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Sketching the sea to inspire global participation

Until recently, getting all affected parties involved in complex marine policy planning was a challenge at best and at times even impossible.  Comparing proposed marine zoning areas involved the use of complex mapping software that only a handful of people could utilize, and the software often failed to engage all participants.  To combat this issue, CMAP scientist Dr. Will McClintock and members of his lab created SeaSketch.  SeaSketch is the “next generation” collaborative mapping software designed for marine area planning.  SeaSketch allows users to author (or “sketch”) and compare areas for protection or for uses such as fishing or transportation. The McClintock Lab designed SeaSketch so that diverse ideas can be quickly generated, compared and discussed.  SeaSketch is intended for multiple plans to be sketched and the impacts of each compared analytically.  Once a new sketch is created, SeaSketch provides analytical feedback on the potential consequences of the design within seconds.  Everyone involved with a project can get involved easily and all parties stay engaged in a process McClintock refers to as “collaborative geodesign” of marine spatial plans. McClintock believes that policies planned using collaborative geodesign are more scientifically sound and have more community support.

Historically, planning processes have often failed with inadequate stakeholder engagement.  Without having the engagement of affected parties, policies are far less effective and there is a decrease of public interest.  There have been multiple barriers to engagement with stakeholders such as geographical distance and scheduling conflicts.  SeaSketch has the potential to significantly reduce these barriers.  With well designed collaborative mapping software, stakeholders can quickly get involved with a project with minimal training.

The next step for SeaSketch is to incorporate CMAP scientist Dr. Benjamin Halpern’s cumulative impact analysis with SeaSketch.  The cumulative impact analysis maps the impacts humans are having on the ocean ecosystems.  Rather than just analyzing one activity, the cumulative impact analysis shows the combined impacts of all human activities. Fishing, dredging, pollution, and other impacts on the ocean can be incorporated into SeaSketch plans in a meaningful way.  This would give scientific validity to the total impacts of programs as they would take into account all other factors in the area rather than just examining the program in a vacuum.

Collaborative mapping software programs like SeaSketch can benefit any group looking to create more effective marine policies or establish marine conservation areas such as no take or no wake zones.  Groups as big as the United Nations and as small as local aquariums could benefit from smarter policies and programs that would result from scientifically solid information and collaborative planning.  SeaSketch is a step in the right direction and can be a tool to work towards managing our oceans on a global scale.


-Valarie Chapman

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