands and the need to protect ocean ecosystems and habitats. It identifies and can help quantify the trade-offs among different siting options. In other words, this smart planning strategy can identify the most efficient solution, minimizing conflicts between different industries, while protecting the marine environment and wildlife.
The Massachusetts study shows clearly how our economy can benefit from such spatial planning. New wind energy zones, off Massachusetts and other coastal areas, could contain hundreds of turbines that—if located incorrectly—could harm fish habitat, alter commercial fishing patterns, and displace endangered whale species. The study assesses the potential conflicts among offshore wind energy, commercial fishing, and whale-watching sectors and identifies and quantifies the value of choosing optimal wind farm locations that minimize conflicts among these sectors. The study concludes that optimal siting of offshore wind zones could generate more than $10 billion in extra value to the energy sector and prevent more than $1 million in losses to the fishery and whale-watching sectors, as contrasted to the status quo.
It’s this same emphasis on finding efficient, win-win solutions that forms the backbone of our nation’s first National Ocean Policy, established by President Obama in 2010. Up until now, some 140 laws and 20 agencies have governed our seas, each with their own agendas and often conflicting mandates. The National Ocean Policy requires that all agencies that play a role in ocean-related work finally coordinate their efforts.
This is a major step to reduce waste, inefficiency, and delay in our government. The National Ocean Policy calls for agencies, together with states and Tribes, and with stakeholder and public input, to develop comprehensive regional ocean plans. As shown in the Massachusetts Bay example, such planning can mean a stronger economy and more jobs for hardworking Americans.
With our oceans contributing more to our nation’s economic output than the entire U.S. farm sector, we can’t afford to just cross our fingers and hope for the best. The National Ocean Policy will help us efficiently protect our ocean resources and our economy for generations to come.