NOAA Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

National Framework

Regional Planning Areas

  • Northeast
  • Mid-Atlantic
  • South Atlantic
  • Great Lakes
  • Caribbean
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • West Coast
  • Pacific Islands
  • Alaska/Arctic

National Ocean Policy Implementation

On July 19, 2010, President Obama signed an executive order establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes. The executive order adopts the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and directs federal agencies to implement them. The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan and Implementation Plan Appendix describe specific actions federal agencies will take to address key ocean challenges, provide greater opportunity for state, local, and tribal engagement in marine planning decisions, streamline federal operations, save taxpayer dollars, and promote economic growth. The national policy identifies marine planning as one of nine priority implementation objectives to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. Marine planning is intended to be regional in scope, developed cooperatively among federal, state, tribal, and local authorities, and include substantial stakeholder, scientific, and public input. This will promote more efficient and effective decision-making and enhance regional economic, environmental, social, and cultural well-being.


The National Ocean Council teamed with the initiative to create, an open and accessible website that houses and references a wealth of information and tools available to support ocean planning efforts.

The Need for Marine Planning

Americans treasure the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes as sources of food, income, energy, and security, and as places to recreate and connect with their cultural history. However, people’s uses of the ocean are expanding, and it is becoming increasingly challenging to effectively coordinate sometimes competing uses through most current management approaches, which historically were designed to manage single activities and sectors independent of other objectives. Today there is a need to consider human uses through a wider lens that broadens the view to include the connectivity and diversity of marine resources. To that end, an ecosystem-based approach to management is required, and an effective way to advance such an approach is through marine planning.

Marine plans will be developed in the regions, by the regions, and for the regions to address issues that they identify as important, that reflect their unique interests and ways of doing business, and that build on and complement existing programs, partnerships, and initiatives. These plans must be based on the meaningful, sustained engagement of stakeholders and must consider and address stakeholder interests.

Marine plans produced by regional planning bodies can provide information about specific issues, resources, or areas of interest to better inform existing management measures. Or they can describe future desired conditions and provide information and guidance that supports regional action moving forward. Each region has flexibility to build the elements of its plans over time in response to the desired objectives, the resources available to do the work, and the time it will take to learn what works best in that region.

The benefits of marine planning include

  • Better access to data and information – regional coordination improves access to publicly available data and information developed and held by federal and state agencies, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders.
  • Reduced conflicts – improved interagency and intergovernmental coordination to support multiple marine uses can reduce permitting delays and disputes.
  • Stronger voice for stakeholders – shared baseline data and information that represents stakeholders’ use of regional marine waters, as well as engagement of stakeholders throughout the planning process, ensures that their interests are represented; establishing baseline terms by which stakeholders’ interests will be considered in subsequent management and regulatory actions can also be a more efficient use of sometimes limited stakeholder capacity.
  • Stronger voice for states and tribes – regional marine plans provide a new opportunity to influence federal management and decision-making in areas subject to federal jurisdiction;
  • Better protection, conservation, and enhancement of environmental resources – the participation of multiple interests provides more and better information and leverages limited financial resources to address priority environmental challenges.
  • Increased economic development – through better data and information, reduced conflict, and increased regulatory certainty, marine planning creates efficiencies that can make existing commercial and industrial uses such as fishing, shipping, and energy more profitable, and can provide strong incentives for new uses such as renewable energy.
  • Regulatory consistency and efficiency – jurisdiction over regulated marine activities remains exclusively with the current jurisdictional entity, and regional marine plans provide contextual baseline resource and use data that help regulators make smarter, faster decisions.

Robust stakeholder engagement and public participation are essential to ensure that actions are based on a full understanding of the range of interests and interactions that occur in each region. Consultation with scientists, technical experts, the business community, and those with traditional knowledge is a foundation of marine planning.

Marine planning does not impose a new regulatory scheme, top-down or otherwise. This regionally driven, bottom-up planning process in no way alters, undermines, or supersedes nonfederal legal authority, including jurisdiction or decision-making over a particular matter.

Likewise, federal agency decisions will continue to be made under existing statutory authority but will be made with the added benefit of having been informed by regionally based plans. Far from being regulatory in nature, this approach offers a roadmap for comprehensive, integrated, ecosystem and regionally based planning that will address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use.

For more information on NOAA’s role in marine planning under this framework see NOAA’s Role.