EarthTalk: I recently heard the term “ocean
sprawl,” which was a new one on me. We all know “sprawl”
as it manifests itself above sea level. But in the oceans?
Can you enlighten? – Bill Chadwick, Nantucket,
next frontier in sprawl may be on the high seas,
where the proliferation of fishing, shipping, tourism,
resource extraction, energy development, military
exercises and other human activity has begun to
call into question just how vast our oceans really
are. Pictured: a fishing trawler on the high seas.
credit: Jon Anderson/Flickr
are all familiar by now with “urban sprawl”—the
uncontrolled spread of urban development into areas beyond
the city. But environmentalists warn that the next frontier
in sprawl is on the high seas, where the proliferation of
fishing, shipping, tourism, resource extraction, energy
development, military exercises and other human activity
has begun to call into question just how vast our oceans
to the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),
our oceans are already under siege from problems like pollution,
overfishing and acidification, and increased industrial
activity off-shore—leading to so-called “ocean
sprawl”—will jeopardize the food, jobs and recreation
we have come to depend on the oceans to provide. It’s
hard to believe, given how much planning goes into various
types of development and human activity on land, that the
oceans are still like the Wild West—with various entities
staking claims on huge stretches of open water for different
promising approach to combat ocean sprawl is called coastal
and marine spatial planning (CMSP), a form of zoning for
the seas to help define who can do what and where. Says
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),
the federal agency charged with predicting changes in climate,
weather, oceans and coasts, CMSP “identifies areas
most suitable for various types or classes of activities
in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental
impacts, facilitate compatible uses and preserve critical
ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security
and social objectives.”
planning places sound science and the best available information
at the heart of decision-making and brings federal, state,
tribal and other partners together to cooperatively develop
coastal and marine spatial plans,” continues NOAA.
“This process is designed to decrease user conflict,
improve planning and regulatory efficiencies, decrease associated
costs and delays, engage affected communities and stakeholders,
and preserve critical ecosystem functions and services.”
Obama’s 2010 National Ocean Policy directs NOAA and
other federal agencies to work with ocean users, industries
and coastal communities on ways to implement CMSP in America’s
off-shore waters to prevent ocean sprawl at home while setting
an example for other nations around the world. Nine regional
planning bodies are currently tasked with developing detailed
plans for their own regions by early 2015, at which point
federal policy makers will begin to coordinate implementation.
response to momentum on CMSP, a coalition of industries
including offshore energy, shipping, fisheries, recreation,
mining and others formed the World Ocean Council to have
a say in how and where marine spatial planning is implemented.
The group organized a National Business Forum on Marine
Spatial Planning in 2011 and will take part in a World Ocean
Summit in San Francisco in February 2014.
of us who appreciate the sea certainly hope that CMSP and
other approaches will succeed in turning the tide for oceans
and not be undermined by special interests only concerned
with bottom lines.
NOAA Coastal & Marine Spatial Planning, www.msp.noaa.gov;
World Ocean Council, www.oceancouncil.org.
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