It’s getting crowded out there in the ocean. No, we’re not talking about the lineup at your local break.
For centuries, the oceans have pretty much been regarded as the ultimate “wild west” where anything goes. But now we’re rapidly discovering that the ocean’s resources are not limitless, and that we can negatively affect conditions in the ocean and the viability of some “ocean uses” through the improper placement and implementation of other uses. There are several new proposed uses of the ocean (alternative energy projects, LNG facilities, aquaculture projects) that are in many cases competing for the same space or potentially impacting more traditional ocean activities, including commercial and recreational fishing, boating, shipping, recreation (swimming, surfing, diving, kayaking, etc.), and oil and gas exploration and production. And many uses are potentially in conflict with maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems, increasing the need to set aside networks of Marine Protected Areas. How do we avoid ocean sprawl?
A logical response to these increasing demands on the ocean is to institute a planning process for the near-shore ocean (the state waters for each ocean coastal state) that is similar to land use planning that states, counties and cities engage in. A Marine Spatial Planning toolkit developed by the Ecosystem Based Management Tools Network summarizes the situation this way and offers a definition Marine Spatial Planning:
The health of marine ecosystems is declining, and use conflicts in the marine environment are increasing, in part because of new needs for ocean space for emerging industries such as wind and wave energy and aquaculture. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a process for analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives. Well-conducted MSP can:
- Reduce conflicts between users and increase regulatory efficiency
- Facilitate the development of emerging industries such as wind and wave energy and aquaculture
- Help maintain ecological processes and the ecosystem services they support (such as fishing, marine tourism and recreation, and cultural uses of the ocean).
Marine Spatial Planning can also be thought of as a means on implementing ecosystem-based management, which is:
Marine Spatial Planning is not just an issue along the coasts of the United States. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the United Kingdom has developed this definition:
In addition, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has released a guide entitled Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach toward Ecosystem-Based Management. The guide defines marine spatial planning, describes why it is needed, details its benefits and outputs, and illustrates how it relates to other marine management approaches.
President Barack Obama issued a June 12, 2009 memo that called for the creation of a special Ocean Policy Task Force to develop a "framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning." That framework should include an "ecosystem-based approach that addresses conservation, economic activity, user conflict and sustainable use," according to the memo. On July 31, 2009 Surfrider Foundation and two other organizations submitted a comment letter to Ms. Nancy Sutley, who is Chair of both the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Interagency Task Force on Ocean Policy. That letter stated, in part:
In September 2011 the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee published Recommendations for the Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning Process.
In January 2012 the National Ocean Council released a National Ocean Policy Draft Implementation Plan. That document states:
A new short film from Rhode Island Sea Grant, Protecting Our Oceans Through Marine Spatial Planning, focuses on protecting ocean environments so they remain healthy and able to support the food, job, transportation and energy needs of economies worldwide. It is the final installation of a four-part series that explores ocean planning with practitioners from around the world. Visit this site to view the film and the previous three pieces:
Our friends at NRDC have also produced a short video that does a good job of framing the issues surrounding Marine Spatial Planning.
Five examples of states where Marine Spatial Planning is advancing are Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Oregon and Hawaii.
In Massachusetts, the Oceans Act of 2008 requires the state to develop a first-in-the-nation comprehensive plan to manage development in its state waters, balancing natural resource preservation with traditional and new uses, including renewable energy. The Ocean Management Plan (promulgated on December 31, 2009) was developed by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in consultation with a 17-member ocean advisory commission and an ocean science advisory council. The final plan was approved in December 2009. Following is an excerpt from the Executive Summary of the Draft Plan (June 2009):
In January 2015 the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) released the first update to the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. The review and update included a comprehensive assessment of ocean plan progress to date, as well as extensive public and expert participation efforts. The 2015 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan contains the following updates to the original plan: new data and trends on ocean habitats and ecosystems, human uses, economics, cultural and archeological aspects, and climate change; preliminary offshore wind transmission corridor routes for further investigation; initial planning and analysis for appropriate potential locations for offshore sand areas for beach nourishment; and a fee structure and guidance for required mitigation fees for ocean development projects. For more information on the review and update process, see the EEA press release and the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan website, which also includes links to the final 2015 ocean plan, 2009 ocean plan, 2014 draft plan, data, and other relevant documents.
Rhode Island has developed an Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) to define use zones for Rhode Island’s ocean waters through a research and planning process that integrates the best available science with open public input and involvement. These use zones are intended to protect or enhance current uses, including habitat and commercial and recreational uses, while providing for future uses, such as renewable energy development. Leading this project is the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), the state’s coastal management agency. Here is the SAMP Map Viewer. An article on RI's Ocean SAMP appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of NOAA's Coastal Services magazine. The Ocean SAMP was approved by CRMC in October 2010 and by NOAA in July 2011.
Check out this video that tells the story of the creation of this management plan and how it can help map the future of Rhode Island’s waters.
Rhode Island Sea Grant recently released The Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan: Managing Ocean Resources through Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (PDF, 5.36 MB), a guide that describes the adopted Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) and the process and strategies for its development. This practitioner’s guide offers lessons learned throughout the process, which included the development of a research agenda, identification of experts, involvement of stakeholders, implementation of the plan, and assessment of the outcomes. For more information about the Plan, visit the Rhode Island Sea Grant’s Ocean SAMP webpage.
As part of the work of the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Council, a report Our Waters, Our Communities, Our Future was submitted to the Governor and Legislature in April 2009. The report is based on Council work done over a two-year period through public dialogues, working groups, advisory groups, community groups, public review and other efforts. The report attempts to capture the range of pressing issues facing New York’s ocean and Great Lakes, their basins, and their communities and recommends priority actions to move forward efficiently and effectively.
A follow-on effort is the New York Ocean Action Plan (OAP) released in draft form by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Department of State (DOS) in January 2015. The OAP is focused on improving the health of New York’s offshore ocean ecosystems and their capacity to provide sustainable benefits to New Yorkers. Together, scientists, resource managers, and a wide range of stakeholders will take stock of New York’s ocean-related activities and programs. The OAP promotes the concept of Ecosystem-Based Management.
In Oregon, on October 16, 2008, the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) directed the Department of Land Conservation and Development to initiate a Territorial Sea Plan administrative rulemaking project. The project is intended to develop mandatory policies that will apply to state and federal agency approvals for the location and operation of ocean-based energy power generation facilities in the Oregon Territorial Sea. On December 5, 2008, LCDC appointed an advisory committee to advise the department and the Commission. Based on input and recommendations from the committee, LCDC anticipates adopting new or amended administrative rules in December 2009. Oregon has a long history of ocean planning that resulted in a Territorial Sea Plan adopted in 1994. That document noted:
NOAA's National Marine Protected Areas Center has released the results of the Hawaii Coastal Use Mapping Project. The project - a collaboration between the Marine Protected Areas Center, NOAA’s Pacific Island Regional Office, the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and NOAA’s Special Projects Office - mapped 16 different uses, representing the majority of human ocean activities off the Northwestern Coast of Hawaii's "Big Island." Use data was collected during a three-day participatory mapping workshop with local experts held in September 2010. To learn more detailed project information, see use patterns in a map booklet, access spatial data viewable with GIS software and in Google Earth, and to launch an interactive data viewer, visit The Hawaii Coastal Use Mapping Project. The data viewer, built by NOAA’s Special Projects Office, allows interaction with project data and simple analysis of use patterns without the need for specialized software. Also see this fact sheet.
A somewhat related program is the Ocean Resources Management Plan which is a statewide plan mandated by Chapter 205A, Hawaii Revised Statutes. It represents a significant change in the way Hawaii approaches natural and cultural resources management in response to public concerns that the existing functional management system was not working effectively. It is based on a three-perspective framework:
Other states where Marine Spatial Planning (sometimes also referred to as Ocean Management, Ocean Planning or Ocean Zoning) efforts have been initiated include Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) Portal is an online toolkit and resource center that consolidates available data and enables state, federal and local users to visualize and analyze ocean resources and human use information such as fishing grounds, recreational areas, shipping lanes, habitat areas, and energy sites, among others. In California, efforts are underway to begin to implement a workplan for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning. Meanwhile, the California Ocean Resources Management Program includes the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.
Check out this video on Washington's Marine Spatial Planning process:
NOAA's Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning website provides a useful summary of regional and state Marine Spatial Planning activities.
The National Marine Protected Areas Center's Ocean Uses Atlas Project helps address a critical information gap in ocean management by mapping, for the first time, the full range of significant human uses of the ocean. Spatial data for nearly 30 ocean uses have been gathered through a series of participatory mapping workshops convened with regional ocean use experts in California and New Hampshire/Southern Maine. You can download spatial data, view mapping products, and access interactive online mapping tools for both areas by clicking on the state links.
Economic benefits associated with Marine Spatial Planning have been examined in a technical paper "Ecosystem service tradeoff analysis reveals the value of marine spatial planning for multiple ocean uses" published in early 2012. From the abstract of that paper:
Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a necessary and important process being implemented at both the state and national levels to help ensure that we can continue to make use of the ocean’s resources and enjoy the ocean without degrading those resources. MSP provides Surfrider Foundation chapters an opportunity to secure protections for special places (priority ecological & recreational areas) through participation in regional stakeholder processes. Such a role is fully appropriate given the significant ecological and socio-economic benefits these places provide. Surfrider Foundation activists and all those concerned about continued protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches are encouraged to follow and participate in the Marine Spatial Planning process.
The National Ocean Council has released a Marine Planning Handbook (PDF, 146 KB) to support the efforts of regions that are interested in establishing regional planning bodies and developing marine plans. The document provides information on how to advance priorities while ensuring a transparent, participatory, science-based process. The handbook supplements the discussion of marine planning in the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan (PDF, 4.5 MB) and is based on extensive public and stakeholder input.
Coastal Marine Spatial Planning Advancement Training Bibliography of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning Reference Materials
UNESCO Marine Spatial Planning
Zoning the Oceans: The Next Big Step in Coastal Zone Management (American Bar Association) is intended to help experts and government planners use zoning as a vehicle for ocean development and management. It is claimed to be the first book to focus on new and emerging state ocean zoning programs in the context of recent developments in offshore coastal zone regulation at the state and federal levels.
National Marine Protected Areas Center California Ocean Uses Atlas and New Hampshire and Southern Maine Ocean Uses Atlas. Also see their document Mapping Human Uses of the Ocean, Informing Marine Spatial Planning Through Participatory GIS
Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan
Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan
New York Spatial Planning (click on Spatial Planning under “One Pagers.”)
Oregon Territorial Sea Plan administrative rulemaking project
NOAA Coastal Services Center Marine Spatial Planning Stakeholder Analysis (pdf)
NOAA Coastal Services Center A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone (pdf)
The website http://marinecadastre.gov was developed by NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to support offshore renewable energy development.