PROVIDENCE—Rhode Island Sea Grant held its 11th annual Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium on Wednesday, bringing in scientists and policy experts from North America and Europe to the University of Rhode Island’s Providence Campus. Participants gathered to discuss a topic to which Sea Grant, among other state organizations, have been heavily committed; marine spatial planning.
“There is nothing new about conflicts over use of space in the ocean and what sectors can coexist with each other,” said Keynote Speaker Jake Rice of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “And there is nothing new about citizenry expecting governments to solve these problems for them.”
"Marine spatial planning (MSP) is relatively new, but the discipline is growing quickly,” he added. “The first mention in scientific literature of MSP was in 1986, and in the last five years, over 100 publications a year come out on this topic. It is clearly where the action is.”
The symposium brought together experts on MSP from countries such as Germany and Belgium, along with local researchers, to discuss how scientists, governments, and the public negotiate among multiple uses of the marine environment. Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spoke about the challenges local and state agencies face regarding regulatory management, and the ability of MSP programs to resolve conflicts between public and private entities.
“Why is there a need for MSP in the U.S.?” said Sally Yozell, Director of Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at NOAA. “The oceans are becoming more and more crowded. Among traditional uses like fishing and shipping, there are new uses beginning to look for space, such as renewable energy aquaculture. We are looking for ways to balance those uses.”
Presenters stressed a number of common themes for the success of MSP programs throughout the nation’s coastal and marine communities, namely the need for policy makers and scientists to involve the public and understand socio-economic, not just scientific or political, processes or viewpoints. Speakers also noted that the creation of MSPs and their subsequent implementation must be decided at local levels, and not dictated by state or federal mandates, from which a knowledge base of marine issues may not be sufficient.
“Regions develop these plans, and they are not coming from Washington, D.C.,” said John Weber of the Northeast Regional Ocean Council. “That is a really important point to repeat again and again. These plans are really ground-up.”
“[MSPs] do not work unless there is a premium placed on public engagement,” he added. “Our approach is to engage the fishing industry, for example, from the very beginning, and not to have myself and a couple of GIS folks just collecting data. We need to do [MSP] in a very open and transparent way.”
“Too often, data and science get portrayed as not including social and cultural information,” said Vera Agostini of The Nature Conservancy. “That information is a part of science. Too often, the communication of those efforts don’t accurately represent that you can include [social and cultural data] in the science.”
Speakers emphasized that MSP initiatives do not provide a single solution for every conflict which a government or private entity may face, and that continued negotiation of approach and research needed to be applied as new problems or uses of the marine environment emerge.
“There is no single right way to do MSP, but the more specific and concrete the objectives can be at the end of the process, the clearer the guidance as we move forward,” said Rice. “We need credibility, legitimacy, and relevance to make sure people have access to information so that they can have informed opinions on the product.”
“[MSPs] must be candid about disappointments, trade-offs and compromises, and not try to present outcomes as a win-win,” he added. “We have been struggling with objectives, the purpose of which is difficult to understand, difficult citizen engagement, unclear mandates, and difficulty with conflict resolution [in the marine environment.] These are old problems, but they do have solutions.”
In July 2011, state officials, along with representatives of involved parties such as the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and URI’s Coastal Resource’s Center, celebrated the federal approval of Rhode Island’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OceanSAMP). Much like the role that symposium participants described on Wednesday, the OceanSAMP is a comprehensive reference document which holistically details the ecological, recreational, cultural, and economic resources of the Block Island and Rhode Island Sounds, approximately a 1,500 square mile area.
“The Ocean SAMP provides a vehicle for giving formal status [to coastal projects],” said Grover Fugate, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council last July. “We can use it to tailor some policies to a state’s particular needs and then harmonize them with federal groups.”
The plan, aided by the School of Law at Roger Williams University and Rhode Island Sea Grant, was developed over two years and is the culmination of input from multiple stakeholders. Numerous research teams and committees were charged with data collection, dissemination, and community outreach, and thus creating a significant scientific and regulatory knowledge base.
The OceanSAMP is just one of many MSP programs throughout the globe which have impacted regulatory, economic, ecological, and public approaches to the marine environment. The work continues, but the dialogue which events such as the Baird symposium creates contribute to the overall vision of all stakeholders of the world’s oceans.
“Management must be done on an ecosystem level, and you have to get people involved and find the support that comes from the heart of the people, and that from which they will gain value,” said Harald Marencic of the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat in Germany