DURHAM, N.C. – The National Ocean Council yesterday released the nation’s first ocean plans—an unprecedented collaboration among states, tribes, federal agencies and ocean stakeholders.

Duke University researchers and alumni played key roles in creating the new plans, which are designed to promote the use of integrated ocean data and best practices for informed and efficient management of the nation’s shared marine resources.

“These two plans, the Northeast Ocean Plan and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan, represent a major step toward fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to healthy ocean ecosystems and a strong, sustainable marine economy,” says Patrick Halpin, associate professor of marine geospatial ecology and director of the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab (MGEL) at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Halpin and his MGEL colleagues were co-leaders of the joint Duke-NOAA Marinelife Data & Analysis Team that produced the marine-life base-layer products and summary products for both new plans as part of a collaboration with the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean. Development of the summary products was guided by the Northeast Regional Planning Body, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body, and the Mid-Atlantic Data Synthesis Work Group.

Numerous alumni of the Nicholas School, working at state and federal agencies, NGOs and facilitator groups, also played major roles in the project.
The new plans are designed to work across all levels of government and to advance economic, environmental and cultural priorities within each region, Halpin says.

For example, in the Northeast, federal agencies will use that region’s plan to inform dredging and navigation projects, develop additional regional maps and data on commercial and recreational fisheries, and improve outreach to industry and stakeholders related to renewable-energy development.

Mean modeled density of North Atlantic right whales in spring season(March-April) with whale sightings overlaid. (Credit: Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab)


In the Mid-Atlantic, federal agencies will use the plan to improve consultations and communication with Native American tribes in the region, support aquaculture siting and permitting, and engage fishing communities in planning and environmental review of offshore sand-mining.

To improve access to ocean information, both of the new plans build on a foundation of thousands of maps that are publically accessible through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic data portals.

These portals allow scientists, stakeholders, and the public to easily obtain a vast array of information – including updated ecosystem information on 150 species of marine mammals, seabirds, and fish, and a wide range of information on human activities including fishing, recreation, shipping, and renewable energy. This information allows decision makers to more easily identify who may be affected by proposed activities or where additional information is needed.

In addition to making new the data and information available, the plans support efficient and responsive government by describing best management practices to guide interagency coordination.

They will also help support healthy ocean ecosystems by describing and initiating a process to identify ecologically significant areas. Using information on marine ecosystems and human activities from the data portals as a starting point, and by incorporating knowledge and expertise from a variety of stakeholders and scientific experts, the Regional Planning Bodies will add increasingly sophisticated information on marine-ecosystem function to their databases. This information, in turn, will help guide future planning and management activities, such as the regional ocean plans now being developed for the U.S. Pacific Islands, West Coast and Caribbean regions.   

President Obama established the National Ocean Policy in 2010 by Executive Order, which created a National Ocean Council consisting of 27 federal agencies and departments. This provided a venue for agencies to work together cooperatively, share information, and streamline decision making about the ocean. The Executive Order called on the National Ocean Council to collaborate with stakeholders on developing these plans.