The Benefits of Marine Spatial Planning

marine spatial planningThe Benefits of Marine Spatial Planning

A basic fact of port operation is that there will come a time when it needs dredging. As vessels grow bigger, the ports need deeper channels to handle the larger traffic. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of dredging could prove harmful to fish-spawning beds. This happens as newly dredged sediment invades those fragile eco-systems. Not only is marine life impacted, but also the stakeholders in the port operation who are striving to maintain their own eco-friendly compass. One way to tackle this issue head on is through a comprehensive Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) program.

A proper MSP begins with open lines of communication between the port authorities, engineers, local government agencies, and environmental advocates. Of course, the stakeholders should also be involved in the process. They may even turn out to be valuable liaisons between the groups.

At a recent gathering sponsored by the World Ocean Council, the concept of Marine Spatial Planning took center stage. When done the right way, MSP becomes a program that incorporates the needs of the many, as opposed to a single group with an agenda. The goal is to develop a system that ensures responsible use of the ocean, without adding on the burden of additional regulations.

The Washington D.C. conference highlighted three potential conflict areas that a proper MSP program should address. These include:

  1. Use to Use: How resources inside the planning area, outside the planning area, and emerging/future resources will be utilized.
  2. Use to Resource: How a marine resource such as wind or solar can be developed to offset carbon emitting fuel sources.
  3. Use to Objectives: How the vision for the port comes together while considering all of these elements.

A perfect model for a successful Marine Spatial Planning program can be found in Norway. This process began several decades earlier and involved stakeholders from the initial planning phase. That is when a specific list of priorities for MSP were discussed and worked through. Only after everyone was in agreement regarding issues like the impact to the environment, employment opportunities, and general port operations did the actual work of dredge planning begin. It was a perfect “meeting of the minds” between the oil, gas, fishing, and tourism industries.

For any type of MSP to work, the parties involved need to streamline the conversations that involve local interest groups and the government. For instance, in the New England area, the fishing and tourism businesses feel that oil and gas development aren’t compatible. In the Gulf of Mexico region, they see their energy industry as the mainstay of any economic success. It’s clear that these divergent interests need to be brought together before any type of work alienates the local interests. The last thing anyone wants is a prolonged battle in the courts that ties up development at a port for years.

An organization like the World Ocean Council is poised to act as a facilitator between these various factions. A Marine Spatial Planning program is a great way for marine facilities to remain proactive with the kind of development and expansion that can be a huge benefit for all involved.