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Science and data are fundamental to effective coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP). Comprehensive CMSP involves complex analyses of the status and potential uses of 3-dimensional areas of coastal, marine and Great Lakes ecosystems (including the water column) and their potential changes over time. Therefore, relevant spatial data and derived interpretive and analytical products will help inform all phases of the CMSP process, including:

  • identification of regional objectives for the long-term use and conservation of specific areas;
  • assessment of the status and trends of ecosystems, resources, and human uses;
  • creation, long-term implementation and adaptive management of comprehensive CMS plans to sustainably match those uses to appropriate areas; and
  • assessment of CMSP effectiveness in achieving established objectives.

The Center for Ocean Solutions produced a Decision Guide intended to assist resource planners and managers (practitioners) in selecting appropriate Decision Support Tools (DSTs) that can help enable effective coastal and marine spatial planning. Several existing DSTs were assessed for their relevancy to the CMSP process.

We are also working closely with the Center for Ocean Solutions and the EBM Tools Network to expand the set of criteria used in the DST (Decision Support Tool) Decision Guide found below.

Selecting the Appropriate DST

DSTs that enable practitioners to make well-informed decisions at each marine spatial planning process step must possess certain critical functional elements.  Tool functions can be divided into six categories, including:

  • Data management refers to tools that improve efficiency of data gathering and management and help to Gather Data & Define Current Conditions. Within this category, practitioners indicated that they might be particularly interested in tools that can provide data (data provisioning), assess the quality of available data (data quality assessment), upload and archive data (data upload and archival), and set standards and protocols for data compilation and inter-calibration (data development).
  • Mapping and visualization functionality is important throughout the process from Defining Current Conditions to Refining Goals and Objectives. Within this broad category, tool developers and practitioners distinguished between spatial and non-spatial data. Spatial data can be mapped or visualized to provide information about the following attributes: the physical characteristics of an area, from base maps to bathymetry, depth, temperature, and persistent oceanographic features (basemaps/physical); biological information, including distributions of relevant species and habitats (habitats/species); the location of ecosystem service provision or pathway of service flow (ecosystem services); temporal features of an area, including seasonal species distribution, oceanographic conditions, and time series data (temporal features); vulnerability of ecosystems to future changes, including new uses, cumulative impacts, and climate change (vulnerability); existing or proposed human uses or activities, including the footprint of activities and the value of those uses (uses); incompatible activities, impacts to ecosystems, natural resources, or particular uses (incompatibility and impacts); and legal and jurisdictional information, including existing management measures such as marine protected areas, essential fish habitat, or shipping safety measures (jurisdictions). Non-spatial data can be visualized to provide the following outputs: graphical displays of analyses, including, for example, the percentage of planning area with overlapping uses, threat values for activities, amount of planning area vulnerable to sea level rise, emoticons, and thumbs-up or thumbs-down status (graphical display); and text-based displays of analyses, including, for example, lists of uses, species, or habitats that occur within a planning area, the amount of overlap of uses, or the area of  incompatibility (reports).
  • Alternative scenario development and analysis is a major function provided by DSTs that can aid in Identifying Issues, Constraints, and Future Conditions; Developing Alternative Management Measures; and Evaluating Alternative Management Measures. Alternative scenarios can be developed for a number of specific categories that practitioners might find useful, including tools that: assign value to the amount and type of ecosystem services delivered under different management scenarios (ecosystem service valuation); assess trade-offs across multiple sectors and management objectives (trade-off assessment); assess impacts of individual and multiple activities to ecosystems (impact assessment); provide visual context for different planning options to help stakeholders understand the array of possible planning scenarios (planning option context); allow users to calculate the best returns for defined planning objectives (optimization); provide reports, maps, or other forms of information that show users whether a proposal meets one or more plan objectives (planning objective assessment); model future scenarios, for example, based on implementation of specific management measures or due to climate change predictions (forecasting); give users a sense of the risk and uncertainty associated with each scenario (uncertainty tracking); and assess the sensitivity of models, including to the amount and scale of data (sensitivity assessment).
  • Management measure option proposal is an important tool function that can aid in Developing Alternative Management Measures and Evaluating Alternative Management Measures. Specific tool functions may include: proposing or analyzing siting locations, permit conditions, or mitigation measures for specific projects (siting conditions); and tools that propose or analyze area-based management measures that apply to a suite of activities taking place in specified areas based on compatibility with other uses and the ecosystem (zoning proposals).
  • Stakeholder participation and collaboration, and community outreach and engagement are important throughout all steps of the planning process. DSTs can involve stakeholders by allowing users to: discover information through data queries and map layers (exploratory); interact with the tool on their own (web-based) or during meetings (deskbased) (participatory interface); incorporate local and traditional knowledge about the location of uses or resources (incorporates local and traditional knowledge); help shape the format and type of outputs based on iterative feedback to the tool developers (iterative); share proposals with other stakeholders (user collaboration); and write and share comments about specific aspects of plans or planning information (comment and communication).
  • DSTs that incorporate adaptive management and assessment of achieving objectives functionality into their tools are important for Evaluating Alternative Management Measures, Monitoring and Evaluating Management Measures, and Refining Goals and Objectives. Specific tool functions in this category include: comparing initial conditions, plan information, and original goals to post-monitoring conditions to assess plan effectiveness (use monitoring data to assess plan effectiveness); testing the assumptions in original scenarios and changing model parameters as needed if management measures are not achieving the objectives as predicted (ground-truth assumptions in scenarios); and generating reports, graphs, and maps to illustrate progress toward objectives, and reevaluating models where progress is not being made (assess progress toward objectives).

Applicable Tools

Click on each link to learn more about the purpose, methodology, and application of a tool or collection of tools.

  • ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES)
  • Atlantis Ecosystem Model
  • Coastal Resilience
  • Cumulative Impacts
  • Digital Coast
  • Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network Database
  • EPA Metadata Editor
  • Marine Integrated Decision Analysis System (MIDAS)
  • Marine InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs)
  • MarineMap
  • Marxan with Zones
  • Multi-scale Integrated Models of Ecosystem Services (MIMES)
  • Multipurpose Marine Cadastre (MMC)
Nominate and discuss other tools