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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Big Ocean, Big Picture

Air Date: Week of

Behind the traditional sea-front houses, there’s heavy industrial and commercial development in South Boston coastline. (courtesy: Massachusetts Ocean Partnership)

A new law in Massachusetts is the first in the nation to call for a science-based plan for managing the state’s ocean. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with Stephanie Moura, executive director of the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, about the challenges of bringing together many interest groups to manage coastal waters.


GELLERMAN: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrich recently signed landmark legislation into law. It’s a brand new approach to using the ocean’s resources.

PATRICH: The Oceans Act of 2008 will make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to require a comprehensive science-based plan for the management of our ocean waters.


GELLERMAN: Here in Boston Harbor, once the place of a Revolutionary tea party, is where the revolutionary plan to manage the state’s coastline is taking shape.

MOURA: If you look around here you could swivel your head 180 degrees and see so many of the uses we’re talking about that are competing for ocean space.

Stephanie Moura, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, stands on the shores of Boston Harbor. (courtesy: Massachusetts Ocean Partnership)

GELLERMAN: From the campus center at UMass Boston Stephanie Moura has a panoramic view of the historic harbor. In the foreground is the JFK Library and Museum, and in the distance, Boston’s Logan Airport. As executive director of the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, it’s Stephanie Moura’s job to put the Oceans Act into action. She’s got eight million dollars of private funding and 18 months to do it. The idea is simple: bring competing interest groups together to decide on the best uses for Massachusetts coastal waters – and from Moura’s vantage point, there are many.

MOURA: You’ve got a power plant across the way. You’ve got Mass Port’s Connelly Terminal right there, that’s the Port of Boston Harbor. You’ve got swimming beaches right over there in South Boston, urban swimming beaches. You’ve got the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant. You’ve got the Boston Harbor Islands, which is a major recreational destination now.

A power plant situated on Boston’s shores.
(courtesy: Massachusetts Ocean partnership)

GELLERMAN: You’ve got Boston, Logan Airport is over there and then you’ve got those LNG tanks over there.

MOURA: Yup, yup. There’s offshore LNG terminals here. If you could swivel your head that way just a bit you would see wind turbines off Hull. Now the current one there is land based but as you know there’s a lot of proposals and interest for various offshore renewable energy proposals in the water. So energy, fishing, shipping, power—you’ve got everything right here and this is only maybe two miles we’re looking at. We’ve got almost 1,900 miles of coastline to manage.

GELLERMAN: This is really an extraordinary view, this is an extraordinary historically, commercial, it’s fantastic.

MOURA: It’s fantastic, it really is.

GELLERMAN: So as I understand it, you take the stakeholders, the people who are involved directly making their earning, their living, using the ocean and the regulators, you throw in scientists, look at the ocean as a whole, and voila!

Behind the traditional sea-front houses, there’s heavy industrial and commercial development in South Boston coastline. (courtesy: Massachusetts Ocean partnership)

MOURA: And voila. You theoretically then have a better way to manage the ocean resources than what we have right now which is permit by permit. You know somebody says, “I’d like to put this wind farm there or that LNG terminal there,” and there’s no big picture, there’s nobody looking at the big picture to say, “Does this make sense here over time? What, who’s going to benefit and who’s going to lose?”

GELLERMAN: What took you soon long?


MOURA: In some ways, I think the status quo is just very compelling. This is the way we’re used to doing things, so if it’s not that broken, why change it. But I think what’s happening here in Massachusetts and similar pressures elsewhere is that you see first of all more and more evidence that the ocean ecosystems are in jeopardy—you know, ecologically in tough shape. And one of the impetuses for trying to do things differently is that we’re trying to make sure that the ecosystems remain resilient so that they can continue to generate all these goods and services that we rely on.

Boston’s shipping port.(courtesy: Massachusetts Ocean partnership)

However in the face of that we’ve got this massive, increasing interest or intensifying demands. There’s proposals right and left for energy development, coastal development, various desalination plants, whatever it happens to be. So you’ve got trouble brewing, plus increasing demand that means “Uh oh, we better find a way to manage these things that’s more sustainable.”

GELLERMAN: And how will you know if this is successful or not?

MOURA: I really think that the proof will be in the pudding if the user groups and the interest groups can say, “You know what? I participated in this, it isn’t perfect, but I can live with it and I think it’s a lot better than where we were eighteen months ago.”

GELLERMAN: And will the society, the people who live in Massachusetts, will they ultimately, do you think, really think, that this will help protect what they’ve got, preserve it for the future, and allow them to use it?

The Deer Island sewage treatment plant was an integral part in cleaning up Boston coastal waters. (courtesy: Massachusetts Ocean partnership)

MOURA: Yeah, I mean that’s what this is all about. Like right now, as we’re standing here, that ocean is taking carbon out of the atmosphere, and the coastal interface between the land and the sea is filtering contaminants from the land, it’s protecting us from coastal storms, it’s regulating climate, it’s doing all of these ecosystem functions that we can’t see and we need it to remain healthy enough to do that because basically our lives depend upon it. And so bottom line: you need the ecosystem healthy and resilient enough to continue to do that and, and this is definitely not a but it’s an and, it needs to continue to be able to support the communities, the businesses, the families, the industries that are dependent on it, whether it’s commercial fishing or maritime shipping or whatever it happens to be. And in the end, doing this new form of planning for human uses of the ocean is going to support both of those goals.

GELLERMAN: When you think about this, it’s so ambitious, does it give you the willies? I mean, you gotta really make this thing work.

MOURA: Yes. I get up every morning and think, “Do I love this job or hate this job?” and mostly I come down on that I love it. It is, it’s a fantastic challenge. Fantastic because there’s all the politics involved and that is a messy but wonderful puzzle. There’s a shortage of resources—and when I say resources here I’m talking funding—and so the fact that the partnership has been able to amass this private funding to help interject in the process is going to be a tremendous help, I think, to move things forward. But it is gonna be, especially in an eighteen month timeframe, it is going to be heavy lifting every day and it’s going to take a lot of cooperation. We’re going to have to build new levels of cooperation and that is, that’s exciting.

GELLERMAN: Well Stephanie good luck. I think you’re gonna need it.

MOURA: Thank you Bruce. I can guarantee you we’re going to need and I appreciate your time.

GELLERMAN: Stephanie Moura is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership.



The Massachusetts Oceans Act of 2008

The Massachusetts Ocean Partnership


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