Announced in January, the Peter Benchley Ocean Award will be given to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body (MidA RPB) on May 11, 2017.
The MidA RPB is a group of federal and state agencies tasked with analyzing ocean issues, developing ocean planning documents, and working to improve the management of ocean resources. It was formed as a response to the National Ocean Policy and Presidential Executive Order 13547 of July 2010.
Since then, Pennsylvania has been engaged with the MidA RPB’s collaborative effort to explore marine spatial planning. Although the focus of this effort and related study area is largely ocean-based, DEP is involved due to protecting the interests and resources of Pennsylvania’s ports, ocean energy activities in the mid-Atlantic, our role in water management for both the Delaware and Chesapeake Estuaries, and the continuing working relationship with our partners in the region.
DEP was designated by the Governor’s Office to assist the MidA RPB in its planning efforts. In turn, DEP staff assisted in creating a model program that engaged a wide range of coastal and ocean stakeholders to better understand, map, and make use of our public seas for all citizens.
Understanding marine ecosystems and how they function and applying that shared knowledge to permitting and planning processes allows for better common uses while reducing conflicts between different users in fisheries, marine farming, shipping and ports, offshore clean energy, national defense, and marine parks, wildlife, and habitat.
The value for Pennsylvania is that we were at the table. We were able to share in the development of a new GIS-based data set where information on ports, seagoing transportation, military operations, commercial and recreational fishing and uses, and communications of cargo/shipping movements are located; also, living species management, key data of fish, living resources, and related management.
It is beneficial to Pennsylvania to be able to contribute to future management of these resources. Rather than remain isolated, Pennsylvania contributed to this voluntary partnership, thereby forming new interstate and federal working relationships.
The Benchley award is known as “the Academy Award of the Oceans." It was awarded to the MidA RPB based on its landmark ocean plan. The Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan promotes the collaborative use of integrated ocean data and best practices for informed and efficient management of the nation’s shared marine resources.
This cooperative/collaborative regional approach among Federal, State, and Tribal members created a new opportunity that did not exist previously. It allows for partnerships, sharing of information, and mutually agreed upon goals and objectives for ocean planning. This has never been done before on such a scope and scale.
It worked, and state and federal agencies continue to advance ocean planning collaborations such as planning wind farm energy development, protection of deep ocean corals, improved fisheries management, reducing conflicts among shipping, fishing, and military operations, and reducing collisions with migratory whales.
Because the effort was voluntary, and since the MidA RPB is not a regulatory body, there are no new regulations or financial commitments placed upon the states.