What is Ocean Planning?

Regional ocean planning comes from the idea of coastal and marine spatial planning (MSP), which is the process of better coordinating different ocean uses, users, spaces, and laws through spatial data and decision-making. On one end of the spectrum, MSP is the equivalent of “zoning the ocean,” or delineating particular ocean areas for particular uses. On the other end of the spectrum, MSP is more a process of collaborative and coordinated planning. It takes into account spatial issues and decisions, but does not lead to strict zoning or new spatial rules. Regional ocean planning in the United States resembles this latter form of MSP, and derives from the more general idea of marine planning, which the US National Ocean Council describes as an:

“opportunity for all coastal and ocean interests in a region to share information and coordinate activities [in order to] promote more efficient and effective decision-making and enhance regional economic, environmental, social, and cultural well-being.”

Ocean planning in the United States began with President Obama’s 2010 Executive Order 13547, better known as the National Ocean Policy (NOP; see here for the full text of the order on whitehouse.gov). Among other considerations, the NOP calls for the development of “coastal and marine spatial plans that build upon and improve existing Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional decisionmaking and planning processes.” The responsibility for this work falls to regional planning bodies (RPBs) made up of federal and state agencies, tribal representatives, and others. Ultimately, these planning processes move toward better ecosystem-based management (EBM) of the ocean, and strive to meet both multi-use and conservation objectives at sea by better and more comprehensively accounting for oceans activities and environments.

The NOP calls for all regions of the US to engage in ocean planning, however the Northeast (Maine to Connecticut) and Mid-Atlantic (New York to Virginia) are the furthest along, having built on existing regional partnerships and previous experiences with ocean and coastal planning at the state level. Regional ocean planning in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US are led by partnerships of federal, state, tribal, and other members (e.g., fishermen, researchers, environmental groups, etc.), through initiatives such as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean, the Northeast Regional Ocean Council, and the RPBs formally charged with enacting marine planning in each region.

These groups work across sectors and jurisdictions to inform better and more cohesive ocean governance in each region. Efforts include developing ocean data, engaging the public, improving stakeholder and government communication, and creating regional ocean plans to guide future actions focused on improving ocean health and management. For example, both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have developed extensive and public ocean data portals to inform ocean planning and decision-making, and to serve outlets for new or previously disconnected ocean datasets and other information. Further, they released the first draft regional ocean plans in the nation in 2016; both are currently in review processes.

For more information on our research into US ocean planning, see the links in the sidebar. –>


External Resources

Federal Government

National Ocean Council and the National Ocean Policy

Regional Planning Organizations

Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC)

Northeast Regional Planning Body

Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO)

Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body

Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Assessment (ROA)

“The ROA is an information resource developed to support the regional planning process. It provides an engaging and reader-friendly distillation of key information on selected topics in ocean planning for decision-makers, stakeholders, and the broader public.”

Regional Ocean Data Portals

Northeast Ocean Data Portal

Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal