European Commission Studies Rhode Island's Ocean Planning

Oct 7, 2016

Rhode Island’s tool for managing and planning activities in state waters has become a case study for the European Union. A couple of EU delegates have concluded a two-week visit to Rhode Island, meeting with the Coastal Resources Management Council, the University of Rhode Island, and other stakeholders in the community and in private sectors.

At a session at the University of Rhode Island, Gonçalo Carneiro shares where Europe stands on tools to manage activities at sea. He works with NIRAS UK, the firm the European Union has hired to help craft a marine spatial planning tool by 2021. Offshore wind farms built in Europe were sited using different plans that are missing the common principles the EU would like to establish for countries sharing the Baltic and Mediterranean seas.
Credit Ambar Espinoza

You might wonder what Europe, which is ahead of the United States on offshore wind energy, could possibly learn from Rhode Island. A few countries, such as Germany and The Netherlands, have marine planning tools, but most other countries in the European Union do not.

“There was a realization that the seas in Europe were becoming very busy,” explains Sara Méndez Roldán, an environmental consultant for the EU. “And there was a need to start thinking together: How are we going to move forward? How are we going to make this sustainable? How are we going to keep developing our industries in the sea?”

Méndez Roldán said Rhode Island’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) is well documented online, which makes it accessible to examine from abroad. And it’s also five years old.

“So right now it’s a good opportunity to look back and see the process during the development of the plan (which things worked, which things didn’t),” she said, “and then see how implementation is taking place and how it’s going to move forward.”

Her colleague Gonçalo Carneiro adds one early takeaway is the role outreach played in developing Rhode Island’s plan.

“[There were] repeated efforts to gain trust across the border, the people sitting at the table,” said Carneiro. “Now that’s been successful with most stakeholders. It has been not that much with others. I guess that’s normal and that’s to be expected.”

Three other case studies include ocean management plans developed by China, whose plan is nearly 20 years old, the Coral Triangle Initiative, a partnership of six Southeast Asian nations, and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, more than two dozen countries with the common goal to conserve Antarctic marine life. These countries have had an increasing commercial interest in the Antarctic and a history of over-exploitation. 

The goal is to help the EU craft its first marine planning tool by 2021.