Case study: Rhode Island

This plan, which was completed in 2010, covers a marine area of around 3,800 square kilometres located off the coast of the USA state of Rhode Island. It includes both state and federally managed marine areas. The area is heavily used for recreational boating, commercial and recreational fishing and shipping. It is located on the convergence of two bio-geographic areas and is important for migratory fish, marine mammals, birds and sea turtles. 2745

The key impetus for preparing the plan was the interest in developing off-shore wind farms in the area. Spatial planning was seen as a tool which could be used to optimise the locations of these structures.

The plan was prepared by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council which is the state government’s regulatory agency for the coastal area. The University of Rhode Island was closely involved in the plan management team providing several senior advisors and researchers.

A stakeholder group was established for the planning process, and had an independent chair. The group met monthly and initially refined and approved the goals and principles established for the plan. The group then received a comprehensive overview of the ecology and human use of the area. Following on from this, members considered and commented on each draft chapter of the plan which was prepared by agency staff. The group reviewed material as it was produced but was not asked to formally accept or reject it.

A science advisory task force was established to provide expertise and input into the science and research-based elements of the plan. Separate technical advisory committees were established for each chapter of the plan and they focused on improving and refining the content of each chapter.

The spatial elements of the plan, which subsequently emerged, include three broad ‘zones’ within the overall oceans area. The ‘Renewable Energy Zone’ is the preferred site for large scale renewable energy projects in state waters. Where a project wishes to locate outside these areas it must be shown to have no significant adverse impact on natural resources or human uses.

A number of ‘Areas of Particular Concern’ were identified and mapped. These include:

  • Historic shipwrecks, archaeological or historic sites and their buffers
  • Offshore dive sites
  • Glacial moraines which are important habitat areas for fish (see Figure 7.x)
  • Navigation, military and infrastructure areas including designated shipping lanes and anchorages
  • Areas of high fishing activity
  • Heavily used recreational boating and sailboat racing areas
  • Naval fleet submarine transit lanes

Applications for offshore developments are required to avoid Areas of Particular Concern. Where they cannot be avoided, the applicant must minimise to the greatest extent possible any impact and mitigate any significant impact. Applicants are also required to demonstrate why these areas cannot be avoided or why no alternatives are available.

Areas Designated for Preservation’ have also been identified as needing protection for their ecological value. These include sea duck foraging habitat. Large scale offshore development, mining or other development which is in conflict with the “intent and purpose” of an Area Designated for Preservation is prohibited.

The plan is to be accompanied by a ‘Science Research Agenda’ and a ‘Progress Assessment and Monitoring Process’. This monitoring system will be designed to “record decisions, capture lessons learned, note achievements, and document policy and management adaptations. This process will be ongoing, available on the project web sites, and formally reported to the public on a biannual basis”. The oceans plan itself will undergo a major review every five years.

In order to maintain stakeholder engagement with the implementation of the plan, a public forum is to be held every two years. This is intended to highlight projects underway, report on new research findings, review progress towards goals and objectives and recognise contributions to the plan’s implementation. The public forum will also address emerging issues and any needed changes to the plan. 2746

  1. Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, 2010, 11-3

  2. Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council, 2010, 11-6

Last updated at 2:11PM on February 25, 2015