Written by Allison Arteaga
Earlier this month, the National Ocean Council approved regional ocean plans for the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic, quietly ushering in a new era of ocean policy that’s expected to include greater emphasis on the needs of stakeholder groups like East Coast surfers. These plans have been many years in the making, and in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, local surfers were heavily involved in the process every step of the way.
Back in July 2010, an executive order by President Barack Obama tasked federal agencies with forming regional planning bodies to develop policies that would promote ocean health, preserve heritage, boost economic sustainability, allow for responsible use, and respond to climate change impacts. As these regional planning bodies formed, Surfrider Foundation members became leading advocates for access issues and emphasized the need to consider the cultural and economic importance of ocean recreation before making decisions that could impact resources.
Surfrider Foundation Northeast Regional Manager Melissa Gates said this project was a rare opportunity for surfers to be proactively involved in the decision-making process. “Whereas historically, eco-minded surfers have reactively chased after bad development projects and poorly thought out preservation plans to try to stop them, now we have the opportunity to engage before decisions are made,” Gates said, “[and] before permitting processes are too far along to help shape or stop.”
Throughout the years-long planning process in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Surfrider members and staff stayed busy attending planning board meetings, participating in work groups, making public comments, circulating petitions, and conducting outreach to keep local stakeholders engaged. Surfrider also led an important study for the planning boards in both regions that collected data on how, when, and where people use coastal areas for recreation.
The resulting data has since been incorporated (along with data on topics like marine life and habitat, cultural resources, marine transportation, and energy and infrastructure) into interactive databases that display resources and use patterns geographically throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Per the newly approved plan, regulatory agencies will now be required to consider this data in their impact studies before permitting uses of ocean resources. That gives stakeholders and environmental advocates a voice in the decision-making process and an unprecedented tool for holding agencies accountable for their decisions.
Surfrider Foundation Mid-Atlantic Policy Manager Matt Gove considers this a huge step in the right direction for ocean enthusiasts up and down the East Coast. “I think one of the biggest wins for surfing and recreation is that we are now ‘at the table’ in being represented in data about where people surf and recreate,” he said. “Our opinions on ocean management are being heard at a higher level than they historically have been.”
Now that the plans have been approved, the next step will be keeping stakeholders involved to make sure that recommended policies are implemented in each region and to provide input on any new projects that could affect recreation resources. Surfrider Foundation has built “recreation coalitions” of coastal enthusiasts and business leaders to help out with this task, and it’s not too late to get involved. Find out how to stay informed by visiting protectandenjoy.org contacting your regional Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Surfrider rep below.
Melissa Gates (ME to CT): firstname.lastname@example.org
Matt Gove (NY to VA): email@example.com