11/22/2010 04:03 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

From Whale Oil to Cape Wind -- It's Time That Ocean Management Caught Up...

For the first half of the 19th century New Bedford, Massachusetts was known as "The City that Lit the World". Processing whale oil for fuel and candles made this city wealthy, famous and envied far and wide. But discovery of petroleum on land turned the tide on whale oil commerce, the country moved on to a new fuel source and an industry was born. Back then, not much was known about the potential for human impacts on a global scale. We now understand the effects that whaling had on some of the most majestic species in our ocean as well as the power of fossil fuels to alter our planet's climate.

Today, industry is returning to New Bedford, once again in search of energy to fuel our society and light the economy. The city is poised to become the staging grounds for construction of offshore wind turbines by Cape Wind, a 130-turbine project proposed in the waters off Cape Cod. As the science required to find and generate power continues to evolve, so too must our ability to make better-informed and timely decisions affecting the way we manage our seas.

The ocean has always been the economic backbone of New England, providing food, recreational opportunities, local and global transportation, and generating hundreds of thousands of jobs. The challenge we now face is protecting our strong ocean heritage while charting a new and improved course for wise ocean management -- coastal and marine spatial planning is a tool that can meet this challenge.

Routine, sector-by-sector management of our ocean is no longer adequate. Traditional uses like commercial fishing, recreation and transportation are on a collision course with emerging needs like siting for telecommunications cables and renewable energy projects. Marine spatial planning's all-inclusive processes and science-based tools can help managers more wisely distribute and accommodate multiple ocean uses; generating sustainable economic and social benefits, while minimizing conflicts and environmental impact.

Since 2007, the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership has practiced this evolving approach by assisting the state in developing its first-in-the-nation comprehensive ocean plan. As a public-private partnership, we work with government officials and resource managers, scientists and ocean stakeholders from industry and conservation to advance coastal and marine spatial planning as a common-sense approach to bolster marine-dependent economies, reduce conflicts among ocean users, save time and money in project review and steward resilient ocean ecosystems. Just as a town may choose to group schools and libraries together in one area and industrial parks/commerce in another, we must also be smart about how we site uses in our ocean.

The methods and lessons learned from the MA marine spatial planning experience will undoubtedly benefit more than just our region as the Obama administration looks to expand coastal and marine spatial planning initiatives around the US. The New England revolution from whale oil to wind mills goes far beyond the search for new energy- the experience and lessons learned improving the way we care for and manage our ocean can help the evolution of coastal and marine spatial planning around the nation.

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 ().