Coastal community leaders, ocean users and conservationists affiliated with the nonprofit coalition Our Ocean released a proposal today to create Oregon's first network of marine protected areas and reserves.
Submitted as part of the public process initiated by the state, the plan would create pockets of protected marine habitat, while leaving the vast majority of the ocean open to recreational and commercial uses. Based in sound science and grounded in community support, this network of protected areas was designed to offset threats to ocean health, such as climate change, pollution, population growth, coastal development, habitat loss and depleted fish stocks.
"Our state has always been able to depend on our uniquely beautiful and productive ocean. It's key to our quality of life, part of Oregon's heritage, and critical to a billion dollar coastal economy. Call it an ecological insurance policy or an endowment for our grandchildren — marine protected areas and reserves are a responsible tool we have for maintaining our rich ocean resources for future generations," says Our Ocean director Susan Allen of the Pew Environment Group, a coalition member.
The coalition's proposal contains eight interconnected sites that are designated as both marine protected areas and marine reserves. The coalition also supports a ninth proposal submitted by a fishermen's group based in Port Orford called the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team (POORT). Scientific studies show that marine reserves result in larger, more abundant, healthier and more fertile fish populations, and a more diverse, resilient marine habitat. While Oregon has designated some seasonal protected areas, this is the first time the state is considering long-term, sustainable protection for unique and threatened marine ecosystems.
Our Ocean worked closely with coastal communities to help generate local proposals, which provided the basis for its statewide network, proposed today. At least six coastal communities have nominated individual sites for consideration as marine protected areas and reserves.
"I am impressed by the efforts made by Our Ocean members to reach out to as many people on the coast as possible, both through Community Action Teams and individual interviews," says Jennifer Bloeser, acting executive director of the Pacific Marine Conservation Council.
Our Ocean developed its own statewide proposal, in addition to helping local communities develop their own proposals, because scientific research shows that a network or system of marine protected areas and reserves brings the most ecological benefit and safety for ocean users, while minimizing adverse economic impact.
Along with community groups, Our Ocean has spent several months fine-tuning proposals to capture the right balance between ecological benefits and potential economic impact. Our Ocean started the process by conducting a comprehensive analysis of the important ecological areas off the Oregon coast. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) tools, the group rigorously analyzed the physical and biological features in our state waters, representative of high biodiversity, critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, habitats important for breeding, feeding and shelter, and sensitive and rare habitats. Throughout this process, Our Ocean made this data available to interested community groups, and will continue to do so.
In turn, coastal groups helped inform the coalition's decisions with local knowledge of where fishing and crabbing take place, and feedback on community support. Our Ocean's coastal organizers held extensive community meetings and conducted interviews with individual ocean users – including those opposed to the concept of marine reserves.
"The community input and feedback we received was consistent and thoughtful," says Our Ocean coastal organizer Gus Gates of Florence. "Coastal residents and ocean users were able to tell us specifically which areas they use the most, which areas they felt had declined from overuse, and which ones they thought were worth protecting."
All nominations were submitted to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) on Sept. 30. After they are reviewed by ODFW and other state agencies, the Ocean Policy Advisory Council will review them between October 23rd and November 30th, 2008. While the state agencies are reviewing proposed protection sites, they will also be formulating a projected budget. State agencies will make a budget request to the Governor, who will, in turn, make his own recommendation to the Legislature for their review in the 2009 Legislative Session.
City councils of coastal towns such as Port Orford, Yachats, Lincoln City, and Cannon Beach have passed resolutions firmly supporting the creation of marine reserves and protected areas in Oregon's waters. A poll conducted in July, 2008 by the opinion research firm Grove Insight found that 70 percent of Oregonians and 67 percent of those living in coastal counties supported the establishment of marine protected areas, including marine reserves, in Oregon state waters. Both California and Washington have implemented marine reserves and protected areas.
The proposed sites for marine protected areas and marine reserves in Oregon are: