How Are We Using the Oceans?

The ocean — a relaxing getaway for many — is actually a place of bustling commerce and conflicting values. Fisheries, energy companies, tourists, and important ecosystems often are vying for resources within the same area. Determining how to best balance these multiple uses has become a major focus for managers and has given rise to the process of marine spatial planning (MSP). The Moore Foundation has taken an interest in MSP, and in June 2013 it funded more than $1.5 million to complete a set of tools aimed at helping marine planners. (See Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation: Grants for Marine and River Conservation.)

Marine spatial planning takes into account the multiple users of the ocean and tries to coordinate the most economical and sustainable way to use those resources. Someone making a policy decision could reasonably want to know how a resource management decision would affect various aspects of the economy, human well-being, and the environment. The Moore Foundation's grant is aimed at completing a suite of tools and scoping MSP opportunities for those tools in the foundation's focal regions. The main tool it's looking at is InVEST, which was developed by the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University.

The tool relies on the notion of "ecosystem services," which is the idea that humans get a lot from the environment. Marine ecosystem services include fish for eating, recreation, wave energy, coastal buffering, erosion control, and many others. These services can be valued (for example, having a particular coral reef might prevent $1 million in flood damage) and used in in resource management decisions.

Marine planners use a variety of models to tell them who will be affected by what and by how much. A good tool will allow planners to plug in a variety of parameters to see what will happen under various conditions. According to InVEST, a planner might answer questions such as the following using the tool: 1) What sort of fishery policy will yield the most sustainable fisheries, as well as the best shoreline protection and recreation opportunities?; 2) Would scuba diving revenues rise or fall under this new fisheries plan?; and 3) Will this particular marine spatial plan provide any further benefits for fishermen vs. wave-energy facilities?

The ocean is becoming a crowded place, and managing the many uses and stakeholders in it is a challenge. The Moore Foundation is recognizing that challenge and seeking innovative ways to face it. New tools, models, and approaches all will help balance the many activities occurring in the ocean.