Ocean planning provides opportunities for managers to evaluate tradeoffs among environmental, social, economic, cultural, and management considerations in the development of place-based activities. Early integration of mobile protected species considerations into ocean planning reduces the likelihood of future resource conflict. Transparency and problem solving with potential conflicts in mind during the early planning stages can help to minimize contention and increase efficiency in permitting and may also minimize litigation challenges during project design and implementation. Starting with a large area, such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's (BOEM) initial 12.1-million-ha call area in federal waters of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, provided substantial geographic scope for identifying suitable areas for eventual offshore wind lease sales that also aim to minimize conflict across multiple resources and uses.
To support ocean planning for this large-scale activity, a generalized scoring system for protected species status and trends that facilitates relative comparison between species was developed. Spatial data for species listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act or the Marine Mammal Protection Act were assembled. Species layers were scored based on species status and trend. The cumulative vulnerability for 23 species groups whose distributions overlap suitable areas proposed for eventual lease sales, termed wind energy areas (WEAs) by BOEM, was calculated.
Integrating this combined protected species data layer into the broader Gulf of Mexico WEA ocean planning process helped to reduce potential protected species conflicts by 70%.
This generalized approach is directly applicable to other WEAs under consideration within the United States and is transferable to a variety of ocean spatial planning applications.