Ocean Currents

The Ingredients to Make a Smart Ocean Plan


Ocean Conservancy congratulates the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for finalizing the first smart ocean plans in the United States. As they move into implementation, we look forward to continuing our work in the regions to help coastal communities and our ocean continue to thrive!

This process has come full-circle since 2004 when a commission appointed by President George W. Bush released the “Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century,” which called for coordinated governance of offshore waters based on sound science and regional collaboration.

While we celebrate the success of these two ocean plans, we wanted to take a moment to look at what the main components of a smart ocean plan are. You can also take a deeper dive into the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic ocean plans.

Reaching this milestone moment made us realize that a smart ocean plan has a lot in common with a good apple pie.

For an apple pie, there are some basic ingredients you need like apples, sugar, flour and butter in addition to your own creative flavor preferences and a carefully tested process to end up with a delicious creation that is a unique showstopper.

That’s how it goes with smart planning. It requires a few specific ingredients that are important to use when making decisions about our ocean, that build the foundation for smart planning that benefits the ocean environment and ocean economy. And in order to make the plan really work, each region builds upon those ingredients to tailor it specifically to their unique preferences and needs.

Main Ingredients for an Ocean Plan

Meaningful public participation

The people who live near, or work on or around the ocean are the ones that know it the best. A smart ocean plan will seek to engage a broad and diverse range of ocean users—often called “stakeholders” because they are invested in having a healthy natural resource—through a wide variety of engagement strategies, including public sessions like webinars, local and state-based meetings, open forums and more. Experts on specific subjects like renewable energy and fisheries managers are often invited to share their experiences in order to lay the best foundation for important decisions about the future of our ocean.

By consulting with as broad a diversity of people as possible, these smart ocean plans build on a strong foundation of local knowledge and expert advice, leading to the creation of a robust decision-support tool.

You can learn more about some of the people who have been involved in ocean planning at

Based in sound science

Sound science has to be the cornerstone of decisions that impact our ocean, which is an important ecological and economic engine for our planet. Ocean planning relies upon a wealth of existing knowledge as well as new information that is collected after any gaps in knowledge are identified through stakeholder engagement process.

Ocean planning takes into account a complex web of information, such as species distribution and migratory routes, wind and wave speeds, fishing and commercial shipping, as well as social and cultural factors important to communities along the coast. It also takes into account when and where activities happen. By collecting information that already exists and bolstering it with new science and research priorities, ocean planning helps build a map of what, where and when activities are occurring. As a result, smart ocean plans can balance the needs of ocean users and the environment, and present win-win options.

Head on over to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast ocean data portals to explore some of that information!

Coordinated decision-making

Did you know there are over two dozen agencies and 140 laws and regulations that govern our ocean? A smart ocean plan encourages a coordinated approach to decision-making. States and federal agencies, tribes, fisheries management councils and other bodies can work together with the public to share common sources of data and information. It allows for decision-making that spans from the local to the federal level. In the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic for example, various agencies came together and agreed to increase coordination in a voluntary basis, which will lead to improved decision-making and better results for local communities!

Adaptive management

Nothing in life is ever certain. Plans must be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions—be it economic, environmental or social. A smart ocean plan will be a “living” document, which means it is periodically reviewed to assess if it meets the needs of the people and responding to changing priorities in the region. And as part of the unique regional flavor, there will be complementary processes that allow for changes that take into account the public and other stakeholders.

To ensure thriving coastal and ocean economies, smart ocean plans have embraced a locally-driven approach that raises the voice of ocean users supported by rigorous science to inform decisions. This is meant to be an adaptive process that can respond to changes in the environment and economy, thus ensuring decisions are made with respect to current and future needs.

We applaud the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for their work in developing these regionally-driven, locally-based smart ocean plans that will help strengthen coastal economies and conserve our ocean environment for generations to come. As other regions like the West Coast, begin to plan for the sustainable management of their offshore resources, they can use this basic ingredient list and add a bit of their own spice, to create a unique, beneficial document for their coastal and marine economies and environment!

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