Participants in the project kickoff meeting work on the St. Kitts-Nevis Vision Map. Photo © Steven R. Schill/TNC

Participants in the project kickoff meeting work on the St. Kitts-Nevis Vision Map. Photo © Steven R. Schill/TNC

Overview of the Process

Designing and implementing a zoning plan requires a number of essential steps, ranging from defining objectives and a strategic vision to drafting legislation and establishing a governance structure that will help support implementation. In St. Kitts and Nevis, the project team focused on five key activities that were needed to build the foundation for marine zoning.

  1. Engaging stakeholders: The project included more than a dozen formal meetings and numerous informal meetings with stakeholders and decision makers (pdf, 508k) from government, community groups, businesses, and fishers’ associations.
  2. Establishing clear objectives: Through a participatory process, stakeholders and decision makers defined a vision for marine zoning in their waters. This vision served as a basis for all project activities.
  3. Building a multi-objective database: The project team gathered, evaluated, and generated spatial data on ecological characteristics and human uses of the marine environment. They used expert mapping, habitat surveys, and fisher surveys to fill data gaps.
  4. Developing decision support products: The project team produced a spatial database, georeferenced portable document format (PDF) files, a web-based map viewer, maps of fisheries uses and values, seabed habitat maps, compatibility maps, and outputs of multi-objective analysis.
  5. Generating draft zones: As a culmination of the project, the participants created a draft marine zoning design that was based on scientific analysis and input from government agencies and stakeholder groups.
Photo © Shawn W. Margles/TNC

Photo © Shawn W. Margles/TNC

The Process

Engaging Stakeholders

The first step in the stakeholder engagement process was to identify and meet with appropriate government and community leaders to determine their interest in a marine zoning process and their commitment to moving the planning process forward. Given the governance structure in St. Kitts and Nevis, this meant engaging with government ministries on both islands and determining how this project could facilitate communications between stakeholders across the islands. A series of workshops with government and community groups ensured that the planning effort was based on the needs and desires of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. Participants in the workshops included high-level government officials, community groups, businesses, and fishers’ associations. Key to the success of the project was a project coordinator who was responsible for frequent and direct communications with high-level government officers, board members of organizations, and individuals from the community.

Establishing Clear Objectives

A workshop early in the project defined a strategic vision and objectives, which are important for guiding a marine zoning process. Invitees and facilitative approaches for this workshop had been identified through prior informal meetings with government officials, agencies, and stakeholders. During the workshop, participants discussed their vision for uses of the draft zones and management of their seascape, as well as objectives for education, regulation, and enforcement. The project addressed some of these elements in detail, while other elements could not be addressed within the project’s scope.

Building a Multi-Objective Database

Marine zoning requires data on the locations of human activities and environmental features such as habitats. This project devoted significant resources to gathering, evaluating, and generating spatial information from a wide variety of sources and to ensuring a balanced representation of data across use sectors and ecological characteristics. As is common in many places, few existing datasets were available for ocean areas in St. Kitts and Nevis, and filling data gaps was a major effort and contribution of this project. Three main approaches were used: expert mapping, habitat surveys, and fisher surveys.

Expert Mapping

Workshops and several days of meetings with representatives from the fisheries, tourism, industry, and transportation sectors provided information on marine uses in St. Kitts and Nevis. The project team worked with these representatives to map consumptive and non-consumptive marine activities, as well as ecologically important areas. More than 30 individuals representing more than 15 organizations drew on paper maps that subsequently were digitized and verified. This data collection effort built on a previous Ecological Gap Assessment that The Nature Conservancy had conducted for St. Kitts and Nevis. The project team also integrated data from other research and regional datasets.

Habitat Surveys

Existing data from seafloor habitat surveys were too coarse in resolution or too limited in geographic extent to be useful for this project. Consequently, the team conducted research to produce the first high-resolution (2.5-meter) seafloor habitat maps for nearshore waters less than 30 meters deep around St. Kitts and Nevis. The underwater mapping effort was a collaborative effort of staff from The Nature Conservancy, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, and local government agencies. Using high-resolution satellite technology in combination with field measurements, the researchers collected data on the extent and distribution of 12 habitat classes, including coral reef, seagrass, sandy bottom, and mud flat.

Fisher Surveys

The project team conducted interviews with local fishers to collect data on the locations and importance of commercial fisheries within the waters of St. Kitts and Nevis. This effort was a collaboration of staff from The Nature Conservancy, Ecotrust, government agencies, and local partners. They collected data on ten fisheries: coastal demersal, coastal pelagic, deep shelf and slope, ocean pelagic, conch, lobster, shark, diamondback squid, turtle (which is caught legally during an open season), and bait. To identify the full spatial extent, relative value, and socioeconomic characteristics of each fishery, they interviewed a representative sample of fishers from each fishery at the 12 major landing sites—five on St. Kitts and seven on Nevis. They used an interactive, customized, computerized interview instrument called Open OceanMap to collect geo-referenced data from fishers. Interviewees were guided through a discussion about the fisheries in which they participated and were asked to indicate the locations, extents, and relative values of fishing areas. Fishers reviewed and verified the maps (see an example fisher map), and the mapping data were integrated into the project’s centralized spatial database.


Providing Decision Support Products

Marine spatial planning requires access to a wide range of data and analytical tools that will facilitate zoning decisions. A major aim of this project was to integrate complex information into a suite of decision support products that would help the people of St. Kitts and Nevis to finalize a marine zoning design and implement a marine zoning plan. In addition to marine zoning, the decision support system will be useful for fisheries management, coastal zone management, climate change adaptation, protected areas planning and management, socioeconomic analysis, maritime affairs, hazard mapping, and environmental protection. The decision support system consisted of:

  1. Fishers provided information for mapping fishing areas around the islands. Photo © Shawn W. Margles/TNC

    Fishers provided information for mapping fishing areas around the islands. Photo © Shawn W. Margles/TNC

    interactive tools (spatial database, georeferenced PDF files, and web-based map viewer)

  2. maps of fisheries uses and values
  3. benthic habitat maps
  4. compatibility maps
  5. outputs of multi-objective analysis

Interactive Tools

Interactive tools that allow people to view and overlay different layers of information are invaluable in decision-making processes in which a variety of scenarios and tradeoffs must be considered. To accommodate the range of technical skills of stakeholders and decision makers, this project used three modes of delivering spatial data:

  • Spatial Database: The project geodatabase comprises several base layers, imagery, and all other spatial information used in the project, including information on benthic habitats, fisheries, and spatial analysis results.
  • Georeferenced Portable Document Format (PDF) Files: The geoPDF files provide easy access and viewing of GIS data. These documents can be viewed with Adobe Reader software and the free TerraGo Toolbar, which allows users to embed georeferenced comments. Copies of these geoPDF files are available by contacting The Nature Conservancy via John Knowles (
  • Web-Based Map Viewer: The Internet-based map viewer enables people with Internet access to view, display, query, and print maps of several important data layers including benthic habitats, zoning scenarios, and fisheries values. A key advantage of this decision support product is that it requires no special software, allowing a wide audience to review and provide feedback during a marine planning process.

Maps of Fisheries Uses and Values

After an extensive process to verify the preliminary draft maps with fishers, the project team printed final maps and provided them to fisheries cooperatives on each island, giving fishers direct access to maps of information that they had shared. These maps help fishers to visualize the locations of their most valuable areas, which may enable them to better advocate for and protect their interests.

Benthic Habitat Maps

Using the data from its surveys of benthic habitats, the project team produced detailed marine habitat maps for coastal waters less than 30 meters in depth. These maps display the extent and distribution of 12 distinct benthic habitat classes. In addition to multi-objective analysis for marine zoning, the habitat maps can be used for other planning purposes by government agencies and non-government organizations.

Compatibility Maps

Marine zoning decisions must consider whether particular activities can coexist in a given area. In St. Kitts and Nevis, the project team engaged stakeholders in an organized discussion that resulted in a detailed matrix (pdf, 545k) quantifying the compatibility of various marine activities into compatibility scores. The team produced compatibility maps by correlating the compatibility scores with mapping data for each activity. These maps became an integral part of the multi-objective analysis.

Read More

For information about the mapping methods, to view the maps of activities and compatibility, and for a full description of the Marxan with Zones analysis and the resulting outputs, see Marxan with Zones Analysis (pdf, 3.8M)

Outputs of Multi-objective Analysis

To support the zoning decision-making process, the team generated a series of scenario-analysis maps using Marxan with Zones conservation planning software. This freely available decision support software uses a quantitative approach to identify optimized marine zoning schemes that meet ecological, social, and economic objectives. Marxan with Zones generates alternative scenarios for zoning that can be mapped and then used to consider tradeoffs and make decisions. The project’s Steering Committee used the Marxan with Zones outputs and other mapping products to delineate draft zones for consideration by a broader body of stakeholders.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge Draft Zoning Map.

Generating a Draft Marine Zoning Design

The project team had found in prior marine spatial planning efforts in other places that zoning tends to be most effective when those who will be involved in management and enforcement are closely involved in designing the zones. They had also found that an effective approach is to provide scientifically sound information, which has been collected in a participatory fashion, to managers and stakeholders, who are then able to make informed zoning decisions.

At a meeting of the St. Kitts and Nevis project’s Steering Committee, the project team presented scientific information collected during the course of the project, along with the outputs of multi-objective analysis that had been conducted with Marxan with Zones. This meeting was a culmination of all previous activities in the project: stakeholder engagement, establishing clear objectives, building a multi-objective database, and providing decision support products. The meeting produced a draft zoning design and began to identify a clear process toward a zoning configuration that would be feasible for all sectors, minimizing conflict and achieving management objectives. After this meeting, the project team held additional meeting with fishers, other stakeholders, and the Steering Committee to refine the draft zoning design.