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Aquarium of the Pacific Leads Ocean Use Planning in Southern California

Aquarium of the Pacific Leads Ocean Use Planning in Southern California

Aquatic Forum

October 10, 2011

On July 26 and 27, the Aquarium of the Pacific, in collaboration with the University of Southern California Sea Grant, gathered about forty experts from across the conservation, scientific, government, and commercial sectors to discuss the implementation of coastal marine spatial planning (CMSP) in the ocean waters off the coast of Southern California. CMSP is among the recommendations for ocean stewardship published by the Obama administration. The Aquarium recently released an initial report summarizing the discussion that took place during the forum, identifying the qualities desired for the region in the future, and detailing what fundamental questions should be addressed in a CMSP strategy going forward. To read the report, click here.

CMSP has been implemented by some European countries, Australia, and China, as well as two states in the U.S., Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Under President Obama’s administration, an interagency Ocean Policy Task Force has been formed to provide recommendations for stewardship of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. The task force defines CMSP as a comprehensive, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process for analyzing uses of ocean areas. It identifies areas most suitable for various types of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses and benefit both economic and environmental health.

The Aquarium regularly hosts Aquatic Forums on major environmental issues affecting the region. The goal of this forum was to draft a vision and outline a process for applying CMSP in the Southern California Bight—a geographic region that spans 300 miles of coastline from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the state’s southern border, and covers 20,000 squares miles of ocean, including the Channel Islands. “Through our Aquatic Forums, the Aquarium of the Pacific brings together experts to explore major environmental issues and examine them from different perspectives. This is an incredible opportunity to do something significant for the economy and the natural ecosystems of the Southern California ocean. The Southern California Bight is the ideal laboratory for allocating space and resources to foster innovations that will benefit both coastal and marine ecosystems and coastal and ocean economies,” said Dr. Jerry Schubel, president and CEO, Aquarium of the Pacific.

“The value of this process has been to bring together a very diverse group to discuss CMSP, how it could be applied here, and next steps. A vision statement for Southern California will be successful if it gets the public to think about a desirable future and see the value of spatial planning in reaching that future,” said Charles “Bud” Ehler, president of Ocean Visions Consulting and marine spatial planning consultant to UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

In a presentation that opened the forum, Ehler emphasized the continuous nature of CMSP, saying that it needs to be an adaptive process and one that is monitored and evaluated to ensure goals are being met. Also, he noted that the ocean is not homogenous and some areas may be highly sensitive, while others may be more appropriate for human uses. For that reason, he said, spatial allocation is a sensible approach, particularly as new uses of the ocean, such as offshore wind farms and other industries, enter the picture.

Participants in the Aquarium’s CMSP forum agreed that as the population in Southern California grows over coming decades and pressures on the economy and ecosystem increase, the need for proper management of human activity and protection of marine life in the Southern California Bight will be paramount. They also emphasized the need for public education and involvement in the process. CMSP could provide the means with which to allocate areas for recreation and tourism, habitat protection, indigenous peoples’ traditional maritime uses, and conservation efforts, as well as for renewable energy, aquaculture, biofuel, and commercial and recreational fisheries development—some of which could potentially be collocated in shared areas.

Potential benefits of CMSP that were identified include coordination across sectors, conflict resolution, protection of ecosystem health, more informed decision-making that is in keeping with the state’s high environmental standards, a more efficient regulatory process, development of technological innovation, increase in jobs and tourism, sources of local sustainable seafood, clean energy, and preservation of traditional uses by indigenous populations.

Agencies and organizations represented among the attendees included several Southern California colleges and universities; the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Services Center, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, National Marine Fisheries Service, Science Advisory Board; the California Fisheries Coalition; Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Center for the Future of the Oceans; USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and the Sea Grant program; California Department of Fish and Game Groundfish Task Force; Southern California Edison; Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute; U.S. Coast Guard; California Ocean Protection Council; California Ocean Science Trust; Environmental Law Institute; Acjachemen Nation Juaneno Band of Mission Indians; Southern California Coastal Water Research Project; the Port of Long Beach; and the Center for Ocean Solutions.