Ocean Currents

New Interactive Maps Show Where and How We Use the Ocean

Map Ocean Use

Millions of people visit the ocean every year for recreational purposes, and millions more rely on the ocean as a primary source of daily income. From beachcombing and fishing to surfing and shipping, human use of the ocean is highly varied and surprisingly complex to quantify. As ocean conditions are changing, it is important not only to enhance our scientific understanding of ocean ecosystems, but to bolster our knowledge of how we as humans interact with it. In one of the first broad scale efforts to do just that, the Mid-Atlantic region recently released interactive maps with the best available information on areas of human use and relative intensity. These maps are the result of months of data synthesis and reconstruction from dozens of sources, presenting a fine scale and interactive overview of the varied intensity of human use along the Mid-Atlantic coastline.

As part of the Mid-Atlantic regional ocean planning process, a team of data experts developed 64 unique map layers depicting a wide variety of uses and data types, and launched them for public consumption on the data portal. They also synthesized these 64 maps in to 10 easy to understand thematic maps. These maps all serve as a guidepost for ocean planners and decision-makers, highlighting high use intensity areas while making the data portal an ever more useful tool.

What do these maps show?

The Human Use Data Synthesis (HUDS) team overlaid the Mid-Atlantic Ocean with a grid of 10km x 10km squares, quantifying the level of use for 64 different activities, while also creating broader ocean use groupings of data, including five major human use themes. To show the full extent of human use, the HUDS team also took all 64 layers and synthesized them in to a single map, displaying total intensity of use on a standardized scale.

Below are short descriptions of five major human use themes:

What other data can we expect? 

These data products are the first step in an ongoing effort to quantify human use in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Over time, new information will be incorporated in the portal along with the existing data. As it stands, the HUDS team already has new data on the horizon, such as a comprehensive overview of sand and gravel resources by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. In the near term, fascinating new products on marine life (mammals, birds, and fish) in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions are quickly approaching; our first sneak peek given in a new peer-reviewed journal article published March 3rd. Make sure to check out the Human Use data for yourself, and check back regularly as we continue to provides updates on regional ocean planning in the US.

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