Marine Spatial Planning

While information gathering and discussions with communities, partners and stakeholders are continuing, draft marine spatial plans for Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds are beginning to take shape.

West Coast Aquatic has been working with local businesses, groups and communities to develop plans and tools that will help balance the many uses of the coastal environment and ensure a healthy economy, culture and environment. Kevin Head, West Coast Aquatic’s Director of Marine Planning for Barkley Sound, describes the project as innovative, incorporating multiple sectors, activities and levels of government. “Normally plans are developed by a single government agency for one resource or activity. We’re trying to break the mold by concurrently developing plans on many different levels and then integrating them into a final regional plan,” commented Head.

Through what’s known as marine spatial planning, West Coast Aquatic is focused on matching the right activities to the right locations while at the same time looking at the bigger picture.

This is easier said than done given the seasonal changes of resources and use, overlapping activities and the general lack of firm boundaries. “Our coastal waters are busy with numerous activities and pressure and competition for space and resources” said Jenn Spencer, WCA’s Planning Director in Clayoquot Sound. “The only way for anyone to get a handle on all this is through taking an integrated or whole ecosystem approach.”

To develop the plans West Coast Aquatic and their partners have been working around the region to gather information. Spencer and Head say this has included information on the local environments and natural resources, economies, social systems and different uses and activities in the region. Through interviews, meetings, online surveys and public events, West Coast Aquatic has gathered a significant amount of information from many different communities, groups and individuals.

“One of the core principals of our organization and of this project is that people who live and work in the area should have the opportunity to shape the region’s future, so we’ve been very focused on gathering  local knowledge and perspective” said Head.

The information that has been gathered is currently being compiled into several main documents: marine spatial plans for Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds, and an integrated socio-economic and ecological assessment.   The socio-economic assessment includes an economic opportunity study, as well as a description of the area’s values and goals. “These documents represent an unprecedented level of knowledge, cooperation and integration for the west coast” commented Head. “It’s been about two years in the making so were quite excited.”

The marine plans for Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds use planning units to describe the characteristics and potential of different areas. These smaller and more manageable units are based on existing administrative boundaries, biophysical characteristics and use and activities within each sound. “The planning units are like a blueprint for rooms within a home.”

“Within each planning unit we will have a description of its characteristics, its suitability for various uses and activities and its vulnerability to a variety of stressors,” said Head. Making this determination will be driven by a number of things including an assessment of the area’s ecology, any conflicts between uses, emerging economic opportunities and extensive public input on values and trade-offs.”

As you might imagine, with numerous different uses and interests within each Sound the possible number of scenarios for the plan could make your head spin. So West Coast Aquatic has partnered with researchers at Stanford University to help inform decision making by evaluating the different options. “They have a tool, called Marine InVEST, that allows us to look at different scenarios for development within an area and identify the potential trade-offs” commented Head.

“While it’s not a crystal ball this tool will certainly give us a much greater sense of how we can develop and grow our economies without sacrificing our environment, recreation or culture.”

The draft plans will be brought  to communities and groups around the region for feedback and input. Spencer and Head see implementation of the project happening in a number of ways. “Were going to continue to work closely with all levels of government, business, and communities because everyone has a role to play in developing and maintaining the health and wealth of our coastal resources and communities.”

Because the final plan will be integrated it crosses different sectors and government responsibilities. So West Coast Aquatic will make recommendations to those authorities or partners on implementing each part of the plan.

“Implementation will involve everything from pursuing new technologies, building business partnerships, marketing, passing zoning regulations, making policy recommendations, research, public education and fundraising,” commented Head.

West Coast Aquatic are amazed and grateful for the level of participation from people across the region. “We’re looking forward to presenting this back to the communities and sectors and showing them how their contributions and knowledge are going to help keep the west coast the best coast.”