Healthy Oceans Blog

Marine Planning By Any Other Name Would Still Be As Sweet

Photo credit: NOAA

The terms used to describe a new wave of comprehensive, integrated ocean and coastal management are varied: from the traditional coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), to marine planning or ocean planning, to yes, even ocean zoning, depending on the process outcomes. What all of these terms have in common is what they are meant to do: replace the old model of single use management (fisheries, ocean energy, sand, conservation) and create a comprehensive, collaborative effort that seeks to break down silos between government and stakeholders to find a less-conflict prone way of managing resources to a more win-win outcome scenario for all users. The U.S. Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (more on the Task Force here) defines CMSP as:

“a comprehensive,
adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-
based, and transparent spatial
planning process, based on sound
 science, for analyzing current and
 anticipated uses of ocean, coastal,
 and Great Lakes areas. CMSP 
identifies areas most suitable 
for various types or classes of
activities in order to reduce
 conflicts among uses, reduce
 environmental impacts, facilitate 
compatible uses, and preserve 
critical ecosystem services to
 meet economic, environmental,
 security, and social objectives. In practical terms, CMSP provides a public policy process for society to better determine how the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes are sustainably used and protected – now and for future generations.”

Regardless of what it is called, marine spatial planning is being embraced by nations around the world wanting to turn the tide from managing their marine resources in a reactionary manner to a more proactive, collaborative process. They see a future of better stewardship by getting in front of potential conflicts and issues by working with new partners at the ecosystem level. Imagine that instead of managing a set of fisheries, ocean energy projects, sand mining projects, or habitat protection independent of each other, not considering the impacts one use might have on another until a huge conflict arises, the bodies charged with these individual responsibilities look at the space together, as an ecosystem and decide how to ensure its health, productivity and sustainable use. That scenario is the true benefit of marine planning.

Marine planning may be a newer management tool, but it has already shown to have important impacts (including, but not limited to):

  • Reducing conflicts;
  • Providing economic and environmental benefits;
  • Allowing new offshore wind energy projects operate in a more efficient manner — smoothing the way for project approvals, dealing with community and stakeholder concerns and reducing costs for permitting process;
  • Providing commercial fishermen a tool to protect valuable fishing ground and when compromise is required allowing a venue for negotiating for fair compensation;
  • Protecting ocean ecosystems while reducing impact to sensitive habitat.

In comparison to other coastal nations around the world, the United States is new to the idea of using marine planning as a real management tool. Nations like BelgiumNorway, and now Scotland have completed or are close to completing first iteration marine plans. Even our neighbors to the north are engaged in marine planning as 18 First Nations and the provincial government in British Columbia recently signed their Marine Planning Partnership to guide marine use issues.

So what is the United States doing when it comes to marine planning? Well, the impetus for marine planning started with coastal states in the early 2000s, which is not a surprise. Many forward thinking, collaborative efforts start with states working to make their resources stretch in a time of ever shrinking budgets. A few states, including MassachusettsRhode Island, and Oregon embarked on shifting management for their own waters, which led to or helped inform regional state partnerships like the West Coast Governors’ Alliance on Ocean Health and the Northeast Regional Ocean Council to engage with each other collaboratively on ocean issues, including marine planning.

In fact, the marine planning effort of Rhode Island, called the Special Area Management Plan process, can take much credit in ensuring the successful siting of what will soon be the U.S.’s first-ever offshore wind farm off of Block Island. Working with the state, fishermen, and other stakeholders this project cut through some of the conflicts and stumbling blocks other projects faced and allowed ocean stakeholders to develop relationships where before there would have only been mistrust and lines drawn in the theoretical sand.

Since these coastal states began their good work, President Obama waded into marine planning for the Federal government by establishing the U.S. National Stewardship Policy for the Ocean, Our Coasts and Great Lakes. This Policy (also known as the National Ocean Policy) asks regions to consider undertaking this new structure for managing and protecting our nation’s ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources, and charges Federal Agencies to undertake marine planning, if a coastal region came together (federal government, state governments, and federally-recognized tribes) and agree to undertake a marine planning process. Since then, five regions (see the regional list here) have said yes to marine planning with at least one more region poised to start marine planning in 2015. You can read more about the efforts of these regions here:

By the end of 2016, just a year and a half a way, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions are slated to complete the United States’ first ever ocean plans that create a vision for the state of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic ocean space between the federal, state and tribal governments with input from ocean stakeholders, with specific metrics for achieving those visions of sustainable ocean uses in a healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems.

Are these efforts without any setbacks, blunders, missed opportunities? Of course not; and it would be foolish to think everything is coming up roses with a change that asks government to really think differently about how it manages the ocean and to truly engage and utilize the knowledge of stakeholders in more than just a surface manner. However, it IS our nation’s best chance to ensure that everyone wins as we broker our relationship with the ocean, which makes the blunders, setbacks and missed opportunities worth the effort to fix. It is worth it to come along for the ride as we collectively make a long overdue change in our relationship with managing and protecting our ocean, coasts and Great Lakes.

To stay abreast of what is going on with #oceanplanning and the National Ocean Policy, follow the Healthy Oceans Coalition on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.