This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Scales of Ocean and Coastal Governance: How International, National, and Local Governments are Preparing for Global Environmental Change and a Growing Population




Johnson, Gregory

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Forestry and Wildlife Science

Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



Coastal and ocean governance is a complex topic that requires an equally complex management structure. Governments around the world and at every scale have varying degrees of authority and resources to effectively manage their coastal and ocean ecosystems. Historically, coastal and ocean governance in the United States has been carried out in a siloed and reactionary manner following natural disasters or in reaction to changes in the political sphere. National and subnational governments have recently attempted to proactively and comprehensively manage the coastal and ocean environment in the wake of a changing climate and growing population. To date, no research has investigated how differing scales of government enact coastal and ocean management policy through a policy-making framework. Here I demonstrate that coastal and ocean governance that is anticipatory and comprehensive requires multiple scales of government to collaborate in a way that allows for impacted stakeholders to have a meaningful seat at the table. To investigate the best way for multi-government collaboration and meaningful stakeholder involvement to occur, I perform a literature review of international coastal policy in developing countries, compare federal ocean policy initiatives in the United States, and uncover the most pressing environmental challenges in two local estuarine communities in the Florida Panhandle. I find that at the international level, coastal and ocean governance is difficult due to rapidly growing populations and a changing climate coupled with limited resources in developing countries. In the United States federal government, inefficient and duplicative management are seen as the most pressing issues, while two presidential administrations sought to shift authority to subnational levels of government. At the local level, diverse stakeholders in estuarine communities were able to identify the three most pressing environmental challenges and how policies to address them needed to be updated and better enforced. These findings are important because they highlight how differing levels of government face different challenges in coastal and ocean management. I identify the most practical and effective way to combat these challenges is for all levels of government to collaborate, share resources, and meaningfully involve all impacted stakeholders in a proactive and comprehensive way. This research lays out a path forward for how a complex natural resource management issue can be distilled down to a few key components that will more likely lead to comprehensive and proactive management to prepare for a continually growing global population and changing climate.