Maritime spatial planning: Limiting the environmental impact of maritime activities

mspThe European Commission held early December its 5th Maritime Spatial Planning conference, dedicated to the relationship between maritime spatial planning (MSP) and the environment.

Participants discussed the challenges and opportunities that arise when applying an environmental perspective to MSP. Planning and managing human activities in a way that does not exceed the capacity of marine ecosystems can deliver economic and social benefits.

Opening the conference, Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said: “We are using our seas and coasts in more ways than ever before. This has often been presented as creating conflict: a) between competing economic interests, and b) between economic activities and safeguarding our marine environment. Let me assure you: it need not be so. Planning and managing our activities better allows us to reap environmental and economic benefits. It allows us to meet our ambitious environmental targets and create economic growth. And it allows us to reap social benefits, through greater stakeholder involvement.”

The morning discussions focused on the link between the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive. The role of stakeholders and their early involvement was seen as an important element of good planning, and better data gathering and availability listed as one of the urgent priorities.

In the afternoon participants discussed the ecosystem approach, in particular the difficulties of applying it in practice. It became clear that different concepts co-exist, and participants put forward creative ideas on how to develop checklists and guidelines to ensure that maritime plans take an ecosystem approach. The last session emphasized the leading role that Regional Seas Conventions can play in the implementation of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive.

In the New Year, The Commission will use the insights from the conference to draw up an informal guidance document on how maritime spatial planning can help manage activities in the marine environment.

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