Nantucket Shelf

An Ocean Vision for Nantucket Shelf

The Nantucket Shelf Region

The Nantucket Shelf Region

On January 10, 2005, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies released a report that inventories the natural resources and existing and future uses of a vast ocean area it refers to as the Nantucket Shelf Region (see map) and suggests management options for federal, state, regional, and local stakeholders charged with protecting this public trust resource.

The report, entitled Toward an Ocean Vision for the Nantucket Shelf Region, encompasses state and federal waters east and south of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Sound, stretching to the edge of the continental shelf. The Nantucket Shelf Region is a new term the Center developed for Vineyard Sound, Nantucket Sound, Nantucket Shoals including portions of the outer continental shelf south of Martha’s Vineyard, the Great South Channel and Georges Bank. The Center undertook the study after three state, private and federal commission reports in 2004 called for ecosystem-based management of U.S. offshore waters. If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and federal government were to apply such a grand strategy it could serve as a planning model for the rest of the country.

The report is in two parts. Part I, Review of the Environmental Characteristics of the Nantucket Shelf Region, addresses the science of the Nantucket Shelf Region: its biology, chemistry, hydrology and natural history. “Scientific literature indicates that these areas form part of a large, shallow, coastal shelf eco-region that is characterized by a common geological origin, extremely dynamic sedimentary environment, tidally-mixed water, high biological productivity, and unique ecological features,” according to the Center’s report. Part II, Management Options for Resource Protection and Sustainable Uses, examines gaps in existing public policy and offers solutions to ocean conservation. “An incomplete patchwork of different federal and state ocean management jurisdictions currently exists in the Nantucket Shelf Region,” cites the report.

The current controversial proposal for an offshore wind project in Nantucket Sound is just one of many future uses that could include sand and gravel mining, oil and gas exploration, aquaculture, cable crossings, floating platforms, and, according to the report, “unimagined technologies.” Toward an Ocean Vision for the Nantucket Shelf Region calls for the creation of a Nantucket Shelf Regional Coordinating Committee (NSRCC) to develop a comprehensive plan, and to make recommendations to appropriate legislative bodies for policy reform. The report also calls for more basic research and ocean monitoring. The regional committee idea was another recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. The Center believes that the proposed plan could be affected by designating the region a Marine Protected Area (MPA) under an existing Executive Order first issued by President Clinton and renewed by President Bush.

“Broadly defined,” says Center Executive Director Peter Borrelli, “a Marine Protected Area is any area deemed to be of special enough significance to require a comprehensive management plan.” Hundreds of MPAs exist in the United States and the world. Under the model offered by PCCS, the National Shelf Regional Coordinating Committee “could be administered jointly by the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA.)” Local and regional interests would be represented by the Cape Cod Commission, Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and the Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission.

CCS is not alone in addressing the current public debate on ocean conservation. Ecosystem-based management – the successful integration of conservation and potential use of a public trust resource – is the central theme of three studies independently released in 2004 by the Massachusetts Task Force on Ocean Management, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and the Pew Oceans Commission. The U.S. Ocean Commission report concluded: “U.S. ocean and coastal resources should be managed to reflect the relationships among all ecosystem components, including human and nonhuman species and the environments in which they live. Applying this principle will require defining relevant geographic management areas based on ecosystem, rather than political boundaries.” From the Massachusetts Task Force on Ocean Management, convened by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs Secretary Ellen Roy Herzfelder: “New ocean management structures are needed to promote consistent, coordinated ocean management policies and to ensure that the geographic divisions among federal and state management authorities support rather than prevent sound ecosystem management across a variety of jurisdictions.”

After the release of these three reports, the Center assembled a team of consultants and advisors to produce the report as a project of the Center’s Coastal Solution Initiative (CSI). The report also complements a 2003 CSI report, Review of State and Federal Protection of the Ecological Resources of Nantucket Sound, which examined existing management policies and proposals for Nantucket Sound, including its 1980 nomination by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a national marine sanctuary (see below).

Copies of the report will be available in the reference sections of most public libraries in each town on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, by January 15. Limited copies of the report are also available on CD for $25. In addition, the Center’s CSI will sponsor a panel discussion on Toward an Ocean Vision for the Nantucket Shelf Region at a free public forum in March, date and time TBA, at the Barnstable Senior Citizen’s Center, 185 Falmouth Road in Hyannis.

For a CD copy or to register for the forum, please contact the PCCS by calling (508) 487-3623, x113 or e-mailing tgrady@coastalstudies.org.

Click here for the report’s executive summary in Adobe PDF Format (1.84 MB)
and here for a complete copy of the full report in low resolution Adobe PDF Format (15.9 MB)