Application of the ecosystem approach to maritime spatial planning – from theory to practice

Maritime spatial planning can enhance the sustainable use of marine resources by identifying synergies and conflicts between different sectors and reconciling human activities with the boundary conditions of the marine environment. Sustainability in the use of marine resources is ensured by applying the ecosystem approach to maritime spatial planning. The ecosystem approach is a holistic use and management planning method. Its key principle is that people are an integral part of nature and affect its functions.

The Maritime Spatial Planning Directive requires application of the ecosystem approach. The environmental objectives of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive are taken into account in ecosystem-based maritime spatial planning. The goal is that implementation of maritime spatial plans supports the achievement of good marine environmental status.

The general goal is to use ecosystems within their limits so as to preserve them. This goal has been addressed by means available for maritime spatial planning, i.e. by taking the structure, functioning and characteristics of the marine environment into account as part of the maritime spatial planning process and planning solutions. Engaging stakeholders is important in order to gather a sufficient knowledge base, ensure transparency, communicate uncertainties, and mitigate conflicts between sectors.

The strategic role that maritime spatial planning plays in protecting the marine environment creates a framework for spatial planning at sea, which is further specified and implemented through other types of planning.

A more detailed analysis of how to take good marine environmental status into account in maritime spatial planning is included in the report entitled Application of the ecosystem-based approach in Finnish MSP.