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Virginia Role on Mid-Atlantic Council on the Ocean (MARCO)

Mid-Atlantic coast region map VA Coastal Zone Management Program logoThe ocean waters of the Mid-Atlantic provide a wealth of economic and environmental services to local communities.  State and federally managed waters are used in many ways: commercial fishing, aquaculture, shipping, military exercises, sand mining, habitat for wildlife, recreation, etc. The intensity of these human influences and uses continues to increase, creating a new generation of challenges and urgency for responsible and sustainable management.  The Mid-Atlantic States are committed to embracing new comprehensive, regional approaches to successfully address these challenges, and to ensure that future generations can enjoy healthy and productive ocean ecosystems. 

In June 2009, the governors of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York signed a Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Conservation Agreement (pdf) to create the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO).  This Council advocates in one voice to leverage greater state influence on the management of mid-Atlantic offshore areas and to direct federal and interstate actions and resources.

Mid-Atlantic Governors Priorities

  • Make the region a national leader in the sustainable development of alternative energy in offshore areas.
  • Prepare the region’s coastal communities for the impacts of climate change on the region’s ocean and coastal resources.
  • Integrate protection of sensitive and unique offshore areas on a regional scale.    
  • Promote the region’s coastal water quality impairments as a necessary focal point for regional action.    

Mid-Atlantic Governor's Actions
(each goal is outlined in detail at the bottom of this page)

  • Promoting Renewable Offshore Energy -
    Reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels and increase its energy independence by making the Mid-Atlantic a leader in the appropriate development of offshore wind energy. 
  • Protecting Critical Ocean Habitats -
    Protect the region’s ecologically significant offshore habitats.  Starting with the ten offshore canyons, identify measures to ensure the long term protection of sensitive habitats.
  • Preparing for Climate Change Impacts -
    Assess and address the key vulnerabilities of the region’s coastal residents, property, and economic and environmental infrastructure from climate change impacts
  • Improving Water Quality -
    Support the health of the region’s tourism and fishing industries by addressing threats to water quality

Excerpt from MARCO Agreement  -
"The ocean waters of the Mid-Atlantic, stretching from New York to Virginia, provide a wealth of economic and environmental services to local communities, States, and the nation.  At the same time, the people of the Mid-Atlantic region are a significant force that influences our ocean and coastal environment.  As the intensity of these human influences has increased, they have at times led to significant threats to the health of our ecosystems...'

...Therefore we, the Governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, are coming together to advance a regional approach for addressing the challenges facing our region’s resources."  

Read the latest issue of the MARCO E-News and visit the MARCO website for publications highlighting the council's activities.

Focus of MARCO

Mapping Mid-Atlantic Coast and Ocean Resources and Uses:

 Screenshot of MARCO Ocean Mapping Portal


In September 2012, MARCO launched an upgraded --- Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal  --- to support multi-use, regional-scale ocean planning.  The Portal gathers the best-available, regionally relevant data and presents it in a user-friendly platform to engage all stakeholders in ocean planning from the five state Mid-Atlantic region.  This version includes more data layers, more easy-to-use functions and a data catalogue that allows users to download data layers and view data priorities. As you enter the portal, you can click on buttons to “Learn,” “Explore” or “Visualize.”  “Learn” takes you to fact sheets about each of the themes. “Explore” takes you to an annotated listing of data with options to download the data as well as a listing of data needs and their development status. “Visualize” launches the marine planner where you can view data layers and create your own downloadable map.

Both the data and the mapping tool, Marine Planner, are organized around industry sectors and focus-area themes highly relevant to planning in the Mid-Atlantic, including: Administrative Boundaries, Fishing, Marine Life, Maritime Industries, Recreation, Renewable Energy, and Security.

Over the coming months, the MARCO Portal project team will be conducting outreach to collect critical data and allow key stakeholders in regional planning to develop the Portal further. In the meantime, please take some time to test drive the new Portal and give MARCO your feedback (a "feedback" button is located on the MARCO Portal homepage).

Go to Virginia Ocean Planning for more information on stakeholder engagement in Virginia.

Offshore Habitats:

Post of Mid-Atlantic Coastal Habitats

  Vital estuaries, fed by large rivers and countless tributaries, a broad sandy continental shelf, cold water coral reefs, deep submarine canyons – these are some of the diverse ocean and nearshore habitats of the Mid-Atlantic region. They support a rich diversity of marine life, including sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seabirds, and an array of fish and crustaceans. This ecological wealth supports valuable commercial and recreational fisheries, and shares the ocean with other economic activities, including shipping, dredged material disposal, and sand and gravel mining. Offshore energy development in the form of wind farms is almost certain to join this list. As ocean uses intensify, so too does the need to understand potential impacts to marine habitats and wildlife, and how best to manage the human activities that affect complex ocean ecosystems on which humans depend for food, recreation, energy and even health. Although the states’ jurisdictions only extend 3 nautical miles offshore, all of the states have a vast economic and ecological interest in the habitats located both within and beyond 3 nautical miles.

Water Quality:

 Poster of Mid-Atlantic Water Quality


The beaches and shores of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean generate billions of dollars in tourism-related revenue each year, and are a major economic driver for the five ocean-going states of the region.  Commercial and recreational fisheries also support coastal communities and provide significant economic output.  These activities rely on maintaining the high water quality of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean to ensure the protection of human health through swimmable and fishable water.  Significant regulatory efforts and investments in infrastructure have resulted in great improvements to water quality, and many sources of pollution are being addressed by state and federal programs.  To a large degree, the remaining threats to keeping the region’s beaches clean and addressing seafood safety can be tied to, urban and agricultural runoff – particularly during storm events - air emissions and aging wastewater treatment infrastructure.  These causes continue to contribute to beach closures, marine debris, contaminated seafood, fishing gear fouling, oxygen-starved “dead zones” (hypoxia), eutrophication, and harmful algal blooms.  Of high interest to the Mid-Atlantic States is the continued health of our ocean shoreline.



Renewable Energy:

  Poster of Renewable Energy Resources


There is an urgency for increased attention to the Mid-Atlantic region’s energy resources due to high population and industrial needs.  The Atlantic Ocean currently plays roles in many types of energy development and related activities in the region including oil and gas, LNG, and as a means to transport fossil fuels.  These ocean waters, however, are also host to tremendous, virtually untapped, sources of renewable energy.  Waves, tides and currents, collectively referred to as hydrokinetics, provide energy as a result of fluid flow.  Salinity and thermal gradient differences create an additional source of retrievable energy.  A third form of offshore renewable energy is the conversion of wind for power.

Climate Change:


 Poster Illustrating Possible Mi-Atlantic Sea-Level Rise


The economy, environment and quality of life of the Mid-Atlantic region are anticipated to be significantly impacted by climate change and associated sea level rise in coming decades with some impacts already being witnessed in the form of increased air and water temperatures, sea level rise, and ocean acidity. 

Conservative projections estimate Mid-Atlantic sea level rise to be on the order of 1 meter by the year 2100, with ongoing research continuing to inform scientific understanding on a recurring basis.  This increase would result in the threat of more sustained extreme storm surges, increased coastal erosion, inundation of coastal wetlands, saline intrusion of coastal aquifers, and upward migration of estuarine salt fronts into formerly freshwater reaches.

Projected sea level rise is also expected to severely impact sensitive coastal landscapes and habitats, impacting wetland, beach, and estuarine regions, affecting their biological productivity, protection of human development and their own ability to survive and migrate in response to sea level changes. 

The high population density of the Mid-Atlantic region has resulted in substantial infrastructure development that is now vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise.  Such infrastructure, including roads, rails, ports, airports and sewage treatment plants, is crucial to the continued economic vitality of the region.  Due to historic development patterns, high population density, and infrastructure needs, these services were typically constructed in areas vulnerable to periodic flooding or permanent inundation under present and accelerated rates of sea level rise.  Impacts to any of these key infrastructure elements quickly cascades throughout the socioeconomic system of the region. 


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For comments or questions concerning this program's web pages, contact the Virginia Witmer.

This website is provided by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program through a federal Coastal Zone Management Act grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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