Communication between marine planning agency needs to be improved, expert Sandra Whitehouse ’81 told students and faculty Monday.

A 75-strong crowd gathered at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies to listen to Whitehouse, who has worked in marine policy and environmental consulting for more than 20 years, emphasise the necessity of science-based decision making when forming effective marine policies.Whitehouse argued that interagency communication is vital when dealing with disasters like the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Our objective is a healthy ocean,” Whitehouse said. “We do that with ecosystem based management, and our tool for that is marine spatial planning.”

Whitehouse said that one of the problems with marine planning is the contradicting laws surrounding the issue and the fractured agencies involved.

The lack of communication between these agencies was highlighted, Whitehouse said, when a spike in shark finning in New England waters disrupted the balance between populations of Bullnose Rays and scallops. These population changes damaged the commercial fishing industry, but could have been avoided with increased marine planning, she said.

The widespread effects of poor management came as a shock to some students in the audience.

“I was really surprised to see how small changes could make big impacts for the environment and the economy,” Elizabeth Schyling ’14 said.

An integral part of this communication, Whitehouse said, is enhanced data sharing. For example, although some non-governmental organizations collected accurate and readily-available intelligence on the gulf oil spill, the lack of proactive planning with federal agencies led to “bad management decisions,” Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse also discussed the interaction between economic development and ocean conservation.

“Economic development and ecosystem conservation shouldn’t be mutually exclusive goals,” Whitehouse said.

If the two arenot considered together, costly mistakes can be made. Whitehouse described how one proposed hydrokinetic project in Rhode Island cost investors $2.5 million when it was discovered that the proposed site for the turbines interfered with submarine routes.

Whitehouse’s words had direct relevance for some audience members.

Julie Rose, the science coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study, leads an effort to coordinate federal, state, and local bodies to clean up the sound. She said she hopes to bring some of Whitehouse’s ideas to her own work.

For some students, Whitehouse’s talk created entirely new perspectives on coastal planning.

“I never thought of oceans as something that needto be planned spatially,” said Frieda Fein ’14.

Jamie Collins ’04 FES’11, who helped coordinate the talk, said he hoped to introduce marine ecosystem management as a current and relevant topic to students.

The Clear Act passed by Congress on July 30 allocated some $580 million for research on ocean conservation.