Mapping human dimensions in marine spatial planning and management: An example from Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

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The Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island is a complex mosaic of human activities and environmental features and while spatial distributions of physical, chemical, and biological elements are well documented in the Bay, there are limited data on spatial distributions of human activities. In this study, human uses of coastal waters in the upper Narragansett Bay are examined using an approach for characterizing and analyzing fine scale spatial and temporal data on human activities. Shipboard transect surveys of active water activities were conducted in the upper Bay on 50 days during the summer months of 2006-2007. The composition and configuration of different vessel types (recreational motor, recreational sail, row boat, commercial fishing, industrial, service, and official) were analyzed, and the impacts of proposed changes in land use policies and wastewater treatment technologies were investigated. Results indicated that recreational boaters comprised almost two-thirds of the upper Bay's users and used over one-half of the study area. Industrial activity was concentrated near Providence where RI's main port is located, and there was an active commercial fishery in the southern portion of the study area. Conditions like increasing cloud cover, weekend days, and the July 4th holiday were related to increased recreational use, while the closure of an upper Bay beach to swimming was associated with fewer commercial fishing vessels and more official boats, recreational motor boats, and service vessels. Findings indicated that upper Bay waters near land converted from industrial zones to zones where residential housing or marinas are encouraged are likely to see a change in composition of vessels, with fewer industrial and official boats and more recreational motor boats, row boats, and service vessels. Enhanced wastewater treatment technologies and the resulting improvements in water quality are likely to make more waters in the upper Bay available to shellfish harvesting, spreading out existing fishing grounds and potential pressures on the ecosystem and on other users. By characterizing the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of human uses in the marine environment and analyzing how these uses relate to the complex human and natural systems in which they are embedded, this study and others like it can positively contribute to marine spatial planning and management efforts designed to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Marine Policy