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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer

May 15, 2021

Planning for the Future by Planning Out Ocean Spaces

Julia Wolf & Ava Kiss, Mount Holyoke College & Cornell University


Above: Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve map. Below: Cape Henlopen, Delaware map of wildlife sightings shows highest frequency around preserved lands

If our trip on the Corwith Cramer has taught us one thing it is that the ocean is a vast and expansive place. We have gone days seeing nothing but blue waves and open skies out until the horizon. Our port stops along the coast tell a different story. As space for expanding industry on land becomes increasingly scarce we are turning to our oceans for activities such as large scale aquaculture, mining, and energy. Heading up the US East Coast we have anchored outside the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in North Carolina and Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. Both locations are areas of conservation bordered by towns and coastal development. In order to balance our uses of the ocean with each other and the environment we need comprehensive ocean planning.

As we dropped anchor outside of Beaufort, North Carolina, we saw the built up landscape of the town of Beaufort to the left and the barren beaches and dunes of Shackleford Banks. While we were not inside the Rachel Carson NERR, we could still see the different aspects of ocean zoning and planning play out. For the first couple of hours we were there, there was a commercial fishing boat with trawling nets on either side like a giant bird. To the left of us was the channel leading into Beaufort, with some recreational fishing and sailboat heading out and going in. Our observations helped us to further grasp what marine spatial planning was all about.

When visiting Delaware Bay, we were able to go to shore and explore the State Park. The state park had so many pine trees that surrounding air smelled like Christmas. The beach dunes were massive with thick and healthy dune grass. The area near the state park was also vibrant. The surrounding area was most residential with many docks and recreational boats. In the bay, we saw many cargo ships making their way to Philadelphia and other ports along the Delaware River. In the surrounding environment, we saw many dolphins surrounding the boat and horseshoe crabs lining the beaches. All of these different aspects are taken into account for marine management.

Marine management takes many forms, the specific differences between each is complex to explain so we will just define Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and ocean zoning go further than just preserving land or providing areas for eco-friendly recreation. These forms of planning and management work proactively to define areas of intended use and conservation within our coastal spaces to best serve a particular location. Ocean zoning address the needs of stakeholder groups, while capitalizing on the opportunity for controlled long term development of the coast. It is hard to understand the complexities within these areas that we are only visiting for a short time. Both the NERR in North Carolina and the State Park in Delaware are currently conserved coasts with the potential for ocean zoning.

For NERRs, it's about protecting the environment and marine space but also allowing and promoting human activities. In both North Carolina and Delaware, there are a multitude of activities available to the public that take place. These include hiking, beaches, fishing, boat ramps, and education programs. When most people think of Marine Protected Areas, they picture a place with no human activity, but NERRs do the opposite. They protect the land and water but allow humans to use the land in a friendly manner. NERRs allow for accessible enjoyment and education of the surrounding environment. The NERRs that we are focusing on allow the surrounding towns and areas to use the space equally. There is no special pass needed!

Most NERRs have education programs that encourage school groups to visit or for college students and others to do research. All NERRs have a water quality monitoring program that allows for standardized monitoring across the country. This program involves college students to help with sample collection and process data, but the program also strives to develop curriculum that teaches K-12 students basic ecology lessons using the data. Opening up NERRs to more students and educators can improve equity of environmental education.

Marine planning allows stakeholders to have a say; the most effective marine management plans are built from the bottom up with the local community setting the guidelines. People are more likely to follow regulations and conservation when they are a part of the decision making process. Additionally it is important to understand who has historically been left out of such conversations. Marine planning provides an opportunity to create more equitable access to resources and space. Both North Carolina and Delaware coasts are developed residential areas. Not only do areas such as NERRs and MPAs create plans of ocean uses, they support ongoing education and research. Such activities and education help to increase people's perceptions of the importance of protected marine resources and environments, making them better stewards of the ocean. With support from the surrounding communities, well managed coastlines can foster a deeper connection to one's sense of place and become a source of pride and happiness!

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