NOAA Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning


Ocean Special Area Management Plan for Rhode Island

Rhode Island has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by using renewable energy resources, primarily offshore wind farms. The governor has set a goal to meet 15 percent of the state’s energy needs with renewable energy resources. There is also a statewide sea-level rise policy for coastal development.

A special area management plan is under development that will provide the basis for regulatory standards for future ocean management. Ocean use impact research and recommended use zones are at the heart of this coastal and marine spatial planning effort. Rhode Island has a history of developing special area management plans to guide coastal development; special area management plans are state enforceable policies under Rhode Island’s coastal zone management program.


The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, the state’s coastal management agency, is leading this project. This agency has long employed spatial planning techniques to regulate appropriate uses through its statewide zoned waters (industrial ports to conservation areas) and through a series of place-based special area management plans. The University of Rhode Island and the Office for Coastal Management are participants, as are federal agencies such as the Minerals Management Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which have authority in federal waters, and other state agencies, industry, nonprofit groups, and stakeholders.


From 2008 to 2010, through a public policy process that includes scientific research and stakeholder involvement, the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan will make this state the first in the nation to zone its offshore waters for diverse activities including renewable energy development. The stakeholder involvement process includes monthly stakeholder meetings, public information events on key topics, and opportunities to comment on draft chapters released along the way. The scientific research process includes projects funded by a private company and university, which will inform the draft chapters of the plan.

Specific actions within this process include the following:

  • Mapping existing uses and critical zones, including transportation corridors, military use, and essential habitats, etc.
  • Draft profiles of all these aspects to complement the maps
  • Communication and outreach strategy, including the organization of technical and citizen advisory committees to engage the public throughout the process
  • Draft zoning map and draft regulatory standards for guiding renewable energy infrastructure for public review and comment
  • Regulatory standards for guiding development and protecting ocean resources as part of the Rhode Island coastal management regulatory program for public review
  • Ocean Special Area Management Plan completed and submitted
  • Final reports submitted to appropriate agencies

Spatial Data and Tools

The University of Rhode Island is leading the data development for this plan, including seafloor mapping, bird observations, marine mammal observations, and fisheries data, as well as several other detailed proposals investigating acoustic impacts, wind and wave analysis, and cultural resource distribution. The website contains a full list of proposed research and data collection efforts.

Expected Outcomes

This coastal and marine spatial planning effort, accomplished through a special area management plan, will result in a zoning map for the state’s offshore area, including renewable energy zones. It is expected that current uses and habitats will be protected through zones designated for commercial fishing; critical habitats for fish, marine animals, and birds; marine transport; and more.

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