Less than one month ago, I began my Oregon Sea Grant Fellowship supporting the West Coast Ocean Alliance (WCOA) and West Coast Ocean Data Portal (WCODP). Since beginning, I have spent a considerable amount of time familiarizing myself with the history and composition of these unique entities.
The West Coast Ocean Alliance is a regional partnership that focuses on “enhanced management and coordination for the ocean along the West Coast of the U.S” (WCOA). It is made up of state, tribal, and federal representatives, and currently has four objectives: compatible and sustainable ocean uses, effective and transparent decision making, comprehensive ocean and coastal data, and increased understanding of and respect for tribal rights, traditional knowledge, resources and practices.
The current Alliance is part of a broader legacy of regional ocean coordination on the West Coast. In 2007, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington created the West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health. Focusing on topics like marine debris and coastal resilience, the West Coast Governors Agreement also prioritized data coordination and the creation of the West Coast Ocean Data Portal. In 2010, with Executive Order 13547, President Obama created our country’s first National Ocean Policy. This policy introduced a mechanism for creating Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) that formalized federal engagement in regional ocean planning processes. The West Coast states and tribal governments began discussing the creation of an RPB in 2013, and in 2016 signed their formal charter. Concurrently, the West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health evolved into the West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health, a Regional West Coast Ocean Partnership that could work with the RPB. Finally, in June 2018, President Trump’s Executive Order 13840 replaced Obama’s National Ocean Policy, and terminated the active RPBs in the U.S. Official regional coordination could, however, continue through Regional Ocean Partnerships, and so the participants of the West Coast RPB and the West Coast Ocean Partnership elected to continue their coordination as the West Coast Ocean Alliance in late 2018.
This all sounds pretty complicated—so why bother with regional ocean coordination? Ecosystem functions and species, as well as ocean issues like pollution, do not respect jurisdictional boundaries. Therefore, state, tribal and federal decision-makers frequently need to work together on problem-solving and management decisions. Habitat loss in one state’s waters might inform management of a migratory species in another’s. Energy development in federal waters could affect multiple state and tribal fishing industries. So realistically, if we want to be effective coastal and ocean managers, we can’t afford not to coordinate on a regional scale—especially as the marine environment faces unprecedented changes and development pressure.
Check out all the different activities that can take place near one small part of the coast! (Image: NACo)
A huge part of that coordination is information sharing. It is important to ensure that regional discussions and decision-making are based on sound science and the most current data, which is where the West Coast Ocean Data Portal comes in. The WCODP is meant to be a one-stop-shop for state and tribal coastal and ocean managers, who are seeking to inform their decisions with relevant data and visualizations. Part of my Fellowship will be engaging with WCODP and WCOA members over the next year to determine the types of data that will be truly useful to different entities, the format in which they would like to see that data, and how we can set up long-term relationships to keep that data up-to-date. Below, see an example from the Data Portal that displays offshore wind resource potential on the West Coast.
The WCODP can help decision-makers who are siting Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) projects like floating wind turbines on the West Coast by summarizing and presenting relevant data in one location, and connecting managers, regulators, scientists and stakeholders. (Image: WCODP)
I have already experienced my first WCOA member call, which included over 50 representatives speaking on behalf of different governing bodies with distinct interests and priorities. It is clear that high levels of organization and coordination are required to keep a group like this focused on a unified vision and specific objectives, and helping move the Alliance toward longer-term goals will be another important task of mine in the coming months.
It may be a challenging time for our oceans, but it is also an exciting one, as decision-makers explore innovative solutions and cooperate on regional scales to build a unified vision for our coastlines. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this conversation on the West Coast, with so many motivated partners. Stay tuned for an update on how my position is going this December!