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Ocean Planning


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A small state with large resources requires careful planning of limited resources and space to preserve the rights and needs of all its stakeholders as greater demands are placed on the oceans for food, jobs, energy, recreation, and transportation.

Ocean planning, or marine spatial planning (MSP), is an approach that brings together multiple users of the ocean – including energy, industry, government, conservation and recreation – to establish future uses of ocean space and resources and make informed and coordinated decisions about how to use marine resources sustainably.

It has been recognized globally that there is a need to conserve ocean ecosystems and use ocean space as efficiently as possible, thus requiring planning for multiple uses of compatible activities, and the development of strategies to promote, enhance, and optimize the multiple uses in order to protect ocean ecosystems and conserve ocean space.

Our coastal specialists work with researchers, communities, state and federal agencies, and industry to carve the best path forward that accounts for all users of our ocean spaces and resources with the best science available to preserve crucial habitat and ecosystem health.


To strengthen the local and regional professional network and enhance ocean planning practices to ensure an inclusive and sustainable future of our ocean resources.


Jennifer McCann


America’s First Offshore Wind Farm

Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island is America’s first and currently only offshore wind farm. This 30 MW, 5-turbine project began commercial operations in December 2016 after years of collaboration with the intent to offset a portion of the state’s energy needs with renewable energy.

The farm generates approximately 125GWh of clean energy a year, which is enough to serve approximately 17,000 households, and further reduces electric costs by 40% on Block Island. The successful installation and operation of the farm has provided a blueprint for other projects to move forward along the eastern seaboard and elsewhere in the United States.

Rhode Island was not the first state to attempt offshore wind, but it was the first to succeed because of partnerships among organizations and institutions, including Rhode Island Sea Grant, and stakeholders that lead to the development of the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP).

Ocean SAMP Practitioner Guide

The Ocean SAMP is a guidance and policy document that provided regulatory oversight to the development of renewable offshore energy in Rhode Island coastal waters, which encompasses a 1,467-square-mile area of ocean space that is a crossroads for commercial, military, and government vessels traveling between numerous commercial ports, harbors, and recreational destinations. 

This document acts as a means to promote, protect, enhance, and honor existing human uses and natural resources of Rhode Island while encouraging appropriate marine-based economic development.

The Ocean SAMP, which builds upon Rhode Island Sea Grant’s 30 years of experience in marine spatial planning, provides a model for the region and nation in the use of marine spatial planning methodologies to assess and site renewable energy development in both state and federal waters that accounts for multiple uses of ocean spaces.

Tool for Ocean Spatial Planning


Case studies examining marine spatial planning practices in Rhode Island, San Francisco, and Washington State were developed by interviewing 52 practitioners and stakeholders who participated in these processes. 

The lessons learned summarized in this report honor this recognition that process is critical to successful and sustainable implementation. They offer field-tested advice, tools, and techniques about how to facilitate a realistic and effective MSP process.

Multiple Uses of Offshore Spaces

Effective planning and management of our ocean spaces and resources requires that all uses/users be considered, especially in areas where conflicts between users and the environment are present.


Commercial and recreational fisheries are among the oldest and most widespread human uses of the the offshore environment with great economic, historic and cultural value to the state of Rhode Island. 


Boating, sailing, diving, wildlife viewing, or other leisure activities in the offshore environment matter for the quality of life and economic value to Rhode Island.


Rhode Island-based naval activities have also been taking place since the 17th century and have been essential to Rhode Island’s economic growth and vitality, and are central to Rhode Island’s history.


Demands for sand and gravels for beach nourishment and construction (concrete) are increasing, especially from marine resources on the continental shelf as traditional, land-based sources of these materials have been reduced.


Rhode Island waters are an ecologically unique region—the Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound ecosystems–with interesting biodiversity that is a mix of northern, cold-water species and more southern, warm-water species. Preserving the biology and ecological functioning of this region is vital for all users. 


While none of Rhode Island’s cargo ports or naval facilities are in offshore waters, cargo ships, support vessels, and military craft traverse these waters Ocean area en route to the Rhode Island ports.


Whether characterized by historians, archaeologists, or cultural practitioners as districts, sites, buildings, objects, or landscapes, cultural resources reflect thousands of years of human use of the Rhode Island marine environment.


Demand for electricity in the region and the nation as a whole is projected to increase in the coming decades. Renewable energy resources offshore have the greatest potential for utility-scale development to meet Rhode Island’s renewable energy goals.

Ask the Experts

The Ask the Experts new online resource will connect you to the University of Rhode Island’s distinguished team of offshore renewable energy experts.

These experts are available to answer your questions and have provided information on the effects of the Block Island Wind Farm on tourism and recreation, impacts to bats and birds, infrastructure, and policy.

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