How Do We Manage Ocean Users


The Oceans have been treated like the Wild Wild West, so how do we start managing industries who are not used to being managed?


Over the past week, I’ve been really reflecting on how the Ross Sea MPA was really protected, how it was designated. I am very impressed that the Ross Sea is managed by an international committee of 24 countries. The fact that 3 of those countries: the US, China, and Russia, tend to be at odds politically, yet still came together to protect the Ross Sea, tell you how important international committees actually are. From 1959, there was an agreement that no country shall own or manage a piece of Antarctica, but the entire body of 24 countries will manage the protection of the Antarctic. And because of that, in 1959 at the height of the Cold War, because of that original agreement, the Ross Sea was able to be protected by the same governing body. I always say that some countries can’t even figure out how to put an MPA into effect in their own country because political parties, stakeholders, or ocean users are at odds.

It’s these Ocean Users in particular that makes it difficult to enact an Marine Protected Area (MPA) in certain areas. The reason for it being difficult in a lot of places is because these Ocean Users have had free reign over the ocean. It’s been the wild, wild, west, if you will. First come, first serve. Ocean Users will effect each other, and the environment. An example of that is the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2011. The spill affected fisheries and tourism within the area, shutting them down for many years. And even now, 5 years later things are not the same. In order to put into place a proper Marine Protected Area, or network of MPAs, we need to manage these Ocean Users.

At the International Marine Conservation Congress this past summer in St. John’s, Newfoundland, something was said to me that I’ve NEVER forgotten: Marine Conservation isn’t about managing the Ocean and its species. It’s about managing the people that affect the Ocean and its species. We are the ones that affect it. Left alone the Ocean can sustain itself, adapt, and balance itself out. It will change over time, like it has done many times. But the fact that humans are involved has caused rapid change in an environment that usually changes and evolves over long periods of time. But we’ve accelerated that rate, and as such, now need to manage how we affect the Ocean to ensure that the Ocean changes on its own and not because of us, or very little because of us. So that means we have to manage the Ocean Users.

On land, we manage land users. In cities and counties we have zones for residential and commercial areas. You wouldn’t put a manufacturing lot in a residential area; it may be too loud, to large, emit too many emissions, it doesn’t appeal aesthetically, and so on. You might put small businesses in residential areas to appeal to the neighborhood’s entertainment. But you even have environmental things in place; in residential areas, designated areas for greenbelts, parks, sidewalks, and the like. To protect land, and people. Now we need to do it in the Ocean.

So how do we manage Ocean Users? And why does it take SO long to put a Marine Protected Area into effect? The answer to both is: you have to bring people, these Ocean Stakeholders, and Users together to have them talk it out. Have them agree to where you can or cannot do certain things with your Ocean, along your coastline, and it has to be agreed upon by everyone. In the end compromises will be made by all involved parties, arguments will happen. It’s a long process. On the British Columbia coast of Canada, the process has been going on for at least 6 years; 3 for gathering and analyzing all the data, and 3 for putting it all together. Right now there’s a plan in every nook and cranny along the coast of B.C. and the Vancouver Islands as to what you can and cannot do in those areas. It’s not perfect, but it’s a plan agreed upon by everyone. Lots of time, meetings, interaction, workshops, and the list goes on. But, the bottom line is: IT CAN GET DONE. That is how we deal with Ocean Users. Not everyone will end up happy, but that’s how we need to manage the Users.

I do have specific examples of how to deal with different types of Ocean Users, and why we shouldn’t be so hard on all of them. But, for that you’re going to have to listen to the podcast episode. Click above to listen.

Email me to let me know how you think we should manage Ocean Users.

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