Because the ocean is common property, regulating its use faces numerous challenges. Some experts have argued for ocean zoning, which would divide the ocean into different areas-for example, a commercial fishing zone, a recreation zone, and an oil and gas zone. Debates over the pros and cons of ocean zoning often center on the biology of ocean species, the geography of fishing-use patterns, and the need for preventing conflicts among competing users.

In a paper published in the Steve Palumbi and Buzz Thompson expand this discussion to the social and legal aspects of ocean zoning, focusing on comprehensive planning, segregation of activities into use-priority areas, and the allocation of user rights within each zone.  

The inclusion of these features within an ocean-zoning regime can be a catalyst for a variety of ancillary benefits that will lead to improved conflict resolution, efficiency of use, and ecosystem stability-critical components for the production of ecosystem services and maintenance of biological and human economic benefits, the authors write.

Palumbi is a professor of biology and director of Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station. Thompson is a professor of law and co-director of the Woods Institute for the Environment.

The paper is co-authored by James Sanchirico, associate professor of environmental science and policy at the University of California-Davis, and Josh Eagle, associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina.

"Comprehensive Planning, Dominant-Use Zones, and User Rights: A New Era in Ocean Governance," Bulletin of Marine Science, 2010"