The Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem Health (OCEH) Committee is one of three Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) Standing Committees. This committee was established to help identify and coordinate regional activities to preserve and restore ecosystem health in New England.

Current Activities

Sentinel Monitoring

Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change

Overseeing development of an integrated sentinel monitoring strategy for climate change, building on ongoing efforts in Long Island Sound and the Gulf of Maine.

Marsh Migration

Resilient Shorelines – Marsh Migration Group

Supporting regional efforts to assess the potential for marsh migration in the face of sea level rise in New England.

Review of Marine Habitat Classification, Characterization, and Modeling Activities

Reviewing a range of approaches to marine habitat classification that could help to advance management of ocean habitats.

Indicators community of practice logo

Environmental Indicators

Supporting the Environmental Indicators Community of Practice and other tools for dialogue among environmental indicators programs in the region.

Download the Committee’s work plan for 2017-2018.

Committee Goal

Enhance region-wide coordination and collaborative actions on shared ocean and coastal ecosystem health priorities including those affecting water quality, habitats, and living resources and their derived social and economic benefits.

Rebuilding the Health of New England’s Ocean

The northeastern U.S. coastal ocean is a rich and diverse place, from the near-shore sounds of southern New England to the beaches of Cape Cod, and the rocky shores and complex circulatory patterns of the Gulf of Maine. These ecosystems have abundant resources and have supported coastal communities for generations. But these valuable ecosystems are vulnerable. The impacts of increasing human uses, including many new industrial uses, and the effects of fragmented, single-sector management are showing in degraded water quality, depleted fish stocks, and damaged habitat that have diminished our lifestyle and economy alike. These effects are widespread, often linked to common causes, as evidenced by documented “dead zones” in Long Island Sound, shifting and unbalanced natural communities from changing climate and invasive species, and diminished fisheries in the Gulf of Maine. The New England states also have identified causal links to human activity such as development on land and use of fossil fuels with the health of our coastal waters and estuaries.

Collaborating Toward a Common Vision

Many people, agencies, and organizations are already working to protect and restore coastal and ocean ecosystem health in the northeastern U.S. NROC’s role is to support the National Ocean Council’s draft Implementation Plan, guided by the four themes of (1) adopting EBM; (2) obtaining, using and sharing the best science and data; (3) promoting efficiency and collaboration; and (4) strengthening our regional effort. These themes are well-suited to NROC’s and to the OCEH Committee’s construct and strategy to enhance communication and collaboration, advocate for collectively-determined priority regional actions, and help articulate a common vision for management and restoration.

To implement this strategy, NROC has identified three areas of focus within coastal and ocean ecosystem health:

  • Link observations to management decision-making.
  • Enhance data collection, integration and dissemination.
  • Improve governance, coordination and communication.

Strategies

The committee has identified two strategies for working toward its goal of protecting and restoring coastal and ocean ecosystems in the northeast:

  1. Support research and monitoring that enhances our understanding of ecosystem structure and function, improves utility of social, economic and environmental indicators, and leads to effective EBM implementation.
  2. Strengthen regional coordination to promote efficiency and collaboration by building partnerships, sharing resources, and reducing redundancy of efforts and ensuring full public and professional participation in the decision-making process.

During the 2013-2014 timeframe the OCEH Committee will be developing comprehensive plans within these two strategies to guide funding and activities that will most effectively meet the goal of a healthy and sustainable regional ecosystem. Activities listed below are underway or in the development phase and will begin the process of implementing the strategies. While far from complete with respect to the goal of implementing an EBM framework throughout the region, many of these actions provide a start, or even a cornerstone towards achieving that goal.

Committee Members

Brian Thompson, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (State Co-chair), brian.thompson@ct.gov

Mel Coté, EPA (Federal Co-chair), cote.mel@epa.gov

Jeff Runge, Gulf of Maine Research Institute/NERACOOS (Co-Chair), jrunge@gmri.org

Regina Lyons, EPA

The Committee is actively building its membership, and this list will be updated with new members.

This list summarizes accomplishments of the Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem Health Committee and its many partners from 2010 through 2012.

  • Developed a regional ocean data portal and network for regional coastal and marine spatial data (June 2011)  A work group comprising representatives of SeaPlan, NROC, NERACOOS, NOAA, NOAA, and ASA developed the portal, which is a decision support and information system for managers, planners, scientists, and stakeholders involved in ocean planning in the northeast region.
  • Convened a regional Ecosystem Health Indicators Conference (March 30-31, 2011)  The Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) and the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership (now Sea Plan) hosted the 2011 Ecosystem Health Indicators Conference in Boston, MA. More than 50 representatives from northeastern regional monitoring, indicator, and resource management programs met to network and share scientific and communication “best practices” for environmental indicators.
  • Submitted successful funding proposal for a coastal climate change land conservation demonstration project (2011)  NROC state agencies worked with NEGC’s Commission on Land Conservation to develop and submit a proposal to NOAA that was selected for funding.  The Safeguarding Coastal and Estuarine Land pilot project builds on state and regional plans to address joint goals for land conservation, climate change adaptation, and habitat protection.
  • Convened an Estuarine Nutrient Criteria Regional Technical Advisory Group meeting (June 2011)  EPA hosted a regional estuarine nutrient criteria workshop that brought together RTAG members from other federal agencies, the five New England coastal states, NEIWPCC, and the six National Estuary Programs to share information on the science behind the states’ respective efforts to develop numeric nutrient criteria.
  • Supported the Sudbury Group (technical arm of New England Regional Dredging Team) The Sudbury Group met five times during 2011-2012 and continued to make progress working with the states to improve the scientific basis for the imposition of “time-of-year” restrictions on dredging and other coastal development projects. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries completed a multi-year project to update its TOY recommendations for all estuarine and coastal waters, and is serving as a model for the other New England states.
  • Merged NROC and NERACOOS Ocean and Coastal Ecosystem Health Committees (July 2012)  NROC and NERACOOS initiated joint priority setting and annual work planning to improve coordination and efficiency among the various agencies and organizations participating on these two committees.