A helping hand for coastal practitioners around the world

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New guide book shares lessons learned from Rhode Island’s ocean planning experience

Consider it a helping hand especially for coastal practitioners — or anyone else interested in ocean planning.

The Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan: Managing Ocean Resources Through

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning: A Practitioner’s Guide is a recent publication of the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center (CRC) and the Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program, in close concert with Rhode Island’s coastal administrator, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Program. The guidebook is a how-to for ocean planning and provides information about marine resources, both natural and manmade, and about the strategies available for managing them and making sure they’ll be viable and plentiful for generations to come.

The idea of the book emerged during 2008, when Rhode Island embarked on its effort to comprehensively plan for the future use of its many marine-based resources and uses. This effort, the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), placed CRC in a leadership role of helping the state develop its regulatory plan. The Ocean SAMP, adopted by the state in 2010, reflects both significant new ocean data collected by a large URI research team and the concerns and input of an equally robust stakeholder group.

The Ocean SAMP has garnered national recognition as a prime example of ocean planning, and CRC has set about helping other coastal places make use of its lessons. Training programs, conferences and tailored technical assistance have brought the Ocean SAMP experience to coastal managers, planners and practitioners, as well as a broad array of academia, advocacy organizations and private sector interests from the United States and overseas.

A lead author of the guidebook is Jennifer McCann, CRC director of U.S. programs and Rhode Island Sea Grant Extension Program leader, based at the Graduate School of Oceanography. She says the value of the publication lies in its real-life experience. “The pages of this publication describe the Ocean SAMP process, as well as present some of the strategies that were applied to achieve its goals,” says McCann in the book’s preface. “As we start sharing lessons learned with others from prior planning and current implementation, others can collaboratively ‘SAMP’ their coastal and ocean waters.”

For example, the book explains how Rhode Island is grappling with the likely introduction of wind farms to its offshore landscape. How can Rhode Island protect critical fishing grounds —and the jobs it supports — while allowing for offshore wind power and myriad uses? What can Rhode Island’s ocean planning experience contribute to our understanding of pre-historic Native American culture or 19th century industrial shipping routes?

The book’s guidance is captured in these chapters: “Creating the Ocean SAMP,” “Ocean SAMP Implementation,” “Ocean SAMP Resources and Research” and “Assessing Progress.” In each chapter, instructions for developing ocean planning tools and techniques are couched within the Rhode Island experience. Thus, straightforward checklists for organizing portions of the SAMP process share pages with vignettes that describe Rhode Island’s rich coastal heritage.

McCann says that she consistently hears from other practitioners that while coastal communities the world over may differ in terms of specific ocean problems and resources, they all face a similar issue: coastal communities are increasingly crowded, as are the ocean areas they border, and planning is necessary to ensure that finite marine resources—be they fish stocks, energy sources or manmade reefs—are managed so they can meet our future needs.

So far, hundreds of copies of the document have been sent out far and wide to answer the requests of a growing and increasingly linked community of ocean and marine spatial planners. McCann says she has received dozens of verbal and written responses to the publication, and that these comments tell her that the book is both helping coastal practitioners with their work as well as the coastal places they serve.

To view the publication, visit Practitioner Guide.