Application of marine spatial planning

One of the earliest applications of marine spatial planning was to assist with the management of marine protected areas. The first spatial plan for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was developed in the early 1980s. It identified a number of marine zones where a different range of activities could take place. A similar approach was applied to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary during the 1990s where a comprehensive management plan, including zoning, was developed.

During the early 2000s, Australia and Canada laid the foundations for applying marine spatial planning to large bioregions, which extended out to 200 nautical miles from the shore. While the original intention in both cases was to develop comprehensive zoning plans, this proved difficult in practice, and the main tangible output has been the identification of candidate areas for marine protection.

Marine spatial planning has more recently focused on the management of conflicts between competing marine activities, particularly in the heavily congested marine areas of Europe. Belgium has been progressively implementing a Master Plan for its portion of the North Sea since 2003, the Netherlands developed an overarching spatial planning framework for its North Sea area in 2005 (and revised it in 2009), and in 2008 Germany finalised a spatial plan for its exclusive economic zone.

These European planning processes were largely prompted by the need to better manage growing demands from new ocean uses, such as wind energy, oil and gas extraction and aquaculture, as well as the need to implement European Union directives on nature conservation. The European Commission is promoting the adoption of marine spatial planning as “a stable and transparent way to improve the competitiveness of the EU maritime economy and to deal with complex trans-national issues such as the effects of climate change.” The EU Parliament endorsed a Directive on marine spatial planning in April 2014.

There has been a recent high-level initiative in the USA, supported by President Obama, to implement marine spatial planning nationwide. Similar to the approach taken in Australia and Canada, marine spatial planning is to be applied to large marine ecosystems. The spatial plans will identify:

“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.” 2740

The United Kingdom Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 provides a legal framework for spatial planning in that jurisdiction. This includes the development of a marine policy statement and a series of regional marine plans covering coastal and offshore areas. Most licensing decisions are required to be made in accordance with these documents. The Act also establishes the Marine Management Organisation who is responsible for producing the marine plans.  

In New Zealand, there is no legislative provision for integrated marine spatial planning. The RMA does provide for partial spatial planning through the preparation of regional coastal plans, but these do not address fishing, marine reserves or marine mammal sanctuaries. Despite this legislative vacuum, New Zealand’s first marine spatial plan called ‘Sea-Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari’ for the Hauraki Gulf was completed in December 2016. The process was collaborative, stakeholder-led and non-statutory.  


Last updated at 2:38PM on February 9, 2018