Marine Spatial Planning

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We plan our cities and how we use our land. So it just makes sense that we would also apply similar principles to manage the way we use our ocean and coasts.

Marine spatial planning involves looking at the whole picture — the ecosystem and the people who are using that ecosystem — in order to determine how best to use ocean areas so that ecological, economic, and cultural services are available now and for future generations.

During the 2009 fiscal year, NOS undertook a wide range of marine spatial planning projects, to balance demands for development with the need to protect the environment and to achieve social and economic objectives in an open and planned way. A few of these highlights include:

  • Providing data about whale abundance and distribution patterns in Massachusetts waters to inform the development of the Massachusetts Ocean Plan. Coastal planners and managers in Massachusetts are using the results of long-term research by NOS to help make ocean-zoning decisions. The plan, which was mandated by the Massachusetts Ocean Act of 2008, is the first of its kind in the Nation. This research also supported the decision to relocate Boston Harbor shipping channels to reduce marine-mammal vessel strikes, as well as the assessment of potential threats from a proposed offshore liquid gas facility. Similar NOAA work is likely to become fundamental as other states strive to sustain their coastal ecosystems.
  • Working with the Marine Conservation Biology Institute to complete a series of four California Ocean Uses Atlas Workshops to gather information about how humans use the ocean off the California coast. A variety of stakeholders, including resource managers, military representatives, commercial fishing and recreational users, and scientists used innovative interactive geographic information system techniques to map patterns of industrial/military human uses of the California ocean, from the high tide line to 200 nautical miles out. The resulting maps and analyses will help guide state, federal, and regional ocean planning and management efforts by entities such as California’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries, and the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health.
  • Leading the development of the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre(MMC) to fulfill Section 388 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which directed the establishment of a mapping initiative that supports decision making related to alternative energy uses on the Outer Continental Shelf. The MMC is a multi-agency effort to build a marine information system for U.S. waters that provides authoritative geospatial data, visualizations, and supporting information. Data provided via the MMC will help address issues that include alternative energy siting, aquaculture, submerged lands leasing, marine conservation, and comprehensive marine spatial planning.
  • Supporting the Pacific Risk Management ‘Ohana (PRiMO), which is a consortium of local, national, and regional agencies and organizations committed to enhancing the hazard resilience of Pacific Islands communities. In 2009, more than 80 participants from nine island jurisdictions attended PRiMO’s first partners meeting in Guam. The meeting engaged new partners in the PRiMO mission and highlighted strategies for enhancing resilience to coastal inundation from tsunamis, storm surge, high surf, elevated sea level, and climate change. Meeting facilitators provided new and updated regional information on coastal inundation risks and impacts. Participants also identified ways to pinpoint hazard needs and manage hazard risks and addressed strategies for enlarging inundation-risk capacity through improvements in land-use management, education and outreach, social and economic vulnerability assessments, hazard modeling, and warning communications.
  • Developed a course to help coastal professionals use coastal inundation maps overlaid with multiple types of data to increase hazards awareness and preparedness, determine potential flooding impacts, encourage long-term planning and coastal resilience, and pave the way for community risk and vulnerability assessments. NOS’s new course, “Coastal Inundation Mapping,” helps demystify the topic for participants as they increase their mapping skills and gain access to a large collection of data from NOAA and other agencies, including water level data, elevation data, flood models, geodetic and tidal datums, and other information.