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[Updated] Marine spatial planning in Calif. sets example for new federal ocean plans

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A presidential task force said today that the United States should improve ocean policy by managing what people do in coastal waters by region, not just by activity.

A growing number of scientific studies find that spatial management helps to protect ecosystems and reduce climate changing activities.

Southern California agencies use marine spatial planning: state fish and game officials are wrapping up a contentious rulemaking process for the California Marine Life Protection Act.

John Holdren directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

During a teleconference he said that with more than 100 federal regulations and orders about the ocean, it makes sense to coordinate how all federal agencies make policy in domestic waters.

"By design or by default, federal actions that relate to our oceans our coasts and the great lakes are going to affect jobs, energy resources, recreation, tourism, transportation, trade and indeed homeland and national security."

President Obama is expected to sign an executive order that would activate the task force recommendations. That could result in the creation of a National Ocean Council by the end of the year.

Right now most federal policies toward coastal waters — more than a hundred of them — consider what people are doing one activity at a time, or one use at a time. Marine spatial planning means deciding what people can do in a part of the ocean by looking at impacts across a region.

Nancy Sutley, a former Angeleno, is chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Sutley says the plan isn't to make many new laws, but to do a better job coordinating existing ones with a National Ocean Council.

"It'll build upon the efforts that a number of states have already engaged in for marine spatial planning and use some of the regional organizations that states have already developed. And we think the benefits for the states will be having the federal government at the table and potentially access to better and more comprehensive mapping information in science," Sutley says.

Oregon and Massachusetts have also adopted spatial planning in state-run waters. White House officials say nine regional groups will develop proposals for their portions of the sea in the next year or so.