Your input could help modify a draft Ocean Action Plan that maps out future use of the sea in New Jersey and the measures that will be taken to protect the environment.

The draft plan is the product of nearly three years of deliberations and stakeholder outreach by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body. The group consists of several federal and state agencies.

"It's an effort to try to manage the increasing demands on ocean space and ocean resources and make sure that we're protecting the environment as those things come forward," said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, based in Highlands.

Dillingham said there has been an increasing demand to use the ocean for offshore wind development, for sand to be put on the beaches after Hurricane Sandy, and for more ship traffic as the ships get bigger.

"We're really focused on trying to make sure that the environmental qualities and the marine life, the fish, the whales, and other living things are protected in the face of all those increased demands," Dillingham said.

The ocean and clean water are essential to New Jersey —  and economies along the coast depend upon it, Dillingham said.

"We want to make sure that uses that might threaten those values, such as oil and gas development are not allowed offshore," he said. "We also want to make sure that things like offshore wind development, which might help with climate change, is put in the right place, not put in the migratory pathways of whales, not put into important areas that fisherman use to make their daily living,"

He added it's about anticipating what will happen in the future, finding the right places for it and making decisions as to whether it should happen.

A series of open houses are being held this month in New Jersey, Virginia, Delaware, and New York. Monmouth University in West Long Branch will present the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan this Thursday, July 14, from 6 to 8 p.m., on the second floor of Pozycki Hall.

"The hearings are an opportunity for the public to provide their thoughts and goals for how the ocean ought to be used and protected in the future, so it's very important that people come out and offer their views on this," Dillingham said.

The plan will be sent to the White House for approval in the later part of this year.

After that, Dillingham added in 2017, agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, will all utilize this plan in their decision-making.

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