Today’s post will be the final in a set of Ocean Management posts I have made (Planning for the Oceans: How Long is Your Plan Man!; Does Sam (Malone) have the Plan to Save the Oceans?!?!; and, the Ghost of Ocean Management Past). The focus of this post will be on a new strategy in which most governments, environmental non-government organizations (ENGO), and consultants implement today. The strategy is fairly simple in theory: Protect where animals occur in the Oceans and you protect the animals and ensure they will stay in the same area. A manager identifies areas in the Ocean area and determines if the area is important to specific species, communities (groups of species), or even the habitat itself (coral reef, seagrass bed, mangrove, salt marsh, etc.). Once the manager determines whether the area is important, then the area can be protected based on the specific features is holds. Sounds simple right? Not quite…
The problem with this strategy when is was first used was that protecting the Ocean environment did not take precedent over human activity such as oil and gas and/or fishing. Many times the human uses got priority because they can provide short term benefits to a coastal community, or wider community AND the biology/ecology of the area where the human use activity will take place is not well known. However, more information on the Oceans’ species, communities, and habitats are known, although it is not perfect, so managers can make more informed decisions. Governments in many developed countries are now starting to put the responsibility of the human use activity to identify whether the ocean area in question is important to preserve. The approach of the habitat protection strategy IS a good approach.
The strategy makes perfect sense. Animals will not survive if their habitat is destroyed so if you would like to save any part of the Ocean you will have to protect the habitats which provide the animals with food and resources to survive. Now managers can go out with a plan and identify habitats that they know are important to the Oceans, but before they protect all marine areas for biological purposes, they need to discuss with the human use activities in the areas to ensure the protected areas will not ut them out of business. Getting stakeholders on board is a critical part of the Ocean Management process. One system that is used is called Ecosystem-Based Management. The system brings together all stakeholders before the process begins to discuss concerns and issues about how the Ocean Plan will be managed.
Ecosystem-based management is a great strategy although it never really caught on in the real world. Many managers liked the process, but it focused too much on protecting the environment rather than protecting the human use activities. The stakeholders require balance. So a new tool, which uses Ecosystem-based Management is now available called Marine Spatial Planning and being implemented all over the world. The simplest way to define the tool is to say that it’s a tool which makes all stakeholders, including the environment equal, including the Ocean environment. Every sector had a say in how the parcel of Ocean in question will be managed. Using that premise, the Marine Spatial Planning tool should make all parties happy; although, not everyone will be happy with the outcomes of the tool (but that is nature!). The Marine Spatial Planning tool produces a series of maps with various management zones in a particular Ocean area. Each map is a product of the input given by the various stakeholders.
Following this process of protecting habitats, using Ecosystem-based Management, and Marine Spatial
Planning, the ocean management process should and will be more effective at preserving our Oceans for the long-term.