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Smart Ocean Planning

Challenges and Opportunities for Ocean Data to Advance Conservation and Management

Ocean data collection and access are in the midst of a revolution with new technologies, new applications and renewed national commitments to understand and manage our ocean. We have an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze information about our environment and human uses of marine natural resources and to create significant opportunities for improvement in science and decision-making. Government agencies currently have limits to their abilities to efficiently process and incorporate ocean data from new sources, including new technologies, into the decision-making process. Ocean Conservancy and the Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE) partnered to assess the challenges preventing decision-makers and the ocean community from maximizing the full potential of ocean data for advancing conservation, understanding the blue economy and sustainably managing ocean resources. This paper explores and builds on the current landscape of ocean data, impediments to optimizing the use of available ocean data in policymaking, and the various approaches to improving the management, archiving, dissemination and application of those data toward the twin goals of supporting a healthy marine ecosystem and a thriving, sustainable ocean economy. Solutions include advancements in ocean data partnerships, new resources, infrastructure and policies needed to overcome the technical, social and legal obstacles of data sharing and management.

It is well known that the US ocean data ecosystem is rich in content, variety and potential for meeting the greatest of needs in marine conservation, the $373 billion blue economy, and for the sustainable and equitable use of ocean resources. And providing open access to this ecosystem is the first step in furthering the understanding of the importance of ocean health to everything else on this planet. But what sets this report apart from others is not just its comprehensive review of ocean data assets, data sharing mechanisms, partnerships, and all the related challenges at present, but the emphasis going forward on solutions. This is a very rigorous solutions document, structured for maximum impact. It cites a near-exhaustive host of specific actionable opportunities and recommendations for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the US Congress and the federal agencies, and more, along with an estimate of long-term impacts. The importance here will be the utility of the report not just for government policy-making and resource management, but much more broadly for all the intersecting organizations in the ocean conservation, business, and citizen activist/education sectors. This is essential reading.

Dr. Dawn Wright

Dr. Dawn Wright

Esri Chief Scientist and on behalf of the Esri Oceans Team

The health of the ocean is critical to the earth’s future and high quality data is necessary to maintain healthy ocean ecosystems. Without a healthy ocean, we cannot hope to control climate change, feed the world’s population through sustainable fisheries, and create good jobs in the ocean economy. The Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE) is proud to partner with Ocean Conservancy on this landmark paper, which provides an overview of the complex ocean data landscape in the United States. We hope our recommendations will lead to more equitable, interoperable, and useful ocean data and contribute to the long term health of the ocean and our planet.

Joel Gurin

Joel Gurin

President, Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE)

The ocean data revolution is faced with complex and interrelated challenges but they are not insurmountable. If America wants to lead with science and keep our ocean working, now is the time for sustained federal investment and deep engagement with communities so that we can work together to turn data into smart decisions for marine conservation, our blue economy and climate solutions.

Amy Trice

Amy Trice

Lead author and director of Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Planning program


  • Amy Trice, Ocean Conservancy
  • Chris Robbins, Ocean Conservancy
  • Nidhisha Philip, Center for Open Data Enterprise
  • Matt Rumsey, Center for Open Data Enterprise 


Trice, A., Robbins C., Philip, N. and Rumsey, M. Challenges and Opportunities for Ocean Data to Advance Conservation and Management, Ocean Conservancy, Washington D.C., 2021. 

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