Washington’s Marine Spatial Plan

As part of the 2010 Marine Waters Planning and Management Act, Washington State is currently developing a Marine Spatial Plan (MSP) for all coastal waters. The State Ocean Caucus spent the first two years of development compiling human use and environmental data into an interactive GIS map and gathering public comment on the process. Next up on the agenda is an Environmental Impact Statement.

Stakeholders have reacted positively to Washington’s initiative, seeing it as a chance to proactively protect their interests. Dr. Chad Johnson, Environmental Director for Surfrider, said this about the forthcoming MSP: “Instead of having…this Wild West approach, it’s time to get smart and get organized about how we use the coast.”

Stakeholders leading MSP development (MRCs=coastal community coalitions; WCMAC=unpaid advisory council) www.msp.wa.gov/learn/stakeholders


However, there’s no guarantee that Washington’s new MSP will be an effective management tool. According to the Marine Waters Planning and Management Act, the MSP must work within existing regulatory structures; MSP guidelines will have no authority for enforcement. Furthermore, Washington’s MSP only encompasses Washington waters—meaning guidelines extend only three miles offshore, at which point the ocean is under federal jurisdiction. Given these two points, it seems doubtful that Washington’s MSP will be a concrete step towards integrative ecosystem-based management, but at least the plan’s development stages have provided hugely valuable information about coastal environments and human uses in Washington.