A Sea Change for Ocean Management?


The Washington Post today has an interesting story (registration required) about how the Earth’s oceans are getting crowded with competition for use — and how more and more ocean experts are pushing ocean zoning as the answer.

But even though such zoning (which experts call by the unlovely name “marine spatial planning”) has high-level support within the Obama administration, it’s anything but easy.

Overlaying the maps of the many uses of the sea in any given area — uses ranging from fishing to fossil fuel extraction to recreation to sand mining and wind farms — “quickly becomes a train wreck,” according to Duke University ecologist Larry Crowder.

Still, Europe and Australia have been doing integrated ocean planning and zoning for a while. And scientists at The Nature Conservancy say the risks of not making a sea change in the way we do ocean management outweigh the inherent conflicts of trying to balance dozens of competing resource demands. As Conservancy scientists Lynne Hale, Mike Beck and Scott Smith wrote in March on nature.org:

In some U.S. states, one agency manages the habitats on the bottom of the sea, a separate agency manages the water above it, and a third manages the gas and minerals beneath the bottom. Even conservation organizations that advocate protection don’t always take into account fully the way people — often the poorest and most marginalized — depend on ocean resources for their livelihood.

Hale, Beck and Scott argue that we can take lessons learned in using zoning for terrestrial conservation — like transparency and interactive web-based maps — and apply them to seascape management practices. The Conservancy is already advising countries on how to make these knowledge transfers — for instance, helping the Venezuelan national energy corporation to preserve critical reef areas in the waters of that country while allowing for energy extraction.

But ocean zoning needs to be adopted widely if it’s going to work, say Hale, Beck and Smith. Individual efforts that don’t affect business as usual at the seascape level, they add, will just mean further decline of our marine resources.

(Image: Fisherman from the Kokhanok village catches salmon on the south shore of Iliamna Lake on the Alaska Peninsula. Credit: Ami Vitale.)

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  1. I think the ocean could manage ITSELF just fine if certain PEOPLE left it to nature, but we all know that will never happen, so I suppose it does need to be managed by those who actually care and know what they’re doing.

  2. Considering the United Nations cannot work out simple solutions to piracy how in anyone’s name can this world bureaucratic nightmare be considered. How can you slice up the oceans and put quotas on each slice? Who decides? Who benefits (considering outside the environmental benefit). Who starves? Who profits?

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