I was somewhat surprised to read in my latest Nature Conservancy magazine about a joint effort to record data about usage of the ocean. The effort, called the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, is an attempt to collect a myriad of data about all kinds of uses of the oceans off the Mid-Atlantic coast. For this data portal, the Mid-Atlantic is broadly defined as Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Even the earliest stages of the data show that there is a surprising amount of interdependencies amongst the various uses of the Mid-Atlantic oceans.
Some of the specific types of data included in this are fish catches, port activity, recreational usages, boating channels, beach tide levels, reef locations, renewable energy analyses, etc. This is a list of usages that are not always in the same sentence, much less the same database—but they are in this one. Hopefully, this variety of data can help provide a wholistic look at the ocean and how it is used. This is most likely the first time that it will be possible to find such a variety of perspectives in the same database. I think this will allow for a broader conversation on how these uses interact with each other.
Aiding this conversation is the data visualization component of the data. For example, one can see how optimal sitings for wind turbines compare with fishing yields. Or, how recreational boating patterns compare with concentrations of various marine life. The net result will be more informed decisions on how to manage the MId-Atlantic oceans for the optimal benefit—of the oceans overall and of each of the various usages within them for long term benefit.
This comprehensive approach portends well for a sustainability perspective. It enables policy makers and stakeholders to make decisions based on an overall view of the oceans as a system with interdependent components. That is an exact parallel to sustainable systems thinking, which encourages users, businesses, anyone, actually, to make decisions not just on their specific interest, but with consideration of how their decisions impact a broader whole. Hopefully, it will help support the long-term viability of these oceans for many uses—economic, environmental, recreational, and more.