From tide pools teeming with life to towering ocean overlooks, Oregon’s rocky coastline is a source of awe and sustenance. Now some areas may become central to the state’s deepening coastal conservation legacy.
After two years of collaboration and preparation, Oregon’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) on May 6 approved the Rocky Habitat Management Strategy, which sets forth policies to protect nearshore marine habitats such as kelp forests and surfgrass, a type of seagrass that grows in rocky habitat. In addition, the plan provides an ongoing opportunity for the public to propose new protective designations and ensure that the management of these habitats keeps pace with changing coastal conditions.
Areas such as Coquille Point and Face Rock draw millions of tourists to Oregon’s coast each year, bolstering the economy in rural coastal counties. Other areas, such as Cape Blanco and Strawberry Hill, are important for scientific research that will help natural resource managers understand the effects of ocean acidification and other aspects of climate change in the intertidal zone. The newly approved strategy creates at least three distinct designation categories—marine conservation areas, marine research areas, and marine education areas—that serve different purposes based on need and public input.
Dawn Villaescusa, president of the Audubon Society of Lincoln City in Oregon, says her group is already working with people in her community to identify sites that warrant protection, as other groups are doing elsewhere in the state.
“Two of our favorite spots on the coast are Cape Lookout and Cape Foulweather, where steep, rocky cliffs provide nesting habitat for black oystercatchers, common murres, and cormorants,” Villaescusa says. “Migrating whales swim below the cliffs as they head north in the spring. For millennia, Native Americans harvested mussels and seaweeds here to supplement their diet.”
Many Oregon residents have long recognized the ecological, economic, and social value of protecting rocky habitats. By approving the Rocky Habitat Management Strategy, OPAC and its working group have provided Oregonians with a meaningful opportunity to build upon this legacy.
The state will accept the initial Rocky Habitat protection proposals through the end of the year. At the end of the process, the entire management plan and proposals from the public that have been accepted by OPAC will be presented to Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission for final approval.
Jennifer Browning directs Pew’s work to protect nearshore ocean ecosystems and marine life in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean.