Spatial planning of land and sea

For some decades now, marine managers have realised that case-by-case management of activities impacting on the marine area is ineffective in protecting the health of marine ecosystems. This is because the marine environment is much more highly interconnected than land, and impacts in one area can have flow-on effects elsewhere. In addition, marine management is typically split between numerous agencies, which make decisions in isolation of each other, and so fail to adequately address interconnections and resulting cumulative effects.

Tiritiri Matangi Lighthouse (Credit: Raewyn Peart)

As the marine area becomes more utilised, conflicts between activities are becoming more acute. This has been increasingly evident in New Zealand, with recent conflicts between marine protection and fisheries interests; between fishing and mining activity; and between aquaculture and landscape protection. Such poorly managed conflicts create cost and uncertainty for all parties and the environment.

Marine spatial planning is a rational and strategic approach which can be used to proactively plan for the future use of the marine environment. At its heart is a concern to protect the underlying ecological backbone or productivity of the marine area, but it also seeks to reduce conflict and maximise synergies, providing greater certainty on where marine activities can and cannot locate.

Marine spatial planning is now a well-used tool internationally and it is a key element of marine management in the 21st Century. The first marine spatial plan in New Zealand is currently being prepared for the Hauraki Gulf. 2738

Marine spatial planning seeks to provide greater direction on how defined areas of marine space, including coastal and offshore areas, are to be managed in order to meet desired societal outcomes. Several definitions have been proposed for this approach. In 2010, a group of 21 scientists posited the following definition, which focuses on using marine spatial planning as a tool to implement ecosystems-based management: 2739

“Ecosystem-based MSP [marine spatial planning] is an integrated planning framework that informs the spatial distribution of activities in and on the ocean in order to support current and future uses of ocean ecosystems and maintain the delivery of valuable ecosystem services for future generations in a way that meets ecological, economic, and social objectives.”


  2. Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, 2009, 1

Last updated at 2:11PM on February 25, 2015