Rhode Island’s experience with ocean management underlines the need to listen to locals and carefully build trust over time.

All over the globe people increasingly turn to the oceans and marine ecosystems for food, jobs, energy, recreation and transportation.  Canada is no different, with its rich marine resources with their myriad uses – from traditional activities such as fish processing, shipbuilding and marine transportation, to newer ones such as tourism, aquaculture and biotechnology. These marine-based activities generated nearly $38 billion in 2012. In that context, effective coastal and ocean planning, also known as marine spatial planning (MSP), is needed more than ever to protect marine resources, resolve use conflicts, improve interagency coordination and collaboration, and prepare for future ocean and coastal uses.

With Canada’s commitment to promote offshore renewable energy, such as overseeing tidal power projects in the Bay of Fundy, it has a compelling reason to pursue marine spatial planning. It has made great efforts to apply MSP as a tool to respond to the growing tension between protecting natural resources and traditional uses, while creating opportunity for future growth.

Most recently, using the best available science and local and traditional knowledge, British Columbia and 17 First Nations completed the development of four subregional marine use plans for BC’s North Pacific Coast through the Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP). The MaPP plans make recommendations for key areas of marine management, including uses, activities and protection. The plan will inform decisions regarding the sustainable economic development and stewardship of the coastal marine environment in the plan areas, which extend from Haida Gwaii to Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

Coasts and oceans are important in the US – whether it’s to wander along the beach or tend to our fish pens.  The state of Rhode Island, which is known as the Ocean State, has been proactively planning our coasts and oceans for over 40 years.  Most recently, our state has been recognized for the development of the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), a federally adopted regulatory tool that has increased protection of the natural and human resources that Rhode Islanders value – like the whales and fish that migrate through our waters, and commercial fishing and maritime industries. At the same time, the management plan identifies appropriate sites and reviews construction for the first offshore renewable energy farm in the North Atlantic.   The Ocean SAMP streamlined the regulatory process and continues to engage with fishermen, researchers, environmentalists and the community. Meanwhile, the plan is helping multiple user groups with varied goals to decide how to share valuable ocean space and natural resources using the best available science and best management practices.

My responsibilities at the University of Rhode Island include sharing my personal experience with coastal management, and facilitating learning amongst coastal management practitioners. This May, I was invited to Ottawa to share my Rhode Island Ocean SAMP story at an event called “Planning for the Oceans of Tomorrow/A Canada-US Dialogue,” jointly sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, Canada and the United States Embassy. During my visit, many asked me how I thought Canada should move forward with implementing the Ocean Acts – a federal effort that calls for the development of a national ocean management strategy to protect Canada’s oceans and grow its economy.  As I listened to the current opportunities and challenges that Canada is facing in responding to this Act, I found that I did have some thoughts on how Canada should move forward.

First, I would encourage you to start this planning process in locations along your coasts and oceans that currently have a pressing issue or problem that “stirs the blood” and brings stakeholders to the table. It is likely that with a strong driver like this you will be able to sustain stakeholder engagement and ownership of the project through plan development and into implementation, which will enhance the likelihood of success. In Rhode Island, for example, planners used the driver of an offshore renewable energy project to develop an ecosystem-based management plan that increased protection for 54 percent of the 1,500-square-mile study area.

My second piece of advice is to understand where you started. History matters, and if there is a history of tension or conflict between groups, or if there is no history of collaborative multi-sector planning, then planning goals and expectations must be set accordingly. Review and understand which past planning efforts worked and which didn’t work. Learn from and build on past successes, in order to avoid making the same mistakes.  Factor in time to build trust. A foundation of familiarity and trust among stakeholders and between stakeholders and planning agencies can facilitate an effective process. Trust takes time to develop and, in some cases, it should be established long before an MSP process begins.

During an MSP process in the San Francisco region, the US Coast Guard and collaborative partners pulled off the 34th America’s Cup races, allowing for the event and existing uses to take place without major disruption to users or negative impacts on the environment. To do this, the Coast Guard depended on its strong and trusted relationship with the local Harbor Safety Committee, which included representatives from diverse maritime industries and agencies. The committee was a sounding board and source of expertise to ensure that plans for the sailing event were realistic and supported by industry.

In Rhode Island, planners organized meetings and informal discussions between fishermen, experts and regulators as a response to the fishermen’s significant concerns about the effects of offshore wind farms on navigation, as well as to the effects of electromagnetic fields from submerged cables on fisheries resources. These talks helped fishermen understand how these issues would be considered in the planning process, thus building trust with the fishing community over the two-year planning period.

Government needs to listen to the locals. Local knowledge and first hand experience are necessary to inform realistic, practical decisions that will have stakeholder support and can resolve conflicts. Thus everyone, from local skilled professionals and commercial fishermen to average citizens, should be consulted. Plan to involve the full range of locals in everything from interpreting data to developing reasonable planning scenarios. This is necessary to develop a realistic MSP.

In Washington State, representatives from the coastal community-based marine resources committees sit on the official governor-appointed stakeholder advisory council, thus ensuring local communities are playing a leadership role in this state-led effort.  In Rhode Island, the Narragansett Indian tribe contributed an oral history and knowledge of the tribe’s traditional use of the offshore environment. This has led to an ongoing collaboration between the tribe and university geologists and archaeologists, who are studying the offshore environment and developing best practices for identifying submerged tribal landscapes and artifacts.

My last bit of advice is to remember that managing our coasts and oceans is a continuous process that requires wide public engagement.  It doesn’t end when the plan has been adopted – in fact, that is just the beginning.  When embarking on any MSP initiative, you are building the framework for future planning.  Rhode Island could not have developed the Ocean SAMP without the hard work and effort that we undertook over the past 20 years.  The trust and relationships that were created during this time allowed us to develop the Ocean SAMP.  I wish Canada success in its efforts to protect the valuable array of marine resources upon which its people depend, while it continues to explore opportunities. Rhode Island is pleased to share the lessons that have bolstered and enhanced its ocean planning strategy.

Photo: Nina B / Shutterstock.com

 


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