All in the planning

Ports and harbours need to work with ocean 'users' to make sure that their voice is heard Ports and harbours need to work with ocean 'users' to make sure that their voice is heard

Carl Friesen explains why Marine Spatial Planning affects port planning and operation

Conflicts over marine resources have the potential to impact the plans and operations of ports and harbours around the world. Consider the port that needs to dredge channels deeper in order to accommodate larger vessels with deeper drafts - dredging that could spread sediment over vulnerable fish-spawning beds in a nearby estuary, raising concerns from environmental regulators.

One of the solutions to conflicts over a resource, applicable in many land-based situations, is to bring the many stakeholders together in a planning process to determine how best to share the resource. Many governments, particularly municipalities, use zoning and planning to determine which activities are acceptable in which areas - for example, to provide enough space between a source of noise such as a major road, and an area where quiet is required, such as a school.

Wise municipalities are developing their plans and zoning only after extensive stakeholder consultation. Often, just understanding each others’ viewpoints, interests and concerns goes a long way to finding solutions that work for as many interests as possible.

The same process is increasingly being applied in marine environments through Marine Spatial Planning (MSP).


Get together

This was one of the topics at the Sustainable Ocean Summit held in Washington DC in April 2013, sponsored by the World Ocean Council, which included representatives of a wide range of 'users' of the ocean resource including bulk and container shipping, tour operators, the oil and gas sector, fisheries, and the military. One of the purposes of the WOC is to make sure that these sectors have a voice in the decision-making process, to help increase the chances that the plans developed will be practical and sustainable.

One of the points made by co-chair Leslie-Ann McGee who was at the time director, Ocean and Coastal Solutions for the Battelle Memorial Institute, was that MSP is not as much about fish or about space, as it is about managing human behaviour. MSP, she said, is a tool to reach sustainable ocean use, not an additional level of regulation.

The audience was told that MSP is an improvement on single-issue interest groups that would push their own agendas, often without understanding others’ viewpoints, or even the potential for alliances. As Sally Yozell of US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) said, the result all too often is that government regulators have a 'screaming congressman' complaining that regulations are holding up a vital employment-generating project.

Ms McGee indicated after the presentation that MSP deals with three types of conflicts:

  1. Use to Use (between use of resources inside the planning area, outside the planning area and future/emerging uses)
  2. Use to Resource (so that an aspect of the marine environment becomes a resource - such as wind that is now a resource for making electrical energy)
  3. Use to Objectives (of planning area - akin to the vision for the place)

Presenters said that Norway has shown a good example of wise use of MSP principles. Decades ago, that country engaged with stakeholders to develop a good picture of what policies and priorities needed to drive the planning process. Only when priorities were established around developing employment, protecting the environment and other aspects, did the planning begin. This included helping make sure that interest groups including the oil and gas sector, fishing, and tourism, did not get in each others’ way.

This idea that issues drive policy, which in turn drives planning, is not as widely used in the US, NOAA’s Ms Yozell said, adding that the first steps of any MSP should be goal-setting.


Local needs

The MSP process is a way to streamline conversation between the various interest groups such as government agencies, so that they talk with each other and discover shared interests and concerns. This process needs to take local needs into account: for example, the New England area considers fishing and tourism to be important, and many people believe that oil and gas activity is incompatible with that. The Gulf of Mexico coast, however, sees oil and gas as more important to the economic future, provided attention is paid to protecting sectors such as tourism and fishing.

The WOC is taking steps to improve ocean business community engagement in MSP, with the appointment of Leslie-Ann McGee as WOC programs director. With an initial focus on the US, Ms McGee will lead WOC program efforts that include ensuring that national ocean policy and planning in the US has the coordinated, proactive involvement of a well-informed multi-industry group. She will also develop an understanding of the industry stakeholders in each of the nine National Ocean Policy regions in the US.

A news release from the World Ocean Council quotes her as saying, “Without informed and coordinated business involvement in MSP - which seeks to guide the intensity and location of uses in an area - there is a significant risk that planning will not fully consider existing and potential economic activities and will miss out on key marine resource, use and ecosystem information held by industry.”


Carl Friesen is a writer in Mississauga, Canada specialising in helping organisations supporting sustainability to reach potential clients. See


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