Woods Hole Sea Grant 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: Putting Science To Work For Massachusetts’ Diverse Coastal Communities
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Woods Hole Sea Grant 2018-2023 Strategic Plan: Putting Science To Work For Massachusetts’ Diverse Coastal Communities

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    The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is one of the smallest states in the U.S. with only 7,800 square miles of total area, yet is the third most densely populated state, with a population of over 6.8 million people. Coastal communities in Massachusetts have seen dramatic growth when compared to the rest of the state. The population in the coastal communities of southeastern Massachusetts (Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, and Plymouth counties) represents 19% of the total population, and Boston and the North Shore (Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Sussex) represent another 57%. The Commonwealth’s 1,980 miles of coastline include extensive wetlands, tidal flats, and salt marshes, totaling 12% of the landmass. Thus, 75% of the population places pressure on coastal watersheds and ecosystems.The Massachusetts coast is one of the most valuable natural and economic resources of the Commonwealth, providing jobs, transportation, and recreation to residents and visitors. There are 27 distinct watersheds within Massachusetts and critical issues related to the protection of these watersheds include wise planning of both land and aquatic resources. Such planning efforts are in the hands of coastal decision makers, who range from professional natural resource managers to boards or committees consisting of elected or appointed individuals with varying levels of expertise. The fact that towns in Massachusetts have the right to self-governance in local matters (the so-called “home rule”), further highlights the need for planners of all backgrounds to have access to the latest science information to inform decision making.Despite its small geographic size, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has many diverse communities—cit​ies, colonial villages, historic mill towns, and rustic farmlands. The Massachusetts marine economy is equally diverse, accounting for $7.4 billion in gross domestic product in 2016 equal to more than one-third of the northeastern U.S. Blue Economy (NOAA,22019). Sectors include commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, shellfish aquaculture, sand and gravel mining, marine technology, marine shipping, coastal construction and real estate, and recreational boating, totaling more than 95,000 jobs (2016). In spite of a strong economy within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there are concerns that need to be addressed to ensure future growth and prosperity. These issues include education and job training, infrastructure for emerging and expanding industries, and balanced and sustained growth. And, at the time of writing, COVID-19 has led to fundamental changes in how these marine-focused business sectors operate, with implications for their needs moving forward.Massach​usetts is served by two Sea Grant programs – Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sea Grant and Woods Hole Sea Grant. In its extension and outreach activities, Woods Hole Sea Grant primarily serves southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the South Shore along Cape Cod Bay and the South Coast along Buzzards Bay. This region is a center of marine science related industries, including marine instrumentation​, fishing, aquaculture, and coastal tourism. People on Cape Cod and the Islands have been engaging in work to recognize and foster the concept of a “Blue Economy”. The Blue Economy portfolio includes an array of projects, ranging from sustainable tourism to advanced marine technology. The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce is defining sustainable goals for this initiative to ensure the economic and environmental vitality of the region. Woods Hole Sea Grant plays a critical role in developing the assets and policies of the Blue Economy that ensure sustainable and resilient communities, not only for southeastern Massachusetts but the entire state.Many of the challenges identified in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for sustainable and resilient communities mirror those facing coastal regions throughout the U.S. – discussed extensively in the Pew Oceans Commission report, America​’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course3for Sea Change, and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century. In 2009, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a comprehensive Ocean Management Plan and amended this plan in 2015. The amended plan focuses on the advances made in both management and science priorities since 2009 and sets the stage for regional priorities and programs. In 2016, the Northeast Region Ocean Council (NROC) approved the first regional ocean plan, Northeast Ocean Plan, with major program objectives directed at improved understanding of critical coastal habitats and resources, tribal cultural resources, socioeconomic conflicts in coastal regions, coastal community vulnerability, climate change impacts to coastal habitats and communities, and ecosystem-based management. The work laid out in Woods Hole Sea Grant’s 2018-2023 strategic plan not only aligns with the stakeholder needs in Massachusetts, but will also advance these larger, regionally-​focused efforts.
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