“2021 has the potential to be a significant year for our oceans”

Grace O’Sullivan, European Green Party, Member of the European Parliament

As 2021 marks the beginning of the UN Decade of Ocean Science and Sustainable Development, sea-bordering Member States in the European Union are currently drafting Maritime Spatial Plans (MSPs), which will be put in place to “analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives”. 

With this in mind, Irish Member of the European Parliament, Grace O’Sullivan, along with The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) have commissioned a report, titled “Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning” (BPMSP) in order to provide Member States with examples of different locations that use sustainable economic and environmental marine practices, which they are encouraged to model their MSPs after.  This study was researched and written by coastal management researcher and consultant, Dr. Cormac Walsh, and uses statistics and case studies to analyse and promote “mutually beneficial outcomes for fishers, renewable energy, production and marine conservation”.

The ocean represents the health of the earth, producing a significant amount of the world’s oxygen, storing carbon, and hosting some of the world’s most abundant and diverse ecosystems, yet it is constantly under threat. Overfishing, pollution, and changing temperatures all contribute to the destruction of underwater ecosystems. 

Marine activity has also been invaluable to the growth and security of mankind. It provides food to billions of people each year, and provides income to hundreds of thousands of people and communities. Approximately 90% of traded goods are exported by cross-ocean shipping, and in 2016, around 152,000 workers were employed directly by the EU fishing fleet, generating around 7.7 billion that year. According to the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the ocean is one of the world’s top 10 economies, bringing in trillions of dollars globally each year. 

Mankind needs a healthy ocean, but also one that can continue to provide economic prosperity. The BPMSP report aims to strike that balance.

This report created case studies of three areas where maritime spatial planning has been effective, and should serve as an example for EU Member States in drafting their MSPs.  These locations are the southern Baltic sea, under the jurisdiction of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany; The Dutch controlled area of the North Sea; and the western coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Since 1993, the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has used Spatial Development Plans (SDPs) to manage their coastal waters along the Baltic Sea. This plan is updated every decade and draws on a combination of professional expertise and public participation.

The SDPs designate areas for different uses, such as wind turbine farms, shipping routes, fishing, environmental conservation, and Baltic sea tourism.

The plan distinguishes between ‘priority’ and ‘conditional priority areas.  Priority areas include shipping, wind farms, coastal defence and nature protection, while ‘conditional priority’ areas contain fishing, tourism and conditional priority ‘test sites’ for expanding functions in priority areas.  All zoning designations are legally binding, preventing private stakeholders from encroaching onto different zones.

The BPSMP report states how the Spatial Development Plans serve as a good example of a comprehensive system with a strong legal basis. Priorities are soundly set to sustainable energy and conservation practices, without disparaging economic activity at sea.

North Sea, The Netherlands

The second case study in the BPMSP report covers the North Sea Spatial Agenda 2050 (NSSA 2050), designed and controlled by the Dutch Government. Created in 2015, this agenda constitutes a future-oriented spatial vision that fuses nature conservation with economic development in its limited space, with a time horizon being the year 2050.

The maps used in the NSSA 2050 report use inverted images of the North Sea, challenging the reader with an unfamiliar, sea-to-land perspective.

There are opportunities to create a robust, resilient North Sea by building with nature at sea”

– Dr. Cormac Walsh, Independent Researcher and Consultant

Rather than designate zones for a specific purpose, as the SDPs in Germany had been, the NSSA 2050 looks to synergise conservation with development. As the Dutch coast is considerably small, the NSSA 2050 lists out plans for multi-purpose use of nearly every kilometre of coastal waters, with single-use zoning only to be permitted in areas where marine environment requires it.

The plan lists opportunities for meeting sustainable development goals while “building with nature”. An example being the expansion of offshore wind energy combined with the recultivation of seaweeds, a primary necessity for any healthy marine ecosystem.  The report states that “The hard surfaces provided by the foundations of wind farm structures (as is the case with other manmade structures at sea) are often sites of increased biodiversity and may be suitable for the cultivation of oysters or seaweed”.

The BPSMP report uses the NSSA 2050 as an alternative, innovative example of what EU coastal states can achieve, even with limited space, when it comes to their maritime spatial plans.

Pacific Coast, British Columbia, Canada

A unique style of maritime governance, the government of British Columbia works closely with Indigenous communities when it comes to marine spatial planning, known as the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP).

The BC Government has collaborated closely with Indigenous communities in the design and management process of MaPP since 2007, as the Canadian pacific northwest is home to 17 different coastal Indigenous communities who assert aboriginal rights over areas of land and sea.

The map displays the four marine sub-regions along the BC coast, which were created in reflection of the ‘logical alignments geographically, politically, and socio-economically’.

The BPMSP report states that the core strengths of the MaPP lie in its integration of community interests, traditional knowledge and local cultural values through an inclusive, collaborative process. 

Sub-regional planning includes three types of zones:

  1. General Management Zones: Multi-purposed areas.
  2. Special Management Zones: High priority and high potential marine uses.  Zones for renewable energy, aquaculture and cultural value.
  3. Protection Management Zones: Designated for biodiversity.

Though Europe does not have the type of relationship with its citizens, which holds the same social and cultural specificities as between the Canadian Government and Indigenous Canadian peoples, there is a transferrable lesson in the high level of community engagement. This tactic may serve to inform practices of MSPs for European seas, “particularity where issues of cultural association with the sea and the coast are relevant”.

These three case studies in the Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning report serve as examples of how EU coastal Member States can responsibly model their upcoming Maritime Spatial Plans. These comprehensive plans are the blueprint on how to achieve mutually beneficial results between fishers, renewable energy production and marine conservation, all while involving communities and utilising the knowledge and traditions of their citizens.

To read further on the Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning study, please use the link provided below:


Joshua Allan

Joshua Allan is from Beamsville, Ontario and graduated from Bishop's University in June 2020, having studied Foreign Languages and Politics. His political activity in his community includes advocating for environmental rights in the Fridays for Future march in Sherbrooke, QC, in October 2019. His interests include Canadian and international politics, environmental politics, and Indigenous rights.

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