All Hands on Deck and Who Else Needs to be Onboard?

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By Kristine Cherry, GSAA Coordinator

In the realm of ocean, coastal, and natural resource management, complex and diverse authorities, responsibilities, and interests make increasingly clear the need for partnerships that bring together decision-makers and invested stakeholders outside of traditional formal or legal interactions. But how do you make partnerships work effectively? The solutions are as diverse as the people involved and places in which partnerships develop, so I am pleased to share with you the model that has been established by the Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance.

Creating a positive environment for collaboration between the South Atlantic states, federal agencies, and numerous other partners is what led to the establishment of the Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance (GSAA) in 2009. The GSAA is led by the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and three federal co-lead agencies – NOAA, EPA, and DOI, but has a broad array of other partners, including many non-governmental partners. Our focus is on shared ocean and coastal challenges and opportunities, promoting environmental sustainability, disaster preparedness, and strong economies.


The GSAA was established by the Governors of the four states and includes senior executive leadership in the states and federal agencies as the driving force and top-level decision-makers for the partnership. The Steering Group, appointed by the Governors and advised by the Federal Co-Chairs, makes the final decisions on our strategic direction and ensures our priorities are in line with the Governors. This can result in some instability as political trends and leaders change over time, but also ensures our strategies are flexible enough to remain relevant to the current administrations and reflective of the current issues in the region.

The management team for the GSAA is the Executive Planning Team (EPT), which consists of representatives from every partner organization. The states still make the final decisions at this level, but the EPT (which has also formed sub-groups of like-organizations) operates more on a consensus basis and the input and perspectives of all partners are considered in the management of the partnership. Consensus means that decisions move forward provided that no party is in vocal opposition to a particular direction. While that might not always mean 100% agreement, there is recognition that in certain circumstances the greater good is served by progress of the partnership over the preference of an individual partner.

Shared Mission

The Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance Action Plan was published in 2010 and identified four common issue areas for action by the GSAA. For each issue area, a technical team was established that includes expertise from all four states, relevant federal agencies, and interested non-governmental partners. These teams, led by a rotating state lead, have provided the path forward for implementing the Action Plan and identifying the needs and opportunities to successfully do so.

Backbone Organization

While not extensive, the GSAA does have a “backbone” organization to support its efforts through the GSAA Coordinator. The GSAA Coordinator is responsible for the day-to-day management of the partnership’s affairs, including strategic outreach and communications, development, coordination of leadership operations, and administrative and programmatic management.

Options for Marine Planning

While we have not yet established a regional planning body, we are discussing the best ways to move forward with marine planning in the South Atlantic. Should the GSAA decide to pursue regional marine planning and secure the required funding, there are a number of options for how we could support the leadership and technical requirements of a marine planning effort within this existing structure. This flexibility allows the GSAA to offer a diverse suite of solutions for our region, making it an ideal model of partnership in action.

The CMSP-AT course features watercolor artwork in its online course handbook and in-person training handbook.