The world premiere of the film “Ocean Frontiers II: A New England Story for Sustaining the Sea” highlighted Rhode Island as a leading example of collaborative marine spatial planning in a public screening at the Providence Public Library Monday night.
Public premieres will continue in other states over the next week, but the filmmakers chose Rhode Island for the first screening as the majority of their research and filming was done in the area, said Karen Myer, co-founder of Green Fire Productions, at a panel discussion following the screening. Green Fire Productions is the nonprofit video production company that produced the film.
The film seeks to address the question, “How do we meet our ever-expanding demands on the ocean and also work together to protect it?” Myer wrote in an email to The Herald. “In talking with people involved in New England regional ocean planning, it became clear to us that our use of the ocean is poised to increase dramatically,” she added.
“The need to balance recreation, conservation and business is greater than ever,” wrote Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in remarks a member of his staff read at the premiere.
This balance “is at the heart of ocean planning in New England,” Myer wrote.
Though a number of states have ocean zoning, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Oregon are the only three states that have developed comprehensive ocean plans, according to “Ocean Frontiers II.”
“The Ocean (Special Area Management Plan) is a vehicle, which the state of Rhode Island has used in order to be in the driver’s seat as far as how our ocean waters are going to be used,” said Jennifer McCann, director of extension programs at the Rhode Island Sea Grant and one of the principal investigators for the Ocean SAMP. “It’s a regulatory document or tool which allows Rhode Islanders to be proactive in planning our future,” she added.
The planning identified a “renewable energy zone” off the coast of Rhode Island and Massaschusetts, which could sustain up to 200 wind turbines, McCann said.
The film aimed “to portray the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan to tell the story of how science and collaboration among citizens, ocean planners and industry helps us make better decisions about ocean conservation and management,” Myer wrote.
The film tracked the people and organizations identified by SAMP as those with stakes in ocean use “to ensure that everyone had a voice and was able to learn about this research and information so that better decisions could be made,” McCann said.
“Every Rhode Islander has had an opportunity to engage in the process,” including scientists, the U.S. Navy, developers from offshore wind turbine projects, union representatives, recreational and commercial fishermen, environmental organizations, Native American leaders and coastal planners, she said.
“There was a lot of human struggle involved” in engaging so many groups and conflicting perspectives, said Jeffrey Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, an offshore wind company planning to begin construction on a five-turbine wind farm three miles southeast of Block Island in 2014. “In the end it was a great project, but we didn’t know that at the beginning, and we certainly didn’t know that in the middle,” he said.
The perspective of local fishermen demonstrated that stakeholder interests were not always aligned, since data collection — a priority of the scientists and energy companies — threatened to reveal their routes and secrets to commercial competitors, Grybowski said.
And from the perspective of his company, “it’s an acceptance of a level of transparency that most businesses aren’t accustomed or willing to do,” he said. For example, members of the Narragansett tribe were aboard Deep Water Wind vessels at times during the process to ensure that plans for laying down an underwater cable would not threaten their offshore heritage sites, he added.
“What impresses me perhaps most is how communication is dramatically enhanced through an ocean planning process,” Myer wrote. Relationships are established that encourage open dialogue around concerns.”
“The stakeholder process was as much a trust-building exercise as was anything else,” said Grover Fugate, executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council.
In the implementation process, stakeholders who have not yet been involved will find a voice, Fugate said. Though Rhode Island has already become “the gold standard — the national model — for marine spatial planning for other states to look at,” there is still work to be done, he said. “The planning was the easy part; it’s the implementation side that’s really going to matter.”
The next step will be a regional implementation through the Northeast Regional Ocean Council aiming to create policy for offshore areas over a 200-mile stretch of New England coast, according to “Ocean Frontiers II.”
The council has begun developing and posting online a Northeast Ocean Data portal, an interactive atlas combining data about locations of pipelines, submerged cables, aquaculture hotspots and turtle migration routes, for example, according to the film.
Regional planning is needed because “fish don’t know state boundaries, and our fishermen also don’t know state boundaries,” said Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat Association, in the film.
“We are inextricably linked to the sea” as residents of the Ocean State, said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., in his remarks filmed for the public screening. “I look forward to Rhode Island continuing to lead the way,” he said.