Marine Spatial Planning

Marine Spatial Planning

In 2012, the European Commission unveiled a new policy initiative called the ‘Blue Growth Strategy’ which aims to increase dependency on marine resources in order to develop sustainable economies. The Commission set out its ambition for the European Union (EU) to invest in the potential of the oceans to lighten the pressures on land economies.

In this document, the EU identified five areas which it assessed as having high potential for job and economic growth: aquaculture; tourism; marine biotechnology; ocean energy, and seabed mining. The Commission’s goal to create sustainable marine economies led to the development of Marine Spatial Planning to balance competing interests of marine users and stakeholders.

The theoretical objective of a Marine Spatial Plan is for a country to implement a strategy for the planning of its coastal waters and seas to allow for the future potential increase of economic dependence on marine waters. A Marine Spatial Plan should ideally strike a balance between environmental protection and socio-economic benefits.

In 2014, the European Parliament approved the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (2014/89/EU for the Establishment of a Framework for Maritime Spatial Planning). This directive obliges Member States to create a national Marine Spatial Plan which maps the most effective and sustainable use of marine and coastal waters whilst balancing various other competing environmental and economic interests of the individual Member States. The implementation of national Maritime Spatial Planning Frameworks also allows for increased collaboration between Member States, such as, for example, ferry routes between European ports.

In order to comply with EU environmental protections, the collective pressure of all marine activities must fall under the definition of ‘Good Environmental Status’ which is defined by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (Directive 2008/56/EC for the Establishment a Framework for Community Action in the Field of Marine Environmental Policy) under Article 3(5) as consisting of ‘oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive… and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable’.

Every Member State must have a Marine Spatial Plan by the 31st of March 2021; however, to date, Ireland has yet to officially present its Marine Spatial Plan to the EU.

One of the main issues with increasing marine activities as envisioned by the EU’s ‘Blue Growth Strategy’ is the pressure to maintain good quality coastal waters and protect our marine eco-systems from the negative impacts of human intervention. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that there must be close coordination in the implementation of directives in areas where there is clear crossover, such as: marine spatial planning; protection of habitats; water quality and marine strategy.

The journal Marine Policy (August 2018) detailed major challenges concerning the effective application of a Marine Spatial Plan. It noted that stakeholder engagement at the earliest stages of developing a plan was one of the most important aspects to assess and execute effective policy. Furthermore, it underpinned the importance of implementing proper monitoring and evaluation to ensure that the approach taken in effective planning can adapt to issues which will inevitably arise, and to allow change in areas where the policy falls short.

For Ireland to successfully achieve an acceptable Marine Spatial Plan, the Government must present a framework which has been informed by all parties with stakes and interests from the early stages of planning and consists of an adaptive approach to allow for constant review and revision. As Ireland is an island nation, the task for creating marine policy presents great difficulties, especially when looking to strengthen its blue economy without jeopardising its environmental protections and obligations under the European directives.

June 2021

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