ArcWatch: GIS News, Views, and Insights

August 2012

The Tide is in for Ocean Geodesign

SeaSketch Will Make Marine Spatial Planning Easier and More Collaborative

By Will McClintock and Evan Paul
Marine Science Institute, McClintock Laboratory, University of California, Santa Barbara

SeaSketch can be used to re-route shipping lanes so ships will avoid the feeding grounds and migratory routes of endangered whales.
SeaSketch can be used to re-route shipping lanes so ships will avoid the feeding grounds and migratory routes of endangered whales.

Technology enables planners to conduct rapid and iterative analysis of the impacts of a potential initiative or project. This rapid feedback on designs using geospatial technologies is called geodesign, and it has come to play a large role in diverse fields of planning. By using geodesign techniques and technologies to create plans, scientists and others are better able to balance competing interests among the policy makers, resource managers, environmentalists, and other stakeholders who manage the earth's resources.

Geodesign is beginning to be used in planning for the oceans. Recently, Esri launched its Oceans GIS initiative, which includes improving the global Ocean Basemap, developing better oceanographic charting capabilities, and creating a bathymetric data management solution. Another part of this initiative is Esri's support of SeaSketch, an application that will be used in marine spatial planning efforts around the world. SeaSketch is Software as a Service (SaaS) solution that incorporates ArcGIS technologies. People will find SeaSketch useful for marine work such as aquaculture (fisheries) siting, offshore energy development, and marine protected area management planning.

Collaboration in SeaSketch begins by creating a new forum.
Collaboration in SeaSketch begins by creating a new forum. Inside the forum, stakeholders can create and share designs and analytical reports, annotate maps, and discuss plans.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), recently finished the initial development of SeaSketch. It's a GIS platform designed for marine spatial planners and ocean resource managers who need to work with partner agencies and stakeholders to make decisions about ocean resources. In SeaSketch, planners can set up an online collaborative workspace where stakeholders can sketch plan elements (e.g., marine protected areas, aquaculture sites, offshore energy facilities), understand the designs' potential consequences, and work with other users to find common agreement.

SeaSketch can be customized for particular planning tasks, and analytical tools can be incorporated for the specific needs of planning projects. Users can use these tailored analytical tools within SeaSketch to sketch diverse plan elements. This workflow supports multiple-objective planning by providing a venue for comprehensive data visualization and analysis and a forum for productive, cross-disciplinary discussions. The designs can then be submitted for consideration within the decision-making process to determine how best to protect marine life, manage fisheries, modify shipping lanes, and produce energy within the constraints of regulations, boundaries, timelines, and budgets.

Traditional planning techniques have been constrained by time, distance, and the availability of expertise. SeaSketch enables stakeholders to participate remotely and in face-to-face meetings, at any time, and use an intuitive mapping interface to better understand and discuss proposals. The result is a more robust, authentic, and science-based involvement of stakeholders in the planning process.

Stakeholders can propose new designs, conduct analysis, and produce reports.
Stakeholders can propose new designs, conduct analyses, and produce reports.

SeaSketch developers built on the many strengths of MarineMap, their previous marine spatial planning tool. MarineMap was initially developed to support the planning process for California's Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, which required the state to evaluate and redesign the state's system of marine protected areas. Users with web access could use MarineMap to display maps, sketch marine protected area proposals, generate analytical reports, and share proposals with others.

SeaSketch is less expensive, easier to maintain, and faster to deploy than its predecessor. Project managers use an administrative interface to create and configure new projects. They can configure details such as the study area, available data layers, and the feature classes to be collected from users. Because SeaSketch incorporates Esri's ArcGIS API for JavaScript, project managers can move seamlessly from their ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS for Server environments into SeaSketch.

SeaSketch team members
SeaSketch team members (from left) Todd Bryan, Evan Paul (on Skype), Chad Burt, and Will McClintock.

SeaSketch also leverages an agency's investments in ArcGIS for Server by directly pulling in the agency's published map services, ensuring that SeaSketch is using the organization's most current data. Esri's ArcGIS Online map service, which is a cloud-based, collaborative content management system for maps, applications, data, and other geospatial information, plays a major role in SeaSketch by enabling project managers to discover and view an enormous amount of additional geospatial data that may be helpful for their projects.

For more information about SeaSketch, contact Will McClintock at If you are interested in using SeaSketch for an upcoming marine spatial planning project, contact Evan Paul at Read more about geodesign at

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