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Marine Ecosystems & Management (MEAM)

The EBM Toolbox: "In-the-water" tools for MSP


By Sarah Carr

[Editor's note: The goal of The EBM Toolbox is to promote awareness of tools for facilitating EBM.  It is brought to you by the EBM Tools Network, an alliance of tool users, developers, and training providers.]

A number of my previous EBM Toolbox columns have covered tools that can be used for marine spatial planning.  But a survey conducted this year by the EBM Tools Network and provides a wealth of information on which tools MSP practitioners are actually using.  It also examines why, in some cases, MSP processes are not using tools. 

We received 124 complete responses to the survey, and the tools the respondents mentioned using ran the gamut from open source GIS to aerial photography.  The vast majority, however, were geospatial analysis tools.  Some highlights from the survey:

• 73% of respondents are using or did use tools for their MSP processes, and 31% are using more than one tool for their MSP process or processes.

• Respondents mentioned roughly 70 different tools.  However, only six were mentioned by more than two respondents: GIS, Marxan, Marxan with Zones, MarineMap, Oregon MarineMap, and SeaSketch.

• Many processes are conducting their own custom geospatial analyses using GIS either in addition to "off-the-shelf" tools or in lieu of them.

• Tools are being used for a wide range of tasks including designing, optimizing, and selecting marine protected area sites and networks; finding appropriate areas for offshore renewable energy infrastructure; zoning marine areas; discovering and collecting data; mapping habitats and marine species distributions; assessing areas of current and potential use conflict between diverse human uses and ecological function; collecting information from stakeholders; and helping stakeholders create, evaluate, and share alternative management scenarios

• The vast majority of respondents (95%) say tools have definitely or mostly helped their process.

• In cases where MSP projects are not using tools, the following reasons were cited for the non-use: it is too early in their process to have started using tools; cost of tools; lack of familiarity with tools; lack of appropriate tools; lack of data; lack of time; or their process does not need tools.

Full results - including benefits, challenges, and lessons learned from using tools - can be found at

Sarah Carr is coordinator for the EBM Tools Network.  Learn more about EBM tools and the EBM Tools Network at

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