With new and expanding coastal and ocean uses emerging and Virginia’s coastal population increasing (from 3.6 million in 1986 to 5.1 million in 2010), the pressure is mounting to ensure that there is space for both traditional and new uses and that conflicts are minimized.
In order to ensure continued, healthy growth, now and in the future, it is important to engage all ocean users in the process of creating a comprehensive understanding of the resources and demands off our coast, how we can minimize conflicts, and how we can maximize economic and ecologic productivity.
Under the auspices of a 5-year grant from NOAA, the Virginia CZM Program will support the development of a comprehensive ocean planning process that aims to sustain our current ocean industries and needs as well as allow for new uses such as offshore energy development while also protecting the ocean’s habitats, wildlife and overall health. This has become an increasingly difficult challenge as coastal populations have grown, ocean uses have diversified and intensified and overall ocean health has declined.
About $100,000 a year between October 2011 and September 2016 is being used to develop a Virginia Marine Spatial Plan for the waters off Virginia’s coast in concert with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO), and the “regional planning body”.
Funds also will support creation of a Virginia Marine Debris Plan, with an analysis of key marine debris issues and prioritization of these issues. A first step toward development of this plan is the Virginia Marine Debris Summit in February, 2013 (see sidebar). The Plan will be presented to the Virginia Coastal Policy Team and MARCO for adoption. Decreasing marine debris is one of the goals within MARCO’s set of “Water Quality” goals.
Read more about the Virginia CZM Program's "Ocean Strategy."
As a member of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO), over the next two years, the Virginia CZM Program and a team of contractors led by Monmouth University through grants from NOAA, will be seeking input from marine industries, including commercial and recreational fishers, offshore energy, tourism, ports, shipping and navigation; the Department of Defense; recreational users; and conservation groups. These baseline data will inform the Virginia CZM Program’s comprehensive ocean planning efforts.
In June 2012, the Virginia CZM Program invited representatives of a variety of ocean users and interests to a first-ever ocean planning kick-off meeting in Richmond. These ocean stakeholders represented the shipping, ports, fishing, boating, recreation, offshore wind energy, and tourism industries as well as the U.S. military, Virginia Atlantic coast local governments, academia and conservation organizations.
The purpose of this first meeting in Virginia was threefold:
1. To present progress to date in gathering data on the location of ocean resources and uses;
2. To collect participants’ ideas as to who else should be included in the ocean planning process; and
3. To solicit ideas about how ocean planning should proceed.
Meeting Summary (PDF)
During the meeting, ocean stakeholders discussed continued collection of data on the location of areas important to them to continue to expand and improve the data in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean's (MARCO's) Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal. This regional portal is being developed as a tool for visualizing various sectors’ ocean needs.
At the June 2012 Ocean Stakeholders Meeting, Virginia CZM Program staff also demonstrated a new tool that allows groups of people to easily map and annotate areas that are important to them and immediately pull that data into a Geographic Information System (GIS). This technique is called Participatory GIS (PGIS) – a tool that the Virginia CZM Program is beginning to use to ensure that all ocean stakeholders’ needs and future plans can be mapped.
Some of the biggest data gaps identified during the June 2012 Ocean Stakeholders Meeting were maps of migration corridors for marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds and key ocean habitats such as coldwater corals, maps of recreational uses and maps depicting future shipping needs. So Virginia CZM set to work to begin filling these data gaps:
Mapping Virginia's Atlantic Coast Recreational Uses
In July 2012, the Virginia CZM Program and Accomack-Northampton PDC, with expert help from NOAA, co-hosted an Alantic Coast Recreational Use Workshop at the Eastern Shore Community College. Participants mapped 22 distinct recreational uses occurring along Virginia’s Atlantic coast, from the shoreline out to the 200 mile US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary - everything from scuba diving, to charter fishing, to kayaking.
Experts from NOAA taught the Participatory Geographic Information System (PGIS) process to facilitators and GIS technicians from Virginia’s CZM Program as well as from Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. PGIS is a new tool that allows groups of people to easily map and annotate areas that are important to them and immediately pull that data into GIS.
About 45 stakeholders from Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore were divided into 5 groups. Each group mapped both the general footprint of each of the 22 uses and the dominant use areas within each:
Virginia Atlantic Coast Recreational Use Categories Mapped:
- Boating for Hire Uses - Charter trips for fishing, diving & snorkeling, party cruises, wildlife & scenic viewing, & transport
- Recreational Fishing Uses - From motorized vessels, from kayak & non-motorized vessels, dive fishing, from the shore
- General Recreational Uses - Motorized boating, paddling, sailing, scuba/snorkel/diving, shore use, water sports, swimming
The draft maps have been processed and Virginia CZM Program staff has shared them with stakeholders to ensure their accuracy. They are viewable through ArcGIS Explorer On-Line: Virginia Atlantic Coast Recreational Use Maps. The maps will soon be available on Virginia Coastal GEMS so that they can be viewed with other coastal resources layers. Once the other mid-Atlantic states complete their mapping workshops, all five states' data will be synthesized into regional maps for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean's (MARCO's) Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal.
Recreational Use PGIS Workshop Flyer (PDF)
Aerial Surveys of Recreational Use
Additionally, Virginia CZM funded the A-N PDC and Virginia Marine Resources Commission to conduct aerial surveys of recreational uses along Virginia’s Atlantic Coast. Over 1,000 geo-coded photos were taken during August and September in 2012 on week days and weekends. These will be used as another set of data to validate the maps produced from the PGIS workshops.
Mapping Shipping Uses in Virginia
In September 2012, Virginia CZM Program staff organized a meeting with the Virginia Port Authority, the Virginia Pilot Association, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the MARCO Ocean Data Portal contractors to ensure that we have all the relevant data and maps regarding current and future shipping spatial needs. As the size of container ships continues to grow, (which increases fuel and labor efficiencies), maintaining shipping channels with adequate depths of 50-60 feet for these gigantic ships will be critical. The shipping industry will need the deepest offshore channels to be designated for shipping, and dredge spoil sites will have to be protected as well. At this meeting participants identified an important channel that runs northeast from the Chesapeake Bay which will be critical to consider in ocean planning efforts.
Meeting Summary Notes (pdf)
Mapping Whale Migration in Virginia
Humans have long been fascinated by whales, but unfortunately, until recently that fascination centered on hunting them for their, meat, bones, oil and baleen. Populations of many species of whales are dangerously low and it is still critical that, as we plan for new and expanded ocean uses, we find ways to protect the migration corridors and food supplies of whales. Whale-watching is fast becoming a lucrative, sustainable new industry in Virginia as evidenced by the excitement of humpback whale watching off Virginia Beach last winter.
In an effort to better understand whale activity off Virginia’s coast, the Virginia CZM Program teamed with the Virginia Aquarium and through a national competition for NOAA funds secured a $180,000 grant to conduct whale surveys beginning in October 2012. Spatial data collected will be added to the MARCO Ocean Data Portal. However, whales may vary from year to year in terms of the places they use. One year of data is not optimal for long-term planning so a second year of NOAA funding for 2013 is being requested.
For comments or questions concerning this program's web pages, contact the Virginia Witmer.
This website is provided by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program through a federal Coastal Zone Management Act grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.