By Meg Caldwell, Karen K. Marvin and Erin Prahler
The job of coastal planners and managers is a delicate balancing act played out on a massive scale. The jurisdiction of these practitioners may be thousands of square miles of ocean or shoreline that often includes everything from marine protected areas and research outposts to economically critical fishing grounds and coastal development to bustling shipping channels and urban sewage treatment discharge outfalls. Guiding development of coastal land and waters is a challenging job because many of these uses cannot or should not be located within the same footprint due to practical conflicts between uses or impacts on marine ecosystems.
Coastal planners and managers employ marine spatial planning (MSP) to minimize conflicts in their jurisdictions between human uses or between human uses and the ecosystem. MSP also encourages proactive, long-term planning for use of ocean and coastal resources. The concept received a boost in 2009 when the Obama Administration created an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to make specific recommendations on better integrating the nation’s ocean policy agencies using MSP.
Ecosystem-based MSP incorporates ecosystem, economic, policy and regulatory content as well as cultural and aesthetic values into a proactive plan for sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources. Generally, a marine spatial plan designates human uses in ocean spaces in order to reduce conflicts and optimize compatibility of uses while preserving marine ecosystems and reducing environmental impacts.
Marine spatial planning is a data-intensive process, so many practitioners are turning to technology in the form of software tools that incorporate and analyze maps, models, databases and other information that inform their decisions. MSP decision support tools, or DSTs, synthesize various inputs to produce a more holistic view of an area of coastal waters to determine where, or if, a proposed use of the ocean is viable.
The Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) is playing a vital role in stimulating interaction among MSP tool developers and DST users to ensure that tools are responsive to coastal planners’ and managers’ needs. In October 2010 and February 2011, COS sponsored a pair of two-day interactive workshops where tool developers demonstrated the functionality of various DSTs while coastal planners and managers shared their real world experiences and needs that DSTs could support.
Following the workshops, COS’ MSP team, working closely with the Pacific Marine Analysis and Research Association (PacMARA), synthesized the information and lessons learned from participants in an easy-to-use DST guidebook designed to help coastal planners and managers select the right tools for their decision making needs. The resulting Decision Guide: Selecting Decision Support Tools for Marine Spatial Planning lays out the functionality of nine decision support tools and how their capabilities mesh with the steps in a typical MSP process such as gathering data and identifying issues and constraints.
“The Decision Guide does not set out to convince people to adopt MSP,” COS executive director Meg Caldwell explains. “It meets people where they are, gives them good information about what MSP involves and describes readily available tools they should consider, whatever their planning needs might be.”
COS and PacMARA applied a high level of rigor to their analysis of the DSTs. Through charts, matrices and case studies, the Decision Guide presents a large amount of complex data in a digestible form immediately useful to a practitioner engaged in selecting a DST. Numerous case studies from around the globe enliven the descriptions of marine spatial planning and individual tools.
For example, California’s Marine Life Protection Act required a review of the state’s network of marine protected areas (MPA) to enhance marine ecosystem protection while ensuring the MPAs function as a network. A central aspect of the review engaged stakeholders who developed their own management scenarios using available ecosystem data, scientific guidelines and socio-economic information, all housed within the MarineMap tool. Using MarineMap, stakeholders drew their own networks of MPAs, compared them against alternatives, shared their scenarios with other stakeholders and generated analytical reports to evaluate conformity with scientific guidelines. The scenarios generated by stakeholders using MarineMap played a crucial role in the California Fish and Game Commission’s ultimate decision for California’s new network of MPAs.
During the workshops and development of the Decision Guide, tool developers and coastal planners and managers forged a new “community of practice” for MSP. The Center for Ocean Solutions hopes that the guide will continue to catalyze cooperation and cross-pollination among tool developers and DST users, and that these interactions will improve marine stewardship methods that support healthy and sustainable marine ecosystems and coastal communities.
The Decision Guide is available as a free download through COS’ website at http://www.centerforoceansolutions.org/sites/default/files/pdf/cos_msp_guide.pdf and in hardcopy by request. It is also available through the EBM Tools Network website at http://ebmtoolsdatabase.org/sites/default/files/sources/cos_msp_guide_4lo.pdf and from NOAA’s coastal and marine spatial planning website at http://www.cmsp.noaa.gov