Reflections on marine spatial planning in the Gulf of Maine

On October 5, 2011, three members of our group – Marcy Cockrell, Kara Woo, and Bridgette Black – attended the second annual research conference held by the Research Association for Research on the Gulf of Maine (RARGOM) in Portsmouth, NH. The major theme for the conference was “The nexus between climate change and marine spatial planning.” Below are some thoughts from the meeting.

“More than the hammers and nails”

by Marcy Cockrell

While listening to the talks at the RARGOM conference, it was certainly clear that there is a lot of exciting research happening on coastal and marine spatial planning in the Gulf of Maine! Speaker topics ranged from creating long-term study areas for habitat restoration in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, to modeling the trade-offs and dynamics of human-nature connections, to speaking effectively about science to a lay audience.

While the talks covered a wide range of topics, there was one idea that, at least at some level, connected all of them – we need to include social and economic considerations and engage the stakeholders when developing coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), since CMSP is ultimately about managing the activities of people. CMSP should be adaptive and flexible, stakeholder driven, and should address social and economic, as well as environmental, concerns. Other major topics that pervaded were the impacts and scale of climate change, and developing ecosystem-scale research plans.

Key questions posed included: How do we prepare for a future with rapidly shifting baselines? How do we plan when ecosystems and people don’t behave as expected? What do the stakeholders, and the greater population, want out of marine spatial planning and what does it mean to them?

Ru Morrison, of the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, summed it up nicely when he stated: “What does CSMP mean for the greater population? As with building a house, people don’t talk about the hammers and nails, they talk about the finished house they are going to live in.”

What we do with the hammers and nails of science, management, and policy is certainly important, but we also need to take care to think about the finished product, the whole CMSP house, that is presented to the greater population. It will be exciting to see what develops with CMSP in the Gulf of Maine in the coming years!

“Expanding the toolbox for marine spatial planning”

by Kara Woo

Several presenters at the RARGOM Annual Science Meeting described projects aimed at improving decision support tools for coastal and marine spatial planning.  The Marine Integrated Decision Analysis System (MIDAS) for the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership is one such tool. Built around the Multi-scale Integrated Model of Ecosystem Services (MIMES) modeling framework, MIDAS allows users to easily visualize management scenarios and tradeoffs. The Northeast Ocean Data Portal is another resource for those involved in CMSP in the northeastern United States that provides maps, models, and other data to inform management.

As useful as they are, these tools are of less interest to the broader public than the house we build with them, said Ru Morrison of the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS). Many other speakers at the conference addressed stakeholder involvement in marine spatial planning. It will be interesting to see how stakeholders engage with these new resources, and how the tools themselves evolve in order to facilitate stakeholder involvement.

“New Tools Inform Ecosystem-Based Management in Light of Climate Change”

by Bridgette Black

Many of the conference presentations focused on integrated approaches – across disciplines, professional networks, and the diverse ways that humans are connected to marine ecosystems.

Suchi Gopal of Boston University introduced one such integrated approach, the MIMES-MIDAS modeling framework. In assessing the linkages between humans and other components of ocean ecosystems, a number of questions arise: How do we incorporate non-monetary ecosystem services? What does marine spatial planning mean to different and diverse stakeholders? What weight should we give certain system linkages? Gopal called the MIMES-MIDAS tool a “facebook for marine spatial planning,” because it can help elicit diverse stakeholders’ views on ocean activities and management.  It should be ready for public use by December 2011.

Later, Michelle LaRocco spoke about how concerns of different stakeholders regarding climate change may be incorporated into CMSP. Informants from many industries she surveyed were at least somewhat concerned about sea level rise and global warming. However, they were more concerned regarding the limits and boundaries CMSP could place on their activities. Michelle argued that as managers we have to make the benefits of CMSP tangible, and create collaborative opportunities for scientists, managers, and stakeholders to work together.

Towards the end of the conference, presentations focused on engaging the community outside of the scientific and management sector. MTPI, a tidal power initiative in Maine, is a great example of a project that aims to incorporate community members to the utmost. Initially, interviews with fishermen were conducted in order to gauge support for the project. It was found that fishermen and other community stakeholders were extremely interested in being involved in the project. Thus, the initiative now incorporates stakeholder meeting and community councils into the project framework in order to ensure the connection between social and ecological system. Now the members of the community feel an ownership for the project and hope to have continued involvement.

Michael Orbach of Duke, a keynote speaker, emphasized the importance of understanding social dynamics around CMSP. CMSP, he argued, is all about allocation, about who gets what. Thus, while ecological science is important, the importance of social and institutional knowledge cannot be understated. The biophysical, the human, and the institutional combine to create a “total ecology” that must be understood in order to move forward in the implementation of CMSP.