Collaborative Research: The Emergence of Stakeholders and Ecosystems as Powerful Actors in Marine Spatial Planning

Project Details


Determining how to effectively and responsibly manage the oceans is a complex task, engaging researchers, policymakers, and others for decades. In response to past and existing forms of oceans management, Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is an emerging process of oceans 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 new comprehensive planning process. This research project will improve understanding of the processes of ocean governance produced within the context of MSP, ones critical to sustaining coastal communities and the marine resources many of them depend on.

The research will focus on two key questions: 1) How are communities and environmental actors constituted by MSP practices?; and 2) What are the roles of community and environmental actors in the constitution of MSP itself? Through these, the research will examine how national policy language for MSP is interpreted in regional MSP discourses and practices, how the concerns of practitioners and human interest groups are formulated and addressed, and how the widely varying marine environmental actors both within and between regions - such as fish, marine mammals, or sea grasses - are inscribed. Within these regions, there are specific sites, or 'centers of calculation, that will be the focus of data collection. These include online ocean science databases (both national and regional); regional MSP consortiums in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast; and research centers that have been instrumental in the 'turn' toward MSP, ecosystems, and ecosystem services. The project will collect written and audio records from regional government agencies, non-government organizations, industry groups, and public forums; collect source data and outputs from the various mapping projects associated with MSP; and conduct short organizational ethnographies of the organizations leading these projects. The project will analyze what types of human and marine resource information are being incorporated into MSP (and what might be missing), a critical need as researchers and policymakers move forward with ever-larger data sets designed to visualize and organize US ocean uses. Practically, the project aims to inform MSP practices as communities across the country continue to 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 oceans governance, and although this research will focus on the US, results will have significance for these larger processes. The project will strengthen existing collaborations across academic institutions and with government and community groups, and contributes to post-doctoral training and mentoring. Results will be communicated to academic, practitioners, and community audiences.

Effective start/end date8/1/141/31/18


  • National Science Foundation: $166,421.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.