boardwalk looking out at ocean


Transferable Development Rights in the Ocean

Land development projects can put tremendous stress on the natural environment, and The Productive Landscapes Group at emLab is exploring the viability of different cost-effective solutions that balance the demands for new development and environmental protections for open spaces and ecosystem services. One such solution is transferable development rights (TDR) programs, which achieve this goal by restricting development in areas of high conservation value and allowing intensive development in existing urban areas. 

Under a TDR program, development rights are distributed to landowners who can elect to either use them and develop their land, or sell them and give others an opportunity to develop their land instead. The regulating authority of a TDR program specifies the number of rights that must be surrendered in order to develop in any given area, and through this structure directs development and conservation to desired areas. 

TDRs can have the positive effect of equalizing gains from development across all landowners--a more equitable outcome than that which would result from direct land-use controls (e.g., zoning), which generate benefits for only a select group of landowners. Another attractive feature of TDRs is their ability to effectively incentivize sustainable environmental protection by providing landowners with a profitable alternative to development. 

Many of the challenges associated with terrestrial development also exist in the marine environment, where different ocean users have competing interests for limited space and resources. The Productive Landscapes Group and Sustainable Fisheries Group at emLab are investigating the viability of applying a TDR system in the oceans to limit overfishing, protect marine ecosystems, and achieve an equitable distribution of economic returns to fishers and other ocean users.