“What defines an invasive species? Are humans an invasive species?”, one of my students asked me during lunch. Earlier that day he had asked a similar question in front of the whole group, but I had responded that we didn’t have enough time to get into a long debate about the contentious definition of an invasive species. I said that if he wanted, we could debate whether or not humans were an invasive species over lunch.
This summer, I got a chance to fulfill my dream of being Jacques Cousteau. Unfortunately, this experience was short-lived as I was returned to being a mere civilian after completing a game with the campers at the Central Park Zoo. Noah Chesnin, Policy Program Manager for New York Seascape at the Wildlife Conservation Society, created this game. For half an hour, the carpeted classroom floors were transformed into the coasts of the tri-state area, the open ocean, and the depths of the Hudson canyon as students swam around as a whale, a ship, coral, fish, turtles, recreational fishermen, the coast guard, or even Jacques Cousteau himself. This role playing game demonstrates just how many different individuals need to coordinate in order for things to run smoothly in the oceans. For example, the students playing the role of whales had to come up with compromises with boats, such as introducing shipping lanes to prevent collisions.
Since the game recognizes the importance of teamwork in marine policy work, Chesnin presented his ocean planning game on August 31st during the New York Aquarium’s event entitled “Navigating New York’s Busy Ocean: Whales, Ships and a New Era of Ocean Planning.” This idea, that I like to call “Collabor-Ocean,” is represented simply through the game and is vital to ocean planning and to the panel discussion as a whole. In fact, the coordination of shipping lanes and whale movement was a major point of discussion at the event.
In order for ocean planning and management to be successful, a vast number of different communities need to come together and collaborate. These communities include public policy, maritime industry, and conservation researchers.
The NY Aquarium’s event focused around the teamwork of these three important groups. Each was represented by an individual on a panel to give updates on their group’s progress, the proposed Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan, and what the future holds. Not only do many different groups use the oceans, but lots of different groups regulate them as well. There is no one governing agency for regulating use of the oceans, even for regional areas, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body intends to figure out solutions to the problems inherent in this system by promoting ecosystem health and sustainable use. Thus the Regional Planning Body has proposed the Ocean Action Plan outlining their objectives and the actions that will be taken to reach these goals.
Included in the many different groups that will work on fostering sustainable ocean uses in the Ocean Action Plan are national security interests, energy interests, commercial and recreational fishing, other marine recreation, aquaculture, offshore sand management, tribal groups, undersea infrastructure, and maritime commerce and navigation.
Maritime commerce is incredibly important economically to the Mid-Atlantic region, so shipping routes and navigation must be integrated into ocean planning to provide the best solutions for marine organisms and for human practices. Carleen Lyden-Kluss, Co-Founder/Executive Director of NAMEPA, described at the NY Seascape event how such solutions are being approached, and the many recent advancements in maritime technology and in industry regulation that will help mitigate impacts to marine life.
Among groups of marine life making the mid-Atlantic region home, the species are vastly unique, important, and to many New Yorkers and residents of the surrounding region, surprising for a quintessential metropolitan area. The area is home to a variety of sea stars, corals, octopuses, mollusks, crabs, fish, sharks, dolphins, and whales.
Whales are of particular interest as all of the whale species present in New York’s waters are endangered. They also tend to have the most problematic interactions with large ships coming in and out of mid-Atlantic harbors. This region is home to species like humpbacks, fin whales, and North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered species in the world, with fewer than 500 individuals left in the wild.
Currently, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are working on a project to help protect these whales. An acoustic-monitoring buoy, which the public voted to name Melville, has been installed off the coast of New York to detect whale songs. These low frequency pulses allow researchers to determine what whales are here, and where they are so that researchers can coordinate with the maritime industry in order to avoid problems like shipping collisions with whales.
Though the proposed plan discussed at the panel discussion is regional and the discussion centered on the New York Seascape and the waters around the tri-state area, this kind of collaboration is a microcosm for the greater teamwork that needs to be instituted in the world of marine and environmental conservation worldwide. Regional ocean planning aims to bring together different groups that all need the ocean and use the ocean each day. These groups are working together in order to bring about more sustainable practices involving the ocean, so that it remains healthy and safe for all of the groups to continue to use.
So far, Melville has detected fin whales, the second largest whale in the world, as close as 22 miles south of Long Island. We are all eagerly waiting to discover what other ocean giants are swimming around in the backyard of the Big Apple.