The Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership: Regional Ocean Planning between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

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Establishing the geographic boundaries of your planning area sets more than simply the physical size of your planning process. Stakeholders, partner agencies, and issues to solve will each change as your planning area—the area you have management authority for—changes. It’s important to clarify your planning area boundaries at the outset of the process. Beyond the planning area, there may be areas outside your jurisdiction that may have an impact on your planning efforts. You will want to assess what’s happening outside your boundaries as well. In some cases, this expanded assessment occurs with other states, or other regions. In some planning areas, this will require international cooperation. Here, we read about the Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership’s efforts with coastal and marine spatial planning, as a region working with international neighbors.

About the Author: Aurora M. Justiniano, PhD., is a conservation planner with The Nature Conservancy in Puerto Rico, where she helps coordinate the Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership.

In Puerto Rico (PR) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), ocean resources are ecologically and economically linked. What happens in one part of our ocean can adversely impact or mutually benefit us all. With competing demands on our ocean at an all-time high, finding ways to engage all stakeholders in marine planning has never been more important. Comprehensive regional ocean planning is key to supporting healthy marine ecosystems and the economies of our coastal communities.

In May 2012, the Governors of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands established the Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership (CROP) to improve regional collaboration on ocean management, reduce user conflicts and advance cohesive regional planning. This Partnership takes into consideration all shared marine regions, the wide array of stakeholders who use it and the complex diversity of life that depends on it. The CROP proactively plans for current and emerging uses of coastal, marine and trans-boundary areas, while identifying regions that are compatible with development and ecologically less vulnerable to impacts. Through the CROP, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands work together to reduce conflicts and maximize the ocean’s benefits to people, while maintaining healthy marine habitats.

In addition, unlike other regions, the CROP shares international boundaries with several other nations and management of marine resources shared between these countries requires cooperation at various geopolitical scales. The CROP has initiated communications with Government officials from the Dominican Republic to establish joint marine spatial planning (MSP) efforts. Initial communications have also begun with the government of the British Virgin Islands the Dutch Government about possible MSP collaborations with the CROP.

In PR and the USVI, the CROP enhances transparency and accountability of decision-makers by evaluating the best way to balance marine uses, such as providing access for recreation, conservation, fishing, renewable energy facilities and electrical grids, amongst other. This Partnership incorporates sound science, best available information and technical tools into the decision-making process, while ensuring frequent and continuous stakeholder and public participation. Our goal is to share information about what marine spatial planning is or could be, to hear stakeholder views and concerns and to foster better understanding between those who depend on ocean resources for their livelihood and ocean conservation advocates.

Effective engagement of stakeholders in the CROP marine planning process is achieved with the establishment of a Science and Technical Advisory Group (STAG) and Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG). The STAG will help ensure that the CROP is using the most up-to-date data available and will help in decision support, conservation and management tools identification. At the same time, the SAG represents a diverse range of interests affecting coastal and marine spatial planning, including individuals representing fishing interests, non-profit conservation organizations, recreational users, business, scientific and educational interests, and others dedicated to habitat conservation and protection of public marine and coastal resources. This stakeholder group will advise and support the CROP throughout the marine planning process with input on sustainable use, conservation and management tools identification.

Also, to promote and advance regional ocean planning in the Caribbean, the CROP has developed a robust ocean data and information management system that includes a wide range of environmental, socioeconomic and regulatory data, and provides the building blocks for multi-use, regional-scale marine planning. CROP’s state-of-the-art, Marine Planner, engages all stakeholders in ocean planning, putting all of the essential data and state-of-the-art mapping and visualization technology into the hands of the agencies, industry, and community leaders engaged in ocean planning. Users are able to visualize and analyze ocean resources and human use information such as fishing grounds, recreational areas, shipping lanes, habitat areas, and energy sites, among others.

The Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership will continue to work to improve regional collaboration and develop cohesive regional planning to support healthy communities and ecosystems for present and future generations.

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