Community and Environment in Marine Spatial Planning

This research is being undertaken with colleagues at Duke University, Rutgers University, and Eckerd College. It examines emerging regional ocean planning initiatives in the US Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The development of regional ocean planning has been complicated and at times contentious. This is in part due to the potential it holds to represent, engage, and mobilize a broad variety of actors in oceans governance—some of whom have played only a small role in past oceans initiatives. It is also an inherently spatial process, and its reliance on and use of geographic data and other science to provide a basis for decisionmaking presents a near-unprecedented opportunity to explore how oceans data directly interacts with governance. Because of these and other things, our project explores two primary questions:

  1. How are communities and the environment being represented and engaged in ocean planning processes?

  2. And conversely, how are communities and the environment shaping the future of ocean planning itself?

What is MSP in the US?

In the United States, MSP has taken the form of regional ocean planning, where planning activities are guided by federal policy but enacted at regional scales, such as the US Northeast or Mid-Atlantic. Regional ocean planning is a particular type of MSP, and broadly considered a form of marine planning, which the US National Ocean Council describes as an:

…opportunity for all coastal and ocean interests in a region to share information and coordinate activities [in order to] promote more efficient and effective decision-making and enhance regional economic, environmental, social, and cultural well-being.

Regional ocean planning in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US are led by partnerships of federal, state, tribal, and other members (e.g., fishermen, environmental groups, researchers, recreational users, etc.), through initiatives such as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO), the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC), and the regional planning bodies (RPBs) formally charged with enacting marine planning in each region (NE RPB and MidA RPB). These groups are working across sectors and jurisdictions to inform better and more cohesive ocean governance in each region. Efforts include developing ocean data, improving stakeholder and government communication, engaging the public, and creating regional ocean plans to guide future actions focused on improving ocean health and the management of human uses at sea.

Publications on MSP

Fairbanks, L,* N Boucquey,* LM Campbell, and S Wise. Remaking Oceans Governance: Critical Perspectives on Marine Spatial Planning. Forthcoming in Environment and Society: Advances in Research 10. (*share lead authorship)

Boucquey, N, K St. Martin, L Fairbanks, LM Campbell, and S Wise. 2019. Ocean Data Portals: Performing a New Infrastructure for Oceans Governance. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. DOI: 10.1177/0263775818822829 [Link]

Fairbanks, L, LM Campbell, N Boucquey, and K St. Martin. 2018. Assembling Enclosure: Reading Marine Spatial Planning for Alternatives. Annals of the American Association of Geographers. 108 (1): 144-161. [Limited Open Access Link]

Boucquey, N, L Fairbanks, K St. Martin, LM Campbell, and BJ McCay. 2016. The Ontological Politics of Marine Spatial Planning: (Re)Assembling the Ocean and Shaping the Capacities of ‘Community’ and ‘Environment’. Geoforum 75: 1-11.

Other Resources

For more information on this work, including a project fact sheet, paper and presentation abstracts, and project updates, visit our project website! (Exit to