Virginia CZM Program Initiates Development of a Virginia Ocean Plan
In October of 2021 Virginia began a multi-year process to develop a Virginia Ocean Plan using its Section 309 Coastal Enhancement grant from NOAA. An inter-agency Virginia Ocean Policy Committee (VOPC) will guide the plan, which aims to address identification of additional offshore wind areas, port expansion, increased shipping traffic, military use, recreational use, sand and mineral mining, ocean acidification, temperature changes and shifting species, and creation of mechanisms for baseline and ongoing monitoring of fisheries and wildlife. Other issues such as invasive species and offshore aquaculture will be addressed if the need arises. The MARCO Program Director will serve as a Regional Liaison to coordinate among several regional ocean planning working groups and Virginia to help inform the Virginia Ocean Plan about regional activities and data that could be leveraged or elaborated upon at the state level, and to connect Virginia’s priorities to regional resources.
To begin the process, law students at the College of William & Mary’s Coastal Policy Center are reviewing other state ocean plans to glean which approaches have worked best and what “enforceable policies” have been successfully adopted, the development of which is a required use of CZM Section 309 funding. At the next meeting of the VOPC results of this research will inform the outline for Virginia’s plan. Once an outline is drafted, input from federal agencies, environmental and industry organizations and other stakeholders will be requested.
The Virginia Ocean Plan will also build off the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan published in 2016. The MARCO Program Director will serve as a liaison to help ensure compatibility with the ocean goals of MARCO states and North Carolina and to keep neighboring states apprised of Virginia’s efforts.
The VOPC envisions an Ocean Plan that could show ecological and human use “blue spots” and why they are important. It could be a framework for providing regulatory agencies with guidance for better management and a regulatory road map. Some envision it like a local comprehensive plan that lays out a general vision and a process for decisions to be made.
MARCO’s efforts since 2009 to create the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal as well as Virginia CZM’s efforts to create the Coastal GEMS portal (http://www.coastalgems.org/) have provided a wealth of mapped data that now makes creation of a Virginia Ocean Plan a far easier task and one that can be based on a multitude of best available scientific data.
Credit: Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program