Existing studies have helped define what good ocean planning (also known as maritime or marine spatial planning) looks like, the possible conservation and community benefits, and how it could theoretically cut costs and create economic value, including site-specific modeling.

Now, a new open-access article published in Marine Policy presents the first broad empirical study of ocean planning’s impact. Our study covered five established ocean plans: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, the Great Barrier Reef, Norway’s Barents Sea, and the Belgian North Sea.

All of them led to broadly shared net benefits. Economically, ocean plans delivered on average $60 million per year in value from new industries (mainly offshore wind) while largely retaining value from existing industries such as commercial fishing and tourism. However, some stakeholders did take losses. Government spending neither increased nor decreased. Environmentally, planning increased marine ecosystem protection, ensured industrial uses avoided sensitive habitat, and reduced the risk of oil spills and ship collisions. By enabling offshore wind development, planning also cut carbon emissions. Socially, the plans encouraged constructive engagement, broad participation, and marine research, transcending the plans themselves.

Conservationists (funders and NGOs), industry, and government managers are now equipped with the facts. They can use the results of our study to support and help design ocean plans that both conserve ocean ecosystems and maintain and expand economic activity.

This open-access Marine Policy article allows us to share our findings with the broader scientific and philanthropic community. We also presented a webinar on OpenChannels (co-sponsored by the EBM Tools Network) and participated in an OceansLive panel as part of Capitol Hill Oceans Week.

We are deeply grateful to the 50+ interviewees who were willing to lend their expertise to this review and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for its generous support.


    About the Authors
  • Jason Blau

    Jason focuses on helping philanthropies design, refine, and evaluate strategies to meet their goals.

  • Lee Green

    Lee has helped design and evaluate a range of large foundations’ program strategies, on topics ranging from conservation, to health, to education, to performing arts.