OpenChannels – Taking Marine Spatial Planning to the next level

Conservation Careers talks to Nick Wehner from OpenChannels – a website providing all the information ocean planners and marine conservationists need to do their jobs most effectively. Nick also talks about career opportunities within this expanding sector.

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What is marine spatial planning?

Marine spatial planning is a process of talking to different users and finding out where uses in the ocean and coastal zone occur, mapping these out and making it available. That way when new marine projects are being planned, all these existing marine uses are collated, available and used to inform each project.

For example, if somebody wants to put in a windfarm, as a result of marine spatial planning you can now look at a map and find out where all the undersea cables, areas popular for scuba diving and fishing etc are. This makes everything more transparent for people involved in planning work in the marine environment, and is especially important because there is so much increased use in the coastal and offshore realm happening in the US and around the globe.

Does that mean there are more jobs available in Marine Spatial Planning?

Yes – jobs available in the sector are growing.

It’s a nebulous field with people working in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping and working with the data layers – to get the data into a form which people can visualise. Then there’s the biologists and social scientists that are interviewing people and finding out where the pressures and species occur. Then we have the stakeholder engagement experts who are taking all the data and to talk to people on the ground and understand what we can best do with all the information which has been collected. And finally we have the graphic designers who help to make the maps a lot more user friendly, and the lawyers who work on the legal side of our work.

It’s huge when you see the types of things which people are looking for, and this mirrors the many different types of people that are involved in the conservation sector more widely.

When I left college I thought that working in conservation I’d be in the field all day counting birds and plants, but when I went to Grad School I got more interested and involved in marine pollution and citizen science. Now for OpenChannels it’s about using my knowledge from laboratory and fieldwork, and adding in skills I’ve picked up along the way like PHP and website coding languages to help inform issues in marine conservation and spatial planning. It’s nuts when you think about it!

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What can people find at OpenChannels?

Primarily we focus on news and literature on marine spatial planning. We curate a list of literature which is any sort of information which of interest within this field, and make it available to people who subscribe to our site. Nobody has to do literature searches any more – we do it for you!

We also curate relevant news within the marine planning realm, and keep up with the latest trends, and list job opportunities and they have been very popular. We try to find as many graduate level positions as we can, and share them on the site.

We also do live webinars events in conjunction with the Ecosystem Based Management tool and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and do text based chats with people who have published papers are highly relevant to marine spatial planning.

How can people get involved and keep in touch?

We can only find so much ourselves, and we love receiving information from people which is relevant to our site by email or through the website. Reports in particular are very difficult to find and we’re always happy to receive them through internet queries.

Our OpenChannels Weekly Update highlights the latest information from each of the main areas each week, and are super short – 500 words maximum. People should sign up to receive these each Friday. Users also get their own custom homepage which shows people the most relevant content to them.

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