In many places throughout the United States and around the world, governments have applied a zoning framework to the land in order to encourage orderly development of urban areas, protect farmlands and rural landscapes, reduce conflicts between neighboring land uses, and provide a structure for land development. Recently, coastal states in the United States have begun taking this concept to the sea. Interest in offshore wind, tidal, and wave energy development raises many questions. For example, is offshore renewable energy development feasible? Is there a market demand? What will the environmental impacts be? Beyond the questions of technology and feasibility, one question rises above the rest: Where should we put these new devices? Marine spatial planning helps answer this question.
Though vast and seemingly endless, our oceans, especially nearshore areas, are crowded places. Navigation channels and aids, fishing and crabbing grounds, recreation areas, marine sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, undersea cables, dredged material disposal sites, and even viewsheds all claim their portion of the sea and seafloor. Coastal communities have a strong interest in protecting these existing ocean uses while exploring the opportunity for new renewable energy sources.
Marine spatial planning offers a method to identify existing resources and create the “space” for development of new resource uses in the ocean. In order to facilitate offshore renewable energy siting, several states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Oregon, have undertaken efforts to map existing uses and designate areas suitable for marine renewable energy devices. This paper will explore the background and legal framework of ocean regulation before examining the processes and results of the efforts of these three coastal states. Part I provides an overview of the legal framework of ocean management internationally and domestically within the United States. Part II discusses the marine spatial planning efforts of three U.S. states, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Oregon, and compares their processes and outcomes. Part III reviews some common themes from the marine spatial plans of these states and suggests some elements that can be carried through to future marine spatial planning efforts.