It's Time to Friend the SOTU Salmon on Facebook...

02/03/2011 03:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President Obama during the State of the Union: "the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

Like many Americans I watched Obama's State of the Union speech, and let out a small laugh at his smoked salmon reference. The reality is that this one anecdote, now shared by all Americans, is a glimpse into how our ocean and coastal resources are managed by multiple state and federal agencies. In fact these disparate agencies that have a hand in managing our ocean often struggle to share data and insight for effectively managing the overall coastal and ocean economy and protection of our public trust resources. The concept of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning, as recommended by President Obama's Ocean Policy Task Force, is being explored around the country and here in Massachusetts we are nearly two years into its implementation.

Next month the state will launch a completely overhauled Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS). Much the way Facebook connects people from different areas of your life, the MORIS system connects various stakeholders and ocean managers and allows for real-time updates of important ocean data. In the same way we have had a social-networking wave across the country, we are preparing for a data-networking tsunami designed to help protect and improve the way we use our ocean. This system will help managers protect our critical ocean resources while streamlining the siting process for energy, shipping, recreation and other ocean uses.

For example, when the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary has new information about migrating patterns of North Atlantic Right Whales we can shift shipping lanes to protect both the whales and commerce. Essentially we are witnessing a new culture of data access.

The advancements to MORIS have been developed through a public-private collaboration of the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Applied Science Associates. These MORIS improvements exemplify how effective collaboration driven by clear need can result in technological advances that satisfy both the original need and offer collateral benefits (the need: improved access to information for decision making; collateral benefit: industry can use the same information to help choose the best potential project sites to minimize conflicts with priority conservation areas).

A simple anecdote in the State of the Union has advanced the dialog and solutions to the very real challenges facing our ocean-based economies. The MORIS program enhancements to be launched in February may be more Facebook application than Apollo program, but it is an important step forward in improving the way we care for and use our ocean territory in Massachusetts and provide a roadmap for the rest of the country. SM

The Massachusetts Ocean Partnership works to foster resilient ocean ecosystems so they can provide the goods, services and sustainable economies we all want and need.