Last week, I wrote about how coastal and marine spatial planning (“smart ocean planning”) is an essential tool for making smart choices about the future of our ocean. In order to make those smart choices though, smart ocean planning requires gathering and sharing sound data to promote informed, science-based decision-making. Accurate data on all of the ways the ocean is used must be collected and compared. Decision-makers need as much data as possible to identify where conflicts exist and where they might emerge.
To accomplish this goal, state-based Regional Ocean Partnerships are coordinating the collection of these data and making them available to the public. In the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and West Coast regions, Regional Ocean Partnerships have already begun this process by creating “data portals”. These interactive, Web-based portals allow any user — from the general public to agency decision-makers —to compare maps of artificial reefs, recreational boating spots, whale migration paths, offshore renewable energy lease areas, commercial shipping routes and more.
Since smart ocean planning requires coordination among stakeholders every step of the way, input from all of those sectors is necessary for accurate and complete data collection. For example, the Northeast region recently engaged the recreational boating community by asking it to contribute spatial and economic data. The survey helped identify the waters that boaters frequent and revealed that in 2012, the recreational boating sector generated $3.5 billion and supported nearly 27,000 jobs.
These data now allow the needs and importance of the recreational boating community to be considered when decision-makers are determining how to best manage coastal waters in the Northeast. Furthermore, the more these data are shared the more we can ensure collaboration between government agencies and stakeholders that is needed for informed decision-making will occur.
This week, Ocean Conservancy staff members are joining stakeholders from around the country in meeting with members of Congress regarding the importance of the Regional Ocean Partnerships and smart ocean planning, and we would encourage you to do the same by contacting your representatives and senators to make your voice heard on the issue.
For more information on what is needed to effectively implement marine spatial planning, check out this short interview with Dr. Sandra Whitehouse, senior advisor to Ocean Conservancy: