Visualizing the Three-Demensional Footprint of Ocean Uses: A Guide to Building and Applying Space Use Profiles for Ocean Management

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 11-2020


The Need for a More Holistic View of Space Requirements of Ocean Uses America’s ocean is becoming increasingly crowded with human activities. More than half the U.S. population lives near the ocean, and millions of people visit the coasts to recreate every year. Additionally, ocean industries, including fishing, shipping, aquaculture, tourism, mining, and energy production, continue to grow and seek new operating areas. Ocean uses can create social and economic benefits to coastal communities and the nation. However, their growing footprint on the seascape also poses challenges for planners, managers and stakeholders who are responding to this trend, especially in areas where multiple distinct uses are operating together. Ocean uses are typically depicted and managed either as simple shapes on a map showing the use’s maximum spatial extent, or, as conceptual cross-sectional illustrations of the use in a general ocean setting. These inherently “flat” and often qualitative perspectives cannot fully quantify or convey the three-dimensional footprint of the entire use across ocean space. Effective ocean planning requires new ways to document, visualize, and understand how any use operates in, on, and under the water, and how that resulting three-dimensional footprint affects other uses


This report represents many years of work by Charles M. Wahle, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, NOAA National Marine Protected Areas Center (retired), who taught for years in the International Environmental Policy program at the Middlebury Institute, influencing the lives of many of our graduates. In addition, two alumna were also part of bringing this report to fruition, Julia Townsend and Melis Okter. We celebrate their work, and hope the ocean community will refer to and use the invaluable insights in this report.