Accommodating the many uses of ocean waters presents challenges for marine spatial planners, many of whom work for agencies with far fewer resources than the shipping, offshore energy, and other commercial interests competing for space.

A container ship arriving in port on a very calm day.

Shipping is one of many uses marine spatial planners have to consider when creating management plans.

Then, of course, there are other stakeholders, from the Navy to native tribes, to small businesses such as charter boats, to the recreating public. There are buried cable lines and flight paths to consider, and even unexploded ordnance and other seafloor relics.

So what’s a practitioner of marine spatial planning to do? Rhode Island Sea Grant and the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center (CRC), who hosted two international symposia on marine spatial planning, developed case studies from three different programs on the east and west coasts of the U.S. to offer guidance.

“Our network of marine spatial planning practitioners asked for case studies to help them more deeply understand some of the challenges faced by other planners dealing with complex issues. We chose Rhode Island, San Francisco, and Washington state, which represent different scales, different lead organizations, different drivers — those conditions that prompted the call for marine spatial planning — and different scenarios of how people have applied these techniques,” says Jennifer McCann, Rhode Island Sea Grant extension director and director of CRC’s U.S. Programs. “These are not evaluations; these were done to identify lessons learned that can be shared with other practitioners to enhance their marine spatial planning efforts.”

Offshore renewable energy siting is a new challenge for U.S. planners.

Offshore renewable energy siting is a new challenge for U.S. planners.

McCann and Tiffany Smythe, extension specialist for Sea Grant and CRC, interviewed over 50 marine spatial planning practitioners to create the case studies, which offer concrete examples of planning efforts that addressed issues including offshore renewable energy siting, handling an America’s Cup Yacht race, and managing a congested waterway.

These case studies shed light on the inner workings of real-world marine spatial planning processes and describe techniques that practitioners have used to engage stakeholders, coordinate among agencies, and integrate the best available data into their plans.

Summaries of these case studies are now available on the Rhode Island Sea Grant website at That page provides a link to the full reports as well.

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[info]These case studies were supported by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Coastal Resources Center are located at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.[/info]

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