Ocean Uses : Cumulative Impacts

Cumulative Impacts

One of the benefits of a regional approach to ocean planning is the perspective to foresee and characterize potential cumulative impacts from new human activities or changes in activities. Ecosystems and economies are connected at a range of scales; it is beneficial to consider single activities or uses as part of a broader system. For example, new infrastructure in a single location may have a certain magnitude of positive and negative impacts on the ecosystem and economy, but several new elements of infrastructure across the region can cumulatively have a higher magnitude of potential positive and negative impacts.

There have been a number of scientific (i.e., non-regulatory) examinations of cumulative impacts to ocean ecosystems at a range of scales. There have been no integrated cumulative impact studies at the scale of the Mid-Atlantic region’s ocean. The lack of complete cumulative analyses at the local and regional scales is a result of the cost, data, and time needed to adequately undertake such a study. More work is needed to develop accurate and efficient ways of determining cumulative impacts that are most critical for decision-making.

Existing Cumulative Impacts Analysis Frameworks

  • Mapping Cumulative Impacts of Human Activities on Marine Ecosystems was a study that examined which areas in Massachusetts waters are most vulnerable and which human uses (alone and in combination) are likely putting the most stress on marine ecosystems. The study combined a survey of ecosystem scientists with spatial information on ecosystems and human stressors.