Collaborative Research: Marine Spatial Planning and the Role of Community and Environmental Actors

Project Details


This project will investigate how Marine Spatial Planning has evolved and continues to be enacted as the principal ocean policy in the United States. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is an emerging process of ocean governance that seeks to address current concerns with how to organize and use the nation's marine resources. MSP is a central component of the US federal government's National Ocean Policy, and is the key avenue through which the government's commitment to ecosystem-based management of the oceans will be realized. The marine environment is home to a growing number of users and activities that MSP is working to frame within a comprehensive planning process. Understanding the process of ocean governance as produced within the context of MSP is critical to sustaining coastal communities and the marine resources many of them depend on. This project will investigate how emerging MSP policies are produced, focusing particularly on the role of the federal geospatial database known as the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre (MMC) in creating a cartographic basis for marine spatial decision-making. The project will examine the national policy evolution of MSP, what role the MMC plays in the continuing formulation of MSP, and the implications of these processes for making coastal communities, economies, and social structures more or less resilient to environmental changes. This research will draw on actor-network theory, critical Geographical Information Science (GIS), and political ecology to address the following questions: 1) How has MSP emerged as the preferred ocean policy solution (e.g., for fisheries, energy, or aquaculture questions) in the United States? 2) What types of information (e.g., scientific, economic, social) inform MSP discourses, and how is such information being transmitted to the public? 3) How are communities and environmental actors constituted (assessed, measured, represented) by MSP tools such as the MMC, and what capacities might they accumulate or lose through such tools? To answer these questions, the project will collect and analyze written and audio records from government agencies, non-government organizations, industry groups, and public forums concerned with MSP. Further, the project will collect and analyze source data and outputs from the MMC, and conduct a short organizational ethnography of the MMC. Project results are expected to help illuminate MSP processes and to inform strategies for improving this new method of oceans governance.

This project will analyze what types of human and marine resource information is being incorporated into MSP, a critical need as researchers and policymakers move forward with ever-larger data sets designed to visualize and organize US ocean uses. The project will contribute practically to the understanding of ocean management, while helping to inform MSP practices as communities across the country engage with initiatives (e.g., aquaculture, catch shares, wind energy) that define ocean space in different ways. More generally, there is unprecedented worldwide interest in new forms of ocean governance, and the 'oceans agenda' has emerged as a central topic in both national and international forums. Although this research will focus on the US, results will have significance for these larger processes. Thus, the broader impact of this research is related to the scope of the policy processes that stand to rewrite ocean governance in the US and elsewhere. The project's ability to realize these impacts arises through its connections to key people and institutions involved in these policy-making processes, as well as the PIs' previous research on and contributions to ocean policy debates. Additional impacts will include the training of a PhD student, the mentoring of a post-doctoral researcher, and strengthened academic networks amongst the collaborators.

Effective start/end date7/1/126/30/15


  • National Science Foundation: $72,051.00


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