Making Marine Spatial Plans Adaptable to a Changing Climate: Interview with Robin Craig

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Due to human-induced climate change, sea surface temperatures are increasing. As a result, a gradual poleward shift in ocean ecosystems is underway. Described very simply, areas that were previously cold are becoming more temperate, and areas that were temperate are becoming more tropical. It is anticipated that, over time, ocean habitats and species ranges will follow the water temperature regime with which they are associated, provided there is adequate connectivity.

For marine spatial planning to provide for long-term, sustainable management of ocean ecosystems, the plans should take these future shifts into account. In other words, marine spatial planning must be adaptable to climate change.

However, despite the fact that spatial plans are typically crafted in an ecosystem-based manner, they do not automatically account for future alterations in marine ecosystems that climate change may bring. So although spatial plans can be revised every few years, that may not be adequate in and of itself: a plan that does not account for likely future changes could actually weaken the effectiveness of future revisions. As an example: a plan places an offshore wind farm in an area that is likely to become important habitat for commercially targeted fish populations, due to a shift in their species range.

Making MSP anticipatory and dynamic

How can marine spatial planning (MSP) be made adaptable? Robin Craig, professor and associate dean for environmental programs at Florida State University (US), is authoring a book on ocean governance for the 21st century (Comparative Ocean Governance: Placed-Based Protections in an Era of Climate Change, forthcoming Edward Elgar Press 2012). She suggests that MSP and the zoning of the ocean should be anticipatory (based on observed trends in ecological response to climate impacts and predictions about resulting management needs) and perhaps also dynamic (with zones that move as part of their design, following the shifting of habitats and species). Below, MEAM talks with Craig about these concepts and making MSP adaptable to climate change:

MEAM: The process of marine spatial planning and ocean zoning is often politically heated, and it can involve a lot of negotiation to get people to agree on a zoning plan. The concepts of anticipatory zoning and dynamic zoning would add even more variables to such negotiations, including estimates of how ecosystems will change in the future (for anticipatory zoning) and the potential for regularly shifting boundaries (for dynamic zoning). How would you respond to a manager or stakeholder who says, "It's hard enough to do zoning as it is - why do we need to add these additional variables to the process?"

Robin Craig: Because adding those variables allows them to anticipate climate change rather than just react to it. In terms of cost-benefit analysis, anticipation may be far more effective than reacting after the fact.

MEAM: Do you foresee a future in which all marine spatial planning is done with anticipatory and dynamic zoning?

Craig: I do not expect dynamic zoning to be workable - or even desirable - everywhere, and the usefulness of the techniques (dynamic and anticipatory zoning) will vary dramatically among marine ecosystems. For example, many of the world's largest MPAs protect coral reefs. Even with climate change, the basic substrate of a coral reef is not going to move very quickly, and evidence from the Great Barrier Reef suggests that rising sea temperatures may slow coral growth anyway. In these ecosystems, therefore, anticipatory zoning for the ecosystem as a whole may not be necessary.

However, for specific species within the larger MPA, or for particular sub-ecosystems or assemblages of species, anticipatory and dynamic zoning may be helpful tools. For example, many coral reef MPAs shelter sea turtle populations. Therefore, these coral reef MPAs might benefit from adopting dynamic fishing zones that help fishers (assuming fishing is allowed) avoid bycatch of turtles - especially if the turtles' range starts to shift. Similarly, if sea turtles and seabirds start shifting their nesting sites because of increasing temperatures, a zoning system that can anticipate those shifts and, for example, ensure that a new hotel is not built on a beach that looks like it will serve as future habitat would be a good system to have in place.

MEAM: In which cases would anticipatory zoning be most useful?

Craig: Anticipatory zoning is likely to continue to be most useful for preemptively protecting (a) new fishing grounds, either because ice is melting or fish species are moving (or both), and (b) shifting, faster-moving key ecosystems like kelp forests, which can migrate faster than, say, coral reefs. Given how quickly overfishing and overuse can destroy marine species and ecosystems, governments should probably already be anticipating new fisheries rather than reacting to market shifts, regardless of climate change.

MEAM: What effect will anticipatory and dynamic zoning have on the process of marine spatial planning?

Craig: The planning process does not need to be exceptionally longer than what currently occurs, especially as information regarding the local effects of climate change improves. One planning process, for example, could set up a "sea turtle avoidance zone" based on sea temperatures; the avoidance zone would then operate dynamically (and automatically) from that point forward, with fishing zones shifting daily based on sea temperature monitoring. Trend data could similarly allow for a scheduled shift in zones, triggered automatically from one planning process based either on timing (e.g., five years from now these beaches will be protected for seabird nesting) or on explicit biological/ecological/physical criteria.

MEAM: This sounds very precautionary.

Craig: That is basically what we are talking about here: How can managers employ a precautionary approach to marine management when the management baselines - water temperature, current patterns, ocean chemistry, species composition, species behavior, species range - are changing right before their eyes? I would argue that climate change makes a precautionary approach even more critical while it simultaneously makes a precautionary approach more difficult to implement. We need to start thinking about how to incorporate precautionary change - as opposed to just reactive change - into marine management. I hope these suggestions encourage some creative experimentation among marine managers.

For more information: Robin Kundis Craig, Florida State University College of Law, Tallahassee, Florida, US. E-mail: rcraig [at] law.fsu.edu

A draft law review article in which Craig describes how to make marine spatial planning adaptable to climate change, including via the concept of anticipatory bidding for future use rights, is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1887326.

MEAM addressed making EBM adaptable to climate change in our December 2009 issue ("EBM in a Changing World: Strategies for Proactive Management Amid Climate Change", MEAM 3:3).

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