Friday morning began on a light note with Stephanie Moura, executive director of the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership, electing herself “jargon patrol.” It seemed like a good idea. After all, the very subject of the second annual Coastal Communities Conference is a mouthful of obscure technical jargon – “coastal and marine spatial planning.”
To be fair, it’s not as if the five words individually are terribly obscure or technical. But put them together and you get something that leaves many wondering “What is it?” In an attempt to shorten the name and incorporate more familiar terms, many have called it “ocean zoning.” Basically, it’s the process of designating what we can do and where we can do it in and around the ocean.
But that definition leaves out perhaps the most important (Dare I say it? Defining) aspects of the process. It covers the what and the where, but leaves out who, how, and why. And, as I alluded to previously and as was emphasized repeatedly at the conference, who’s involved, how they are treated, and why the process is invoked in the first place are all issues at the core of the “CMSP movement.”
Think about it. We’ve been zoning land uses for as long as any of us can remember. True, we’ve never zoned the ocean before. But we’ve never needed to. Just as land-based zoning grew out of the need to control increasingly intense population and industrial pressures, the need for ocean zoning has been prompted by increasing recognition of the conflicts, not just between conservation and exploitation, but between different activities – fishing, shipping, offshore energy production.
What’s really innovative and unique about marine spatial planning, as it is being practiced in many places, is the idea that decisions about ocean resources should be made jointly by all who use, depend on, impact, and care about them – stakeholders, to use another pervasive jargon term that was decried by many conference attendees. The idea is to engage everyone with a stake in the outcome – fishermen, shippers, developers, SCUBA divers, boaters, whale watchers, farmers, loggers, beachgoers, to name a handful – in a democratic planning process. It requires a dedicated and energetic organizer(s), not to mention willing participants. And those who have done it admit it isn’t always pretty – things can get heated, threaten to fall apart.
Indeed, the idea that competing, sometimes passionately conflicting, interests can work together to build a management plan may seem naive and idealistic, particularly in this age of polarization (there’s certainly preciously little respect or compromise to be seen in our government these days). But there’s evidence that it can work. The movie Ocean Frontiers: The Dawn of a New Era in Ocean Stewardship that kicked off the conference provided four examples of success stories from around the United States. Over the course of the day on Friday, we heard more examples – from St. Kitts and Nevis, Rhode Island, and multiple communities around Massachusetts. There is also ample scientific evidence that fisheries regulations developed with input and buy-in (a.k.a. cooperation) from fishermen work better. And that’s really the whole point of the ill-named “CMSP movement” – that people can work together to develop plans that sustain both human communities and natural resources.