SeaSketch's aim is to enable participatory marine spatial planning processes through the collective capture, presentation and analysis of relevant science and information.


SeaSketch is being used around the globe in small agency teams and large community-driven initiatives to support and make better management decisions.                                                                   

SeaSketch is a standalone piece of software developed by researchers and software developers at the University of California with initial funding from the New Zealand Department of Conservation. As a tool it enables the user to explore a large range of perspectives throughout the marine spatial planning process. 

SeaSketch can be configured to support both large participatory projects, or small group exercises. A key aspect of this piece of software is its ease of use. It’s aimed to be utilised by planners, stakeholders and the public throughout the planning process, not just by GIS professionals. This ease of use means that in the development of marine spatial plan, collaboration can occur with multi-sector inputs as well as community and iwi engagement.

SeaSketch is a web-based software tool with a primary focus on coastal and marine spatial planning. Planning occurs over a base map or satellite imagery included in the software starting as simple sketching to outline spatial extents of existing marine uses, boundaries of regulations or planning proposals. It includes the potential to incorporate a higher understanding of planning using built-in reports which allow the user to explore that potential consequences of each design (i.e. does this plan meet certain science or policy guidelines?).

Outside of single user planning applications, SeaSketch has powerful interpersonal uses including discussion forums and surveys. Discussion forums allow collaboration between users including real time chat, sharing of plans - which include maps, map annotations and alterations to planning. Opinion surveys are also a powerful component of this spatial planning tool that engages the community. Project administrators are able to collect information from participants in surveys and then make them available to the public.              


SeaSketch source in dss stuff alex pg 8

Steps of MSP process where SeaSketch is commonly used


SeaSketch is a powerful tool which can serves different functions in different steps of the marine spatial planning (MSP) process, and can be used by different types of users. In a typical MSP process, three main user groups are engaged with the SeaSketch tool, although individual users may be included in more than one of these groups:

  1. SeaSketch project administrators: (e.g., Lead Agency Personnel, SeaSketch Staff). This group will  be responsible for deploying SeaSketch functionalities according to the needs of “power users”.
  2. “Power users”: (e.g., Stakeholder Working Group). This group has privileged access to private data layers, sketching capabilities, discussion forums and surveys. This group may also serve as process-leaders and be on point for determining exactly how SeaSketch will be used during the MSP process. In other words, they may be responsible for choosing from among the different functionalities within the SeaSketch toolbox to inform the structure of or otherwise facilitate the planning and engagement process.
  3. General users: This group can be invited to participate in the various phases of the MSP by administrators or “power users.” This might include the public as a whole (invited to see geospatial information used for the project, such as in the sketching phase of developing options), or key stakeholder groups (for example, who might be invited to submit information via an open or restricted-access survey).

These user groups will engage with SeaSketch at various steps within the MSP process. Key steps of the MSP process include:

  • Goal identification
  • Information gathering
  • Sharing of stakeholder interests, priorities, and areas of expertise
  • Coordinating with broader stakeholder constituencies and others
  • Developing plan options, evaluating, and building agreement
  • Periodic presentation of options to decision-making authorities                                                            

                How to apply and what sort of results it provides?

As users sketch areas of interest on a map, SeaSketch will provide analytical feedback about the area within seconds. These reports can identify information such as types and percentage of habitats included in the sketch, and potential social or economic costs and benefits, e.g. what biodiversity, social, cultural and economic values are found in the area I have drawn?

There are simple licensing options and opportunities for training, custom development work, and spatial data hosting. See the SeaSketch Home page for more information:

State of Development Released and updated

Development Contact

McClintock Lab
University of California Santa Barbara


Outcome Areas Environmental, Social
Management Domains Coastal
Intended End Users
  • General Usability
Spatial Resolutions 10-100m, 100-500m
Spatial Extents Local (i.e. Catchment or District), Regional
Spatial Dimensions 2D
Temporal Resolutions Years
Steady State or Dynamic Steady State
Level of Integration Environmental, Social

Input & Output Data

Key Input Data Land Cover , habitats, site of importance
Input Data Formats GIS compatible files data entered through GUI
Output Data Formats Image File(s), GIS Compatible Files, Text File(s)


Open/Closed Source Closed Source
Licence Type charge a standard US$1,000.00 license fee and an hourly rate for services

User Information

Operating Systems MS Windows, Mac OS X
Software Needed Web Browser
User Interface Graphical desktop
Ease of Use Easy - Easy to flow web browser interface powered by ESRI mapping
Use in Policy Process Plan (Policy Formulation), Review (Issue Identification)

SeaSketch - Training Manual (2014)

Users Forum Blog available on SeaSketch website

Technical Considerations

Analytical Techniques GIS, Scenario Planning
Keywords coastal planning,

SeaSketch - Website

The SeaSketch Platform: Tools for Decision-Support and Managing Public Processes - Online Video

Key References

Raewyn Peart (2017): A ‘Sea Change’ in Marine Planning: the development of New Zealand’s first marine spatial plan, Policy Quarterly – Volume 13, Issue 2 – May 2017

Associated Case Studies

Other Key Case Studies

Sea Change - Tai Timu Tai Pari: Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Plan

Project overview: Webpage

Spatial Planning: Map Page

South-East Marine Forum - South Island

Spatial Planning: Map Page

Department of Conservation - Marine Mammal Sightings

Spatial Planning: Map Page