June 21, 2010

Our Oceans – Our Responsibility

6/21/10 |
Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Regional Specialized Agent, Urban Environmental Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

As the world celebrated World Oceans Day on June 8th, 2010 and the United States celebrated Capitol Hill Oceans Week (June 8-10), there is a general sentiment that an adaptive and integrated policy approach for ocean resources is needed. Such an approach provides flexibility and offers coordination across and among governmental agencies. Heralded as “new” in the United States, Marine Spatial Planning is being proposed as an innovative policy venture for ocean resources. It’s already widely used in Australia, Europe and to a lesser extent, China.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is an arm of the United Nations that is working towards advancing marine spatial planning. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is part of the United Nations’ focus on sustainable development practices throughout the world and is defined as:

ecosystem-based - balances ecological, economic, and social goals and objectives toward sustainable development; and

integrated – involves economic sectors and governmental agencies; and

participatory – actively involves stakeholders
Is there a need for marine spatial planning? Indeed there is - marine resources are “common property resources” with open and free access to users. As with most things that are free and unregulated, there is excessive use resulting in decline and sometimes loss of the resource. Already, our marine resources are being threatened by overfishing, pollution and species loss e.g. corals.

How new is the concept of MSP and how different is it from the approaches that we currently use in the United States? MSP is similar to coastal zone management and the United States has been using such an approach since the passing of the Coastal Zone Management Act in 1972. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary , established in 1990, uses a comprehensive management plan which is similar to MSP. The driving force behind that designation was protection of the coral reefs which were being affected by declining water quality, pollution and overfishing - a result of rapid urbanization in the Florida Keys. The comprehensive management plan took 6 years to develop and includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as co-trustees of the area. At least 30 public meetings were conducted beginning in 1992 and the final draft plan incorporated 6,400 public comments. Although this approach is time intensive and difficult, it is much more successful because it includes a wide variety of partners and allows public stakeholders to contribute to the process and the resulting plan. This “ownership” reduces user conflicts, establishes authority and identifies boundaries of the protected area. The 5 year timeframe for updating the plan provides the “adaptive” element allowing the users to identify new challenges while acknowledging its successes over the previous timeframe.

Marine Spatial Planning is not the same as the more commonly recognized Marine Protected Areas (MPA) or “marine reserve”. In the U.S., a MPA is “any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state…to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources.” A MPA might be the result of a marine spatial plan but its approach does not cover the broad spectrum of ecological, economic, social, and cultural values that MSP does. Benefits of MSP include promotion of efficient use of resources and space, identification of areas of biological or ecological importance, protection of cultural heritage, and improved opportunities for citizen involvement.

In June 2009, one year after the United Nations declaration that June 8th would be recognized as World Oceans Day, the United States White House established an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force. The task force would work towards a new policy approach that would reduce user conflicts, engage public participation and bring together federal, state and tribal partners recognizing the important role that oceans and coasts play in “energy resources, …economy, and trade, …[and] global mobility” while underscoring the “stewardship responsibility to maintain healthy, resilient, and sustainable oceans, [and] coasts.”

The NOAA, a partner in the Ocean Policy Task Force, refers to MSP as “coastal and marine spatial planning” and recognizes that it is a rapidly evolving and dynamic topic area that requires strong partnerships. According to NOAA, effective coastal and marine spatial planning must follow three basic principles and a number of coordinated steps.

As our nation grapples with an immediate ocean disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Marine Spatial Planning presents a comprehensive but adaptive approach to balance human needs and resource protection. As individuals, we can assist in the preparation of such plans by participating in the “public” elements that collect data from affected and interested citizens and constituents.

Resource Links:

EPA’s Integrated Management of Ocean Resources

Integrated Ocean Observing System

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning in Practice

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

Marine Spatial Planning FAQs

UNESCO Marine Spatial Planning References

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