Healthy Oceans Blog

A Resilience Plan for New Jersey’s Coast Must Include Smart Ocean Planning

Communities in New Jersey and all along the East Coast are searching for ways to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. Many roadways are impassable at high tide; oceanfront beaches are washed away by rough storms; and marshes are being engulfed by rising waters.

Now, more than ever, we need a strategic plan and set of tools to prepare for and react to coastal threats - including policies that reduce our vulnerability to the impacts of sea level rise, more frequent and powerful storm and rain events, and storm surge. Ensuring our coastal communities are prepared and resilient requires a collaborative effort between federal, state, and local governments and residents of our communities and coastal stakeholders.

As New Jersey continues to face the harsh climate realities, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) announced a new commitment to developing a New Jersey Coastal Resilience Plan during a coastal resilience summit at Monmouth University, an event that brought more than 150 coastal experts and stakeholders together to help inform the plan. We applaud them for their dedication to protecting the New Jersey coastline and communities.

In addition to bolstering shoreline protection and preparedness, NJDEP is developing plans for other climate-related challenges such as the loss of coastal wetlands and chronic flooding. This work is being done in parallel with Governor Murphy’s initiatives to advance the development of offshore wind energy.

The impacts of climate change require New Jersey to advance the development of offshore wind energy. However, the state must ensure that these projects are carefully planned for and sited, and avoid harm to marine ecosystems, wildlife and habitats, and sustainable traditional uses of the ocean. The key to success is in protecting marine habitats and sustainable uses by responsibly siting offshore wind through smart ocean planning.

As the region pivots toward increased offshore wind development in pursuit of a clean energy future, regional ocean planning serves the Mid-Atlantic states well. Ocean planning provides an opportunity to create a critical coastal and offshore roadmap for addressing and overcoming complex challenges created by new and expanded offshore uses and a changing climate.

Increased coordination and collaboration between states, federal agencies, and stakeholders to determine where and how development will happen off our shores is desperately needed. As a fundamental outcome of ocean planning, increased stakeholder engagement helps the region move forward together with a shared understanding of how goals will be achieved without harming valuable resources and traditional uses, like fishing and marine wildlife habitat or interfering with shipping lanes and cable routes.

Fortunately for the Mid-Atlantic, this regional planning structure already exists through the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO). Formed in 2009, MARCO is a partnership committed to addressing shared regional priorities relating to climate resiliency, protection of important marine habitats, sustainable development of renewable energy in offshore areas, and promoting improvement in water quality. The council represents a collective voice from the Mid-Atlantic and includes leadership from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

In addition to planning for offshore wind energy, MARCO can help plan for other ocean uses requiring coordination between states, federal agencies, and stakeholders such as sand mining, which is increasingly necessary to replenish our beaches in response to stronger and more frequent storms.

When it comes to responsible decision-making and ocean management, the name of the game is accessible and reliable data. The Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal is an online resource center that enables states, federal and local users and stakeholders to visualize information about thousands of ocean uses, species of marine life, and habitat and create maps with areas such as fishing grounds, recreational areas, shipping lanes, habitats and migratory pathways. Users can overlay different ocean activities to get a clear view and tell the story of what conflicts with their valued areas and what is at stake for them.

While New Jersey continues the good and necessary work planning for resiliency and advancing offshore wind energy, it must also simultaneously embrace and raise up regional ocean planning to ensure we are making fully informed decisions, engaging stakeholders throughout the processes, and protecting our ocean resources and users all throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Regional ocean planning through an ocean partnership like MARCO is imperative to successful collaboration and coordination with the shared goal of identifying solutions without creating conflicts or harm.