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September 2011 Issue

Marine Spatial Planning and Ocean Industry: If You Aren't at the Table ...
By Paul Holthus
Marine spatial planning (MSP) is moving ahead rapidly in Europe, Australia and the U.S., creating significant opportunities for—and threats to—continued industry access and operations in the marine environment. Proactive, constructive business community collaboration and leadership is needed for the private sector to shape the future of safe and sustainable ocean use.

Unfortunately, the ocean business community is often not actively engaged in MSP. There is a substantial risk that responsible commercial activities and their economic and community benefits will be compromised by the predominance of other stakeholder interests if there is not strategic, coordinated private-sector presence at the MSP table. The stakes are high: Ocean planning has substantial implications for shipping, oil and gas, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, ports, desalination, dredging and many others.

As the kinds and levels of marine area use increase, a more systematic approach to accommodating multiple uses could be valuable to the long-term viability of economic activities. However, if MSP is to support the sustainable use of marine space and resources by responsible industry operators, the ocean business community must be active participants.

The need to manage interindustry conflicts, mitigate cumulative impacts and address the concerns of other stakeholders are often cited as fundamental rationale for MSP. Proponents suggest ocean planning will provide numerous business benefits, such as better coordination of regulatory processes, streamlined permitting, increased certainty for investors, greater public and political buy-in for projects, acknowledgment of the importance of economic ocean uses and a process for industries to address spatial and operational conflicts and develop synergies.

Precious little evidence or even anecdotal information is available on whether these benefits actually occur. There is clearly a need to better document the real-world results of MSP in well-designed and carefully controlled pilot efforts. To correct this glaring gap, the World Ocean Council (WOC) conducted the first international business community survey on MSP.

The WOC study found 43 percent of respondents thought MSP would encourage scientifically sound, economy-driven offshore development regulations. However, 33 percent believed the process would add regulatory and program costs, and 20 percent felt it would cause delays in offshore development planning and permitting. On the potential for MSP to address conflicts between environmentalists and offshore industries, 17 percent felt the process would help resolve conflicts while 9 percent believed MSP would actually generate conflicts. The business community was nearly equally split in believing that MSP would foster ocean-related industry growth (10 percent) or impede offshore development (9 percent).

The MSP situation in the U.S. is rapidly developing. The federal government established the National Ocean Task Force in 2009, which led to the development of the National Ocean Council in 2010, and nine regional planning bodies are scheduled to develop marine spatial plans by 2015. The National Ocean Council held a national workshop in June for government agencies to develop the government's MSP strategic action plan.

This presents a critical and immediate opportunity for the ocean business community to actively engage in a coordinated, multisectoral manner before getting too far behind the curve. The environmental community has had a national MSP coalition for several years and is actively involved in the process. The ocean business community needs to get equally well organized.

To address this, the WOC convened the National Business Forum on MSP this July in Washington, D.C., in partnership with Battelle Memorial Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association and the law firm Blank Rome. This event brought together the diverse ocean business community to foster, facilitate and, most importantly, plan for concrete business involvement in the U.S. MSP process.

The Business Forum on MSP brought together a diverse array of ocean industries to create a clear understanding of MSP in the ocean business community; define and examine the potential business impacts and benefits of MSP; ensure the business community is fully informed of the specific U.S. MSP process and plans; and identify the next steps to facilitate and coordinate business involvement.

Forum participants strongly reiterated that MSP must be balanced and informed, and it should consider economic activities as a key part of the process. They also said MSP needs to have the business community involved early and that the business community must become proactively informed, organized and engaged in MSP. Finally, they stressed the value and strength in bringing the ocean industry sectors together to engage in a coordinated manner.

The WOC is catalyzing a coordinated, constructive, cross-sectoral ocean business community involvement in MSP. These efforts will continue in the U.S., and multisectoral business forums on MSP will be convened in Australia, Europe and other areas where MSP is developing.

One way or another, MSP is likely to develop in many areas over the years to come. This means there is a strong incentive for industry to actively work on ensuring that the business benefits of MSP are optimized and the impacts are minimized, while at the same time achieving the broader societal goals for conservation and sustainable development of the marine environment.
Paul Holthus is the founding executive director of the World Ocean Council. He works with the private sector to develop practical solutions to sustainable ocean development and has held senior positions with the U.N. Environment Programme and with international environment organizations. He has work experience in more than 30 countries.


2012:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
2011:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.