Healthy economies and ocean ecosystems can go hand-in-hand. Here’s how

The Bay of Fundy is an ecological treasure and an economic resource for the Maritimes. Its immense tides power a unique ecosystem rich in marine life: small forage fish feed on the nutrients churned up by the tides and whales come to gorge on schools of herring.

It’s also a focus for economic activity in the region, with many communities relying on the Bay for income from fishing and tourism. There are also ports and shipping traffic along with National Parks and the potential for marine protected areas. And last year, test turbines were deployed in Fundy’s Minas Basin to examine the feasibility of powering Nova Scotia with in-stream tidal energy.

With so much going on in the region, conflicts are perhaps inevitable. But not insurmountable.

That’s where Marine Spatial Planning comes in. MSP brings together people and organizations who use the ocean to make informed decisions about resources, use and natural habitat. It’s like land-use planning, but for the ocean.

And it’s already worked in a number of places, including the U.S. state of Rhode Island, where a comprehensive plan was developed with stakeholders on how to develop and protect the state’s ocean resources. Their Ocean Special Area Management Plan was completed in 2010, and has been recognized as an international success for they way it reduced conflicts and paved the way for the uncontroversial development of renewable energy projects such as offshore wind.

In January, WWF-Canada invited to Nova Scotia three MSP experts from Rhode Island:

  • Jennifer McCann, director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center. She helps build the capacity of coastal management practitioners around the globe through training sessions and workshops.
  • Grover Fugate, executive director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. He has decades of experience overseeing the development of policies and programs for the State of Rhode Island’s coastal program.
  • Dave Beutel, aquaculture and fisheries coordinator of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. A former fisherman, he is experienced at working with fisheries stakeholders.

They led a week of activities called Planning the Oceans of Tomorrow, which had three elements.

  • A “study tour,” in which our guests met various groups around the Minas Passage area of the Bay of Fundy, including fish harvesters, indigenous groups and tidal-energy developers.
  • A public event with the College of Sustainability at Dalhousie University.
  • A workshop to deeply explore whether MSP could be implemented in the Bay of Fundy.

People and organizations discussed their concerns and shared their experiences while learning from the Rhode Island experts about how MSP could benefit the Bay.

Conflicts were exposed but common ground was also discovered. There was strong consensus that future plans for Fundy will need to foster the ecosystem while creating economic benefits.

The importance of collecting solid evidence on environmental effects of new activities and technologies was also widely agreed upon. These are the areas that could be expanded and built upon if a Marine Spatial Planning process for the Bay of Fundy goes ahead. And WWF-Canada is among those very hopeful that it will.