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Ocean plan welcome, but overdue

Op-ed: The Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Plan is a milestone in regional ocean management

7/18/2016 | Kris Hoellen, Senior Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer at the National Aquarium

I think it is only fitting that the National Aquarium and the World Trade Center Baltimore sit side-by-side along the Inner Harbor. Both entities depend upon our oceans — one exists to inspire conservation of our world's aquatic treasures while the other serves as the center for international commerce for our region, housing the Maryland Port Administration and major shipping lines. Both entities must work collaboratively and, I would argue, are dependent upon each other for long-term viability.

On July 5, Maryland and neighboring coastal states, together with federal agencies, tribes and regional fisheries managers, released the first draft of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan to help coordinate ocean use in the Mid-Atlantic. Developed over the last three years, this plan has actually been decades in the making and is long overdue.

The key takeaway from the plan is the need to facilitate economic development while conserving ecologically rich areas of our oceans. It brings all parties to the table, recognizing that resources are finite and demands are great.

The port of Baltimore is one of only three Eastern U.S. ports able to accommodate some of the largest container ships in the world, a particularly important capability in light of the expansion of the Panama Canal. The port contributes more than $3 billion in annual wages to Maryland's economy and is the regional hub for merchant shipping, an industry that carries 90 percent of international trade.

Moreover, the demand for renewable energy is rapidly expanding in our country. Given that offshore winds tend to blow harder and more uniformly than winds on land, the desire to take advantage of these conditions by placing commercial wind farms off-shore is increasing. Let's face it — very few of us live off the grid, and virtually all of us enjoy commodities that are transported to us via large cargo ships.

Furthermore, fishing in our region — both recreational and commercial, including a growing aquaculture industry — provides a much-needed, stable protein supply. In fact, the healthiest, most environmentally friendly protein supply is fish-based protein. We turn to our ocean for each of these diverse uses, all of which must be accommodated while ensuring that the resource that provides them is protected.

Our ocean is our lifeblood. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat — all of these come from the ocean. We could not survive without it. It is not an amenity, but rather a necessity. The ocean produces more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere and serves as our greatest carbon sink. It is also home to an abundant array of marine life in the mid-Atlantic — whales, turtles, dolphins, sharks, oysters, Maryland blue crabs and many others — all of which depend on the protection of their habitats.

s the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan perfect? No. But it is a milestone in regional ocean management and will create a playbook for federal agencies to use in encouraging sustainable economic development while conserving our marine ecosystems. There are many parallel plans on the terrestrial side: land use plans, transportation plans, water management plans, state wildlife action plans and more. It is time to focus overarching, coordinated planning efforts on the ocean.

Through this planning process, we need to identify areas offshore that are critical to the long-term health of our region's marine life, particularly those areas where more than 50 percent of the region's fish, birds, corals and marine mammals can be found over the course of a year. Gathering this information will allow us to make better decisions and provide greater predictability and certainty to all individuals and entities concerned with the health of the ocean.

It is our hope that the Regional Ocean Plan for the Mid-Atlantic will be completed by the end of this year to ensure our long-term environmental health, our economic vitality and our social well-being. After all, failure to plan is simply planning to fail.

The plan ( is available for public review and comment through Sept. 6, and a public listening session will be held Tuesday evening at the Ocean Pines Library in Berlin, from 6-8 p.m.