Massachusetts Develops First Comprehensive Ocean Management Plan

Written by on July 6, 2009 in Policy & Ocean Law
MASS Ocean Management Area

MASS Ocean Management Area

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has drafted the first-in-the-nation comprehensive ocean management plan and will have the final promulgation ready by December 31, 2009.

According to the executive summary of the draft plan, there is a strong need to protect and enhance the marine environment given the plentiful  activity around it – recreation and tourism, fishing and shellfishing, shipping and trade, scientific research, infrastructure  such as offshore liquefied natural gas facilities, fiber optic, electrical cables, and natural gas pipelines as well as new activities that include deepwater aquaculture and wave, tidal, and wind energy.  According to the Ocean Conservancy, this comprehensive plan will determine how ocean industry uses and conservation will be balanced in state waters.

The draft ocean plan says it addresses a fundamental issue: the ocean is a public trust resource, and the Commonwealth must effectively manage the protection and use of its waters on behalf of the public for the benefit of current and future generations.

The Oceans Act, ground-breaking legislation signed on May 28, 2008, directs that the draft ocean plan address the following 15 specific requirements:

  1. set forth the commonwealth’s goals, siting priorities and standards for ensuring effective stewardship of its ocean waters held in trust for the benefit of the public;
  2. adhere to sound management practices, taking into account the existing natural, social, cultural, historic and economic characteristics of the planning areas;
  3. preserve and protect the public trust;
  4. reflect the importance of the waters of the commonwealth to its citizens who derive livelihoods and recreational benefits from fishing;
  5. value biodiversity and ecosystem health;
  6. identify and protect special, sensitive or unique estuarine and marine life and habitats;
  7. address climate change and sea-level rise;
  8. respect the interdependence of ecosystems;
  9. coordinate uses that include international, federal, state and local jurisdictions;
  10. foster sustainable uses that capitalize on economic opportunity without significant detriment to the ecology or natural beauty of the ocean;
  11. preserve and enhance public access;
  12. support the infrastructure necessary to sustain the economy and quality of life for the citizens of the commonwealth;
  13. encourage public participation in decision-making;
  14. adapt to evolving knowledge and understanding of the ocean environment;
  15. identify appropriate locations and performance standards for activities, uses and facilities allowed under the Ocean Sanctuaries Act, including but not limited to renewable energy facilities, aquaculture, sand mining for beach nourishment, cables, pipelines.

The process to develop the draft plan included 18 public meetings across the Commonwealth, 90 meetings with stakeholders such as pilots, fishermen, non-governmental organizations, and academia and 5 public workshops.  It also included evaluating the Oceans Act and developing plan goals and strategies based on its values; using these strategies to help assess the compatibility and impacts of uses, activities, and facilities allowed under the Ocean Sanctuaries Act with existing uses and marine resources; generating maps that illustrate impacts associated with uses of marine resources; evaluating management options; and developing an ocean plan to accomplish the goals described below that is responsive to the Oceans Act.

The Oceans Management Draft Plan addresses four goals:

  1. Balance and protect the natural, social, cultural, historic, and economic interests of the marine ecosystem through integrated management;
  2. Recognize and protect biodiversity, ecosystem health, and the interdependence of ecosystems;
  3. Support wise use of marine resources, including renewable energy, sustainable uses, and infrastructure; and
  4. Incorporate new knowledge as the basis for management that adapts over time to address changing social, technological, and environmental conditions

Under this approach, special, sensitive or unique natural resources and important existing water-dependent uses are provided enhanced protection in the siting, development, and operation of new uses, facilities, and activities.

The ocean plan combines elements of both designated-area and performance standard-based management by establishing three categories of management area:

Prohibited: the prohibited area is a specific area where most uses, activities and facilities are expressly prohibited by the Ocean Sanctuaries Act, as amended by the Oceans Act and is coincident with the Cape Cod Ocean Sanctuary, within which a variety of uses, activities and facilities are expressly prohibited by the Ocean Sanctuaries Act, as amended by the Oceans Act, and are therefore prohibited under the ocean plan,

Regional Energy:  renewable energy areas are places specifically designated for commercial wind energy facilities, in recognition of the need to provide opportunity for renewable energy generation at a meaningful scale, but to do so with careful regard for potential environmental impacts.  While other renewable energy technologies are allowed in these areas, it does not appear that commercial-scale opportunities for wave or tidal energy exist in the areas given currently available technology, and

Multi-Use:  the multi-use area is the remainder—and majority—of the ocean planning area, where uses, activities and facilities allowed by the Ocean Sanctuaries Act are managed based on siting and performance standards (associated with specific mapped resources and uses) that direct development away from high value resources and concentrations of existing water-dependent uses.  It establishes a higher level of protection for special, sensitive or unique resources (SSU) and a higher level of review by providing baseline information on concentrations of existing uses, identifying them as significant existing interests.

You can find the full version, individual chapters, figures and maps, technical reports and ways to be notified and participate at the official website of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs under the Massachusetts Ocean Plan.

The draft plan is the first roadmap for national marine spatial planning in the United States, which President Obama has recently elevated as a national ocean policy priority in a presidential memorandum.  To view the complete Presidential memorandum visit:

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Celia is Director of Business Operations for OceanLines LLC and is a frequent contributor to both OceanLines and Marine Science Today. She is a certified diver and her favorite topic is marine biology, especially stories about whales. .


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