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Feature Article

Using GIS to Improve Coastal Marine Spatial Planning

By Peter Becker
Port Angeles, Washington
Gavin Burnell
Co-Principle Investigator
Cork, Ireland
Dr. Tetsuzan Benny Ron
Aquaculture Program Coordinator
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Honolulu, Hawaii

GIS technology merges mapping, statistical analysis and database technologies. Advances in high-spatial-resolution data generation over the past 50 years have markedly improved the ability of GIS to relate the dimensions and multitude of activities in coastal regions. GIS-based coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP) in the European Union (EU) was mandated in 1992, along with ecosystem-based management of the watersheds and coastal waters out to the continental shelf break.

In the U.S., CMSP is one of the nine strategic actions of the federal government's National Ocean Policy and has been promoted to address present and future ecosystem-based management of coastal marine environments. Similar approaches have been adopted by other countries.

The EU-funded COEXISTPROJECT is a multidisciplinary CMSP plan with 13 partners from 10 European countries, coordinated by the Institute of Marine Research in Norway. It addresses the interactions of aquaculture with fisheries, with approximately €3 million in funding from the European Commission Seventh Framework Program from April 2010 to March 2013. This project includes six case studies at locations from the Adriatic Sea to the Baltic Sea. The aim is to provide management tools to support the integration of fishing and fish-farming sectors with other coastal stakeholders. In comparison, CMSP in the U.S. has a total anticipated funding of approximately $3 million, subject to the availability of fiscal year 2013 appropriations.

Past failed CMSP attempts were rooted in government inability to translate complex data interactions to stakeholders. Successful CMSP programs, i.e., in Connecticut, Maryland, Alaska, British Columbia, Hawaii, Oregon and the Western Tropical Pacific Islands, began at the community level, with government support being sought later in the process.

Communicating Complex Data
Although governments and scientists are good at gathering data on coastal usage patterns by all stakeholders and presenting it in various formats, there is surprisingly little information on stakeholder use, engagement and management in the evolving and dynamic field of CMSP in the EU and North America. Gathering this type of information is a slow process, without much funding. Prior to GIS, the complexity of available data types (i.e., differing formats and scales) made CMSP a challenge.

For the U.S. West Coast, some usage data exists, for instance, concerning marine transportation and shipping, military use, oil and gas deposits, and dredge sources and disposal. But much data has to be ground-truthed or has yet to be gathered, such as for commercial fishing efforts, recreational fishing and boating, scientific research and indigenous cultural practices.

Government data comes in representational length scales ranging from 20 to 100 kilometers, with high detail but low resolution. GIS technology can help alleviate this scaling issue. A present focus is regional plots. When all data layers are presented simultaneously, the overly complex presentation makes it difficult to unravel and separate the usage patterns that will be the basis of CMSP.

Stakeholders in coastal communities are accustomed to handling multiple-use length scale modes but not at the regional planning level. Using GIS at small scales better engages stakeholder groups and decision makers.

Successful CMSP Techniques
A few CMSP programs have focused on local usage patterns first, which are then nested within larger geographical usage patterns, representing a bottom-up thinking style. The practices implemented in these programs have shown the importance of scaling up from existing local use patterns by taking into account community input before making decisions about the location and amount of any coastal development. To continue this article please click here.

Peter Becker is an oceanographer with more than 50 years of consulting and management experience in the marine industry worldwide. He received a bachelor's in chemistry from Wagner College and a Ph.D. in oceanography from Old Dominion University.

Gavin Burnell is the head of zoology and ecology in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University College Cork. His consultancy work includes reviewing applications for Marine Stewardship Council certification. He is the external examiner for the master's program in sustainable aquaculture at Stirling University (U.K.).

Dr. Tetsuzan Benny Ron is the aquaculture program coordinator of the University of Hawaii. He created www.aquaculturehub.org, a social networking website. Ron received a NOAA grant to create the Aquaculture Training On-Line Learning program offered by the University of Hawaii.

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