Obama’s Ocean Plan Will Help Stop Ocean Sprawl

After making strong recommendations for a landmark national ocean policy in September, President Obama’s Ocean Policy Task Force has turned its attention to “stage two” of its effort to increase federal ocean protection.

This stage proposes a framework for a process called coastal and marine spatial planning, which can help America manage the increasing amount of industrial pressure on our seas while protecting them from further degradation.  

Today, the administration released the details of its Interim Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning Framework and, once again, the outlook is promising.

Let me explain…

What is coastal & marine spatial planning?

We look to our seas to satisfy a lot of demands – from food to energy, shipping, recreation and the discovery of new medicines. Coastal & marine spatial planning (MSP) is the process of planning ahead and identifying spaces in the ocean and coastal waters that are appropriate for various uses, separating incompatible uses, while at the same time ensuring that the environment and marine life are protected. MSP allows us to identify in advance areas where certain industrial uses make sense, and areas where they don’t.

Other countries, such as Australia, Norway and the Netherlands, are using MSP to improve management of their ocean resources. Some states have done this as well. For example, Massachusetts is completing a comprehensive ocean management plan and Rhode Island is in the process of developing one.

Highlights of the Obama Administration’s Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning Framework:

Today, President Obama’s Ocean Policy Task Force released its proposed recommendations for how America can plan for the future of our oceans using MSP.  These recommendations will be available for a 60-day public comment period.  

NRDC is pleased to see that:  

  • The framework is grounded in environmental protection. In particular, the guidelines and principles from the Task Force’s national ocean policy report will guide the MSP process, including a focus on protecting, maintaining, and restoring the health and biological diversity of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. Environmental protection needs to form the basis of any planning effort. If ocean ecosystems are not protected, they cannot continue to provide the services, like food, jobs and recreation that people want and need.  
  • The framework ensures seats at the table for states and regional partnerships, as well as providing opportunity for public input. States and regional partnerships will have the opportunity to work with federal agencies to address what is needed in their specific regions and to help plan. In other words – we’re not talking about officials in Washington drawing lines on a map.  
  • The framework sets a solid timeline for progress. It divides the country into 9 separate regions (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South-Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, West Coast, Pacific Islands, Alaska/Arctic and the Great Lakes) and sets a 2015 goal for completion and certification of regional coastal and marine spatial plans for all the regions.    
  • It can help address important industrial & environmental issues in each region. From siting offshore renewable energy projects (like offshore wind off the East Coast and wave projects off the West Coast), to protecting important fishing grounds (like Georges Bank off New England), and safeguarding key offshore habitats (like submarine canyons along the Atlantic Coast or migratory pathways for endangered whales off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts) – this plan can help address key issues in each region of the country.   

What does this mean for clean energy in the U.S.?

As we move toward a clean energy economy, we are increasingly turning to renewable offshore energy – like wind power – that won’t spill or run out. Marine spatial planning can help expedite the siting of these projects in an environmentally responsible way. MSP can and should be the blueprint we use to develop the energy of the future off our shores while also protecting our oceans.

Recognizing this, several environmental groups and offshore renewable energy companies came together to support a common set of principles regarding MSP. Many of these principles are reflected in the Ocean Policy Task Force’s proposed recommendations released today. By creating a roadmap for our oceans, we can minimize conflicts from the get-go that slow down offshore renewable energy development and get clean energy up and running faster.


The marine spatial planning framework presented by the Obama administration will help protect our ocean life while ensuring that sustainable ocean development can move forward. It’s an important step toward much needed improved stewardship of our oceans.  

The president from Hawaii and the Lake Michigan continues to show us he’s true blue each step of the way.  

Take Action: Tell President Obama to protect our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes.