Global Survey of Tools Used for Marine Spatial Planning, Round 1: The Tools the Most People Are Using

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By Sarah Carr

We’ve seen lists and spreadsheets and guides on tools for marine spatial planning, but which tools are people actually using for their marine spatial planning (MSP) processes? To help get some real-life skinny on this, the EBM Tools Network and OpenChannels solicited their communities (totaling 10,000 coastal-marine conservation and resource management types from all sorts of organizations and places) as well as folks involved in 25 sure-fire MSP processes from around the world (from a list compiled by Rhode Island Sea Grant in 2012). To learn about the full array of tools people are using, we allowed surveyees to self-define tools.

We opened the survey from December 2012 through January 2013. In total, 124 individuals completed it, including identifying where their MSP process is/was located. The tools they described using ran the gamut from open source GIS to aerial photography, although the vast majority were geospatial analysis tools. Those who are or were previously involved in MSP processes that didn’t use tools were also encouraged to respond so that we could learn why some MSP processes aren’t using tools.

We’re still digging through the treasure trove of information that we got, but here are some interesting bits:

  • Roughly three-quarters of our respondents (91 of them) are using or did use tools for their MSP processes, and nearly a third of respondents (39) are using more than one tool for their MSP process or processes.
  • They are using a very wide variety of tools. Respondents mentioned approximately 70 different tools - more on the many different types of tools in a future blog.
  • Only six tools were mentioned by more than two respondents: GIS, Marxan, MarineMap, Marxan with Zones, Oregon MarineMap, and SeaSketch. And in the case of MarineMap and Oregon MarineMap, most of these uses were from just 1 or 2 processes in which large numbers of stakeholders and practitioners used the tools, which likely contributed to several respondents citing them (in the case of MarineMap, it was from the California Marine Life Protection Act Initiative’s South and North Coast processes, and in the case of Oregon Marine Map, it was from Oregon’s Territorial Sea Plan).



Figure 1. Results are reported as the number of times a tool was cited and the minimum number of distinct MSP processes represented.  (For example, GIS was cited by 33 survey respondents, and those respondents as a group represent at least 31 distinct MSP processes.) In several cases, multiple respondents represented or potentially represented the same process (e.g., there were multiple respondents from the California Marine Life Protection Act Initiative processes), and in several other cases, a respondent represented multiple processes (e.g., an expert tool user who works or has worked with a number of processes responded). The Other category represents the number of times respondents listed other tools.

Some thoughts on all this:

  • LOTS OF DO-IT-YOURSELFERS: Many processes are conducting their own custom geospatial analyses using GIS either in addition to “off-the-shelf” tools or in lieu of them. It is likely that use of GIS is underreported: some respondents indicated they do not consider GIS a “tool.”
  • DIFFERENT STROKES: In addition to GIS analyses, there are two other types of popular tools: 1) tools, like MarineMap and SeaSketch, that are designed to be used by stakeholders (hence lots of representation from a few processes) and 2) tools, like Marxan and Marxan with Zones, that are designed to be used by expert users (hence more processes represented than respondents; expert users assist with use in multiple locations).
  • OLDIES AND NEWBIES: The number of processes using tools is to some degree a reflection of the age of the tool: the oldest tools (I’m talking about you, GIS and Marxan) have seen more use than relative babes (e.g., SeaSketch).
  • ESRI, ESRI, ESRI: Esri’s ArcGIS products are by far the most popular with 26 references to ArcGIS products or extensions, two references to MapInfo, one reference to Geospatial Analysis Tools, and four references to unspecified GIS software.


Thanks Sarah, for this very interesting summary of the tools that have been used. I'm assuming that if many people are using them, they must be effective. I was wondering if you have come across popular tools that have been used for either measuring MSP impacts (evaluation) or for measuring progress on governance. We in Rhode Island found the governance baseline very useful. Here are some links: (Olsen, S.B.: Page, G.G. & Ochoa, E. (2009): The Analysis of Governance Responses to Ecosystem Change: A Handbook for Assembling a Baseline. LOICZ Reports & Studies No. 34. GKSS Research Center, Geesthacht, 87 pages and UNEP/GPA (2006). Ecosystem-based management: Markers for assessing progress. UNEP/GPA, The Hague). I would be interested in knowing if anyone else is using this tool or are there others. Thanks again.

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