Mid-Atlantic council to release ocean data

Good planning starts with good information. That’s why the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) forum met on Jan. 29 to learn about three data-collection projects regarding the Atlantic Ocean.

Hosted in Dewey Beach, with the Rehoboth Bay as a backdrop, the MARCO meeting revolved around one idea: What do we know about the Mid-Atlantic?

The MARCO partnership includes Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York.

The online toolkit and resource center consolidate available data and let users visualize and analyze ocean resources and human-use information, such as fishing grounds, recreational areas, shipping lanes, habitat areas and energy sites, among others.

Their Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal is an online resource where people can map out as many or as few ocean elements as they’d like. Users can see where sea turtles, boaters or wind-energy planning occurs.

The mapping tools are online at portal.midatlanticocean.org.

That data will help the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body (RPB) prepare its official report this year. Their goal is to increase coordination between government and tribal agencies, fisheries and other stakeholders, ultimately leading to better-informed decisions about use of ocean space.

RPB will be drafting a regional Ocean Action Plan in March, with a public release in June and possible final approval in autumn.

“This entire process is non-regulatory,” said Sarah Cooksey of the MARCO management board and Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Board. “A lot of people think we’re going to come up with new laws.” Instead, the goal is just to collect good information, under one roof.

“As a biologist, I think it’s fascinating. I love to see where the whales are,” as well as human activity and more, Cooksey said.

The group was commended by Secretary David Small of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control.

“[Let’s create] a fundamentally strong set of information and build on that, so that at some point in the future, … we are using the data to make really strong policy decisions and management decisions,” Small said.

Data already informs current decisions, but Small said he sees the power in doing that on a regional scale.

“I think that putting that science in front of us to inform those types of policy decisions is our obligation, quite frankly, as a science-driven agency,” he said. “I think we’ve all come to learn that the intersection of policy and science is a dangerous one. I think the common denominator is the information that you have begun to construct.”

Other workshop guests represented various levels of government, public agencies, fisheries, industry, contractors, the general public and other stakeholders.

MARCO contracted different groups to prepare three sets of information.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Assessment is found at roa.midatlanticocean.org. It is a regional assessment that shows or describes the marine environment and human activities there.

Topics are widespread, including beach replenishment, ocean acidification, industry values (from tourism to shipbuilding) and more.

Designed to be easy to navigate for professionals and the general public, it contains a library of data, maps and links to more of the same.

Animals are the focus of Marinelife Data & Analysis Team (MDAT). Detailed maps will be released, possibly in February, on animal populations and migration. That starts from the bottom (individual species) and runs to the top (determining ecologically diverse areas).

Humans are studied in Human Use Spatial Data Synthesis (HUDS) project. That team studied recreation, shipping, security, fisheries and renewable energy uses in the Atlantic.

The public will be able to view the layers of mapping data in late February.