What is Marine Spatial Planning (MSP)?

“Marine spatial planning is a process to develop a blueprint for area-based management that accounts for multiple management objectives.”

UNESCO defines MSP as a “public process of analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that usually have been specified through a political process. Characteristics of marine spatial planning include ecosystem-based, area-based, integrated, adaptive, strategic and participatory.

“Marine spatial planning is not an end in itself, but a practical way to create and establish a more rational use of marine space and the interactions among its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect the environment, and to deliver social and economic outcomes in an open and planned way.”

 

Coordinating Where Activities Occur in the Ocean

To meet current and future demands on the ocean, it is essential to look comprehensively at an ocean area, consider the many different stakeholders who use it, and find ways to sustain the complex diversity of life that depends on it. Marine spatial planning (MSP) is a coordinated approach to designating where human activities occur in the ocean to minimize conflicts among stakeholders, maximize the benefits that people receive from the ocean, and help maintain healthy marine habitats.

Example of data for marine spatial planning in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Click on image to enlarge. Quote and image source: Best Practices for Marine Spatial Planning (The Nature Conservancy)

Example of data for marine spatial planning in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Click on image to enlarge.
Quote and image source: Best Practices for Marine Spatial Planning (The Nature Conservancy)

MSP: A Tool for Ecosystem-Based Management

Both the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy called for ecosystem-based management (EBM) of marine systems. Marine spatial planning is an important tool to achieve EBM because it provides a practical decision-making process for implementing many of EBM’s core elements. MSP creates a blueprint for ocean use and conservation by:

  • bringing together diverse ocean users
  • creating a comprehensive picture of the ocean
  • providing a forum for proactive discussion and informed decision-making
  • providing a coordinated way to allocate marine spaces to simultaneously achieve ecological, economic, and social goals
  • increasing transparency and accountability by giving all ocean users a seat at the table and common access to tools and information

The Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning defines coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP) as

…a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes areas. CMSP identifies areas most suitable for various types or classes of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. In practical terms, CMSP provides a public policy process for society to better determine how the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes are sustainably used and protected now and for future generations.

Case studies demonstrate the implementation of MSP for multi-objective planning. Interactive decision support systems can be useful in the practice of MSP.

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