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Developing a marine spatial plan on Washington’s Pacific Coast

Created: 2/12/2017 - Updated: 8/29/2019

Photo attributed to John Murphy. Incorporated here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. No endorsement by licensor implied.


Washington State is currently developing a marine spatial plan (MSP) for its Pacific Coast. The process includes compiling data, evaluating the marine ecosystem, and engaging stakeholders, and is guided by state law RCW 43.372. The law outlines key elements any marine management plan in the state must follow and requires such plans to address projected impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, on coastal and marine systems. The State Ocean Caucus is an existing interagency team conducting the MSP in Washington. It is led by the Washington State Department of Ecology and includes the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington Sea Grant, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and State Parks and Recreation Commission. Some key objectives of the planning process are to:

  • Protect and preserve natural resource-based coastal activities;
  • Sustain traditional uses and experiences to ensure continuity of coastal identity, culture, and high quality of life;
  • Foster healthy and resilient marine ecosystem functions, biodiversity and habitats;
  • Encourage sustainable uses without significant adverse environmental impacts;
  • Protect working waterfronts, marine industry, shipping, aquaculture, and other water-dependent uses;
  • Preserve public access;
  • Integrate with existing regulatory structures; and
  • Address the impacts of climate change.

Washington is examining the potential impacts of climate change through its work with NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center as it conducts Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEA) along the state’s Pacific Coast in the California Current. Through an IEA, NOAA studies the vulnerability of Washington’s marine ecosystems and the impacts of climate change on those ecosystems. Additionally, NOAA is developing indicator models (abiotic, biotic, and human) for the state’s ecosystems and is using climate-based scenarios to examine the impacts of climate on these indicators. The information gathered from these assessments will help Washington understand and address the impacts of climate change in the final plan. A key recommendation from the 2016 draft policy recommendations of the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council is to encourage state agencies to continue to monitor coastal erosion and sea level rise in the region, and use this information to evaluate the long-term viability of proposed new uses prior to permit approvals.


Thompson, K. & M. Morgan. 2017. Developing a marine spatial plan on Washington’s Pacific Coast. Summary of a project of the Washington State Ocean Caucus. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated February 2017)

Project Contacts

Project Lead

Jennifer Hennessey
Ocean Policy Lead


Scale of Project: 
Multilateral / Transboundary
Regional / Subnational
Climate Type: 
Habitat/Biome Type: