Home Articles Marine cadastre: Implementing a potential DSS

Marine cadastre: Implementing a potential DSS

Dr. Michael Sutherland
Chair, Commission 4 (Hydrography), FIG
Department of Geomatics Engineering and Land Management
University of the West Indies,
St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago
[email protected]

Boundary management is an important part of the management and governance of defined spaces in any socio-economic construct. However, since boundaries do not end where land ends, marine cadastres become important as potential decision support tools. here’s a look at some issues related to the implementation of marine cadastre

Governance is the management of stakeholder relationships as they impact their current and possible future social, economic, political and physical environments through the dictates of value systems. Value systems are frameworks that provide a shared consciousness of the distribution of rights, responsibilities and restrictions that impact stakeholders’ relationships with one another. The acceptable use of any space, in any jurisdiction, is determined by value systems (translated into laws, policies, customs etc.). From this perspective, governance is the control of human behaviours and implicated in the control of behaviours, and often expressed explicitly, are boundaries. Boundaries (including limits and extents) encompass spaces of inclusionary and exclusionary rights that dictate socioeconomically acceptable behaviours in the use of those spaces. The management of boundaries and the administration of rights, responsibilities and restrictions associated with those boundaries (and the spatial extents that are included or excluded thereby) are therefore important parts of the management (or governance) of defined spaces in any socioeconomic construct. Therefore, marine cadastres become important as potential decision support tools. Implementing marine cadastres, however, requires the navigation of hurdles relating to technical, stakeholder and legal issues.

Spatial Framework and Data: When developing a marine cadastre or marine information system, consideration ought to be given to:

  • A reference framework consisting of a geodetic network;
  • A series of large scale base maps including the procedures and standards for the production of base maps;
  • A series of registers that record interests in land parcels;
  • A cadastral overlay that allows unique identification of delineated cadastral parcels.

If the intention of the cadastre’s design is to address more than juridical boundaries and rights, then a multipurpose design approach is required. Figure 1 demonstrates this approach.

Depending upon the jurisdiction, coastal and marine rights may be managed and administered together. In those cases it will be important, from a spatial framework point of view, to manage rights that straddle the land-water interface. Differences in vertical datums applied discretely to land and marine spatial data produce some difficulties in the integration of land and marine datasets.

Spatial data accuracy and precision: Depending upon the intended uses of the datasets in a marine cadastre (or other marine information sysytem), degrees of data accuracy and precision will be desirable. In some instances of decision making, topology may be more important than precision of boundary placement but possession of precise and accurate datasets will always be appreciated. Datasets representing coastlines are especially desired to be accurately and, to certain degrees, precisely represented because many important public and private rights, landwards and seawards, are impacted by coastal boundaries. In many (not all) instances, accurate or precise representations of boundaries are part of the solutions to socioeconomic problems, while the converse is often the cause of socioeconomic disputes.

The need for base data: Marine resource interests and rights to marine spaces are related to the physical space or location of the resources themselves. There is therefore a need to develop common bases of marine resource data. Technologies such as multibeam and sidescan sonar, used for ocean and coastal mapping, help to map private rights and interests (such as shelland finfish aquaculture) and assist in understanding the impacts of these activities upon the physical environment. They also assist in the determination of the limits of national and international rights such those defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Integration of data from diverse sources: In many jurisdictions, information relating to interests, rights and responsibilities in marine spaces is scattered among a number of private and/or public agencies. Integrating data from a variety of sources, as may impact upon a marine cadastre, is often necessary to support more efficient and holistic decision making. The scattered information is often in a variety of forms and formats, and collected at varieties of scales for as many varieties of purposes. The various datasets will have varying degrees of precision and accuracies that affect composite datasets. Depending upon the intended uses of the datasets, the mentioned factors may or may not be important. Regardless, when integrating spatial datasets, these and other factors will have to be considered.

In recognition of the need to integrate data from a variety of sources to support holistic decision making, some jurisdictions are either implementing, or considering the imlementation of spatial data infrastructures (SDI). The concept of a marine cadastre is enhanced by SDI because in most jurisdictions there are many stakeholders with interests in marine and coastal spaces. Implicit in these endeavours are data and metadata standards to improve the ease of data integration from technical, legal and institutional perspectives.

Visualisation of 4-dimensional rights and interests: Legal rights and interests in marine spaces, as with traditional mapping of land-based rights and interests, are normally visualised in two dimensions. Traditional paper-based mapping evolved into digital versions of 2-dimensional representations on computer screens and represents a continuation of that type of modeling. However, all types of tenure, by law and nature, comprise of the dimension of time, attached to space that is 3- dimensional at any moment of the recognition of tenure. Rights and interests overlap on land and this overlapping of tenure is even more obvious in marine spaces where rights and interests may be explicitly attached to the surface of any body of water, the water column, the bed, or to the subsoil beneath the bed supporting a column of water. Visualisations in two dimension are limiting, as demonstrated in Figure 2. In such a scenario,it becomes difficult to observe supporting analyses to determine which portion of marine space the particular overlapping boundaries relate to. 3-dimensional visualisations of 4-dimensional rights and interests would be an improvement upon current 2-dimensional modelling of the phenomena. A change of mindsets from 2D visualisations of spatial data is imperative in collecting marine cadastre data in 3D-4D, and obviously developing 4D models of data, including 4D databases (Figure 3).


Stakeholder identification and engagement: Stakeholders with interests in marine and coastal spaces have to be identified to effectively administer and manage those spaces. These stakeholders include private entities such as residential, recreational and commercial entities, and public agencies that do not always collaborate, cooperate or integrate as they pursue mandated objectives. Not only do stakeholders have to be identified, but they also have to be effectively engaged. However, neglecting to manage informal rights and interests can lead to socioeconomic disruptions. Having identified stakeholders, their input into identifying the spatial extents to which all formal and informal rights refer must also be dealt with.


Legal complexities of marine interests: There are a number of governance functions that impact rights in marine and coastal spaces. These include:

  • Allocation of resource ownership, control, stewardship and use within society;
  • Regulation of resources and resource use;
  • Monitoring and enforcement of various interests;
  • Adjudication of disputes, including inclusive processes;
  • Management of spatial and other types of information to support all of the above functions.

The legal rights and interests implicated in the above lists are parts of often overlapping international, regional, national and local frameworks. Some examples of international and regional frameworks are UNCLOS and Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) mandates. National and local frameworks are encapsulated in terminologies such as property rights, sovereignty, legislative jurisdiction, administrative authority, title and ownership and use rights. To perform the governance functions listed above, stakeholders have to be aware of a plethora of legal rights and interests, and incorporate applicable data into marine information mangement systems, such as marine cadastres, in order to make appropriate and effective decisions with regard to the use of marine and coastal spaces.

Specific legal nature of marine interests: The legal complexities occuring in coastal and marine spaces are linked to a numer of issues. Some of them include:

  • The fact that the following issues emanate from the expansion of legal frameworks to cover coastal marine spaces:
    • The seaward expansion of national territories under UNCLOS;
    • The need to clarify intergovernmental title, jurisdiction and administration within the expanded territories;
    • The rapid development of relatively new marine resource uses or increasing intensity of existing uses, including for example, petroleum and mineral exploitation and transportation, coastal development, recreation and tourism, aquaculture and sea ranching, renewable energy production;
    • The emergence of new issues such as conservation and environmental risk reduction from threats such as sea level rise;
    • The increasing recognition of the rights of indigenous and other groups with recognized rights to coastal and marine resources.
  • The fact that rights and interests in marine spaces may relate to various discrete portions of the surface waters, water column, seabed, or sub-seafloor;
  • The fact that public, private and customary rights overlap in marine spaces, in space as well as in time, resulting in increases in the number of stakeholders that must be considered and in the existence of numerous overlapping jurisdictional, administrative, ownership and use-rights boundaries to be managed.
  • The fact that coastal and marine boundaries are ambulatory (in many jurisdictions), generally not well delimited, and often refer to physical features that often are difficult to clearly define or locate (e.g., high water, the shoreline, the “normal baseline”).

Jurisdictions worldwide manage rights and interests under different legal and institutional frameworks. Regardless, if they are adjacent to marine spaces they are faced with managing and administering rights and interests in those spaces. Key to effective and efficient management and administration of the rights is access to quality legal and spatial information that might best be managed in a marine information management system such as a marine cadastre. However, in developing such systems, care must be taken not only to deal with implied and obvious technical issues; but also stakeholder and legal issues. Information systems do not occur in legal and institutional vacuums.