Evolving Marine Spatial Planning as a tool to respond to EU sea-basins major stakes and increase biodiversity protection

The 22nd meeting of the Member States Expert Group on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSEG) and the Conference on the future of Europe’s Marine Space took place 14 – 15 June 2022 in Brest (France), giving the floor to National competent authorities and relevant stakeholders to discuss their vision of MSP evolution to support the increase of biodiversity protection measures.

Only a few weeks after the end of our MBPC e-learning program on Ecosystem-Based management and Marine Spatial Planning, the subject is currently topical and still highly relevant. Indeed, EU Member States representatives, two Commission's Directorate-General (Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries), NGO’s, local and regional stakeholders gathered to closely look at the evolvement of national Marine Spatial Plans and to debate on the future of Europe’s Marine Space. The opportunity for the EU Commission to recall the adoption of a report on the progress of the implementation of national Marine Spatial Plans and to adapt the role of MSP in line with the EU’s Green Deal and the new EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, the upcoming Nature restoration law and the REpower EU plan increasing the rollout of renewable energies by 45% for 2030.

During the MSP Stakeholder Conference, the importance of global co-management of maritime space was recalled on several occasions especially in a context of increasing and complex challenges facing marine, coastal and social ecosystems.

Firstly, the Conference focused on the achievements of Marine Spatial Planning in the EU the last eight years, since the adoption of the MSP Directive binding EU Member States to adopt Marine Spatial Plans by 2021. A discussion followed on the challenges towards the implementation of MSP in the EU, and as recalled by Helena Rodrigues, WWF, “an Ecosystem-Based approach and stakeholders’ engagement are key in all stages of Marine Spatial Plans (i.e., consultation, implementation, monitoring) notably in order to take the Ocean and its pressures into consideration.

With the same concerns, Vedran Nikolic from the EC Directorate-General Environment wondered “How can Marine Spatial Planning legally protect 30% of European Seas accordingly to the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030?”. He recalls that Marine Spatial plans should integrate measures to implement Protected Marine Areas and be at the core of those plans and added, “besides the evolution of MSP, there is also the revision of the MSFD (Marine Strategic Framework Directive), to see how by setting some indicators it can orient the performance of human activities so that the cumulative impacts do not exceed the ecosystems carrying capacity and enable to reach the Good Environmental Status (GES).”

Regarding the Mediterranean basin, Marina Markovic, Project Officer at MED PAP/RAC shared her opinion on the importance of multilevel cross-border cooperation including with non-EU countries. As well, she reminded that “Marine Protected Areas should be selected according to their biodiversity richness and therefore beyond national borders.”

This fruitful conference came to an end with a global and shared wish to do better for marine biodiversity, increasing by the current and urgent climate crisis. Marine Spatial Planning allows to take multi-stakeholders opinions into consideration and aims at finding common agreements. Hopefully, this tool will be used to increase marine protection and to limit the main pressures; collisions, plastic pollution, climate change, overfishing and mass tourism.

As concluded Felix Leinemann, Head of Unit, Blue Economy Sectors, Aquaculture and Maritime Spatial Planning, DG MARE, at the end of the conference, “As nature knows no border, it is extremely important to talk to all level (local, regional) and all types of stakeholders. Cross borders cooperation is very important especially when talking about achievements. We hope the upcoming Blue Forum - gathering stakeholders and MSP practitioners - will bring an added value too.”

In that same line, the MBPC is pursuing its works, democratizing and pushing towards mainstreaming the ecosystem-based approach in Mediterranean sea-basin development strategies and policies. After offering the e-learning program on “EBM-MSP” which has given an opportunity to MSP stakeholders to learn on the correlation between biodiversity protection and MSP and on how it can act as a cross-sectoral tool towards a more sustainable use of marine resources, the community has also showcased a unique initiative on how to consider the ecosystem-based approach and MSP via a focus on the South Adriatic-Ionian Straight Ecologically and Biologically Sensitive Area (SAIS EBSA). A recent stakeholders workshop was organised in Dubrovnik (31 may – 1st June 2022) to progress and reflect on the creation of a governance mechanism fostering biodiversity protection and conservation of the South Adriatic-Ionian ecosystems. Its conclusions also contribute to the current debate on how to better mainstream the biodiversity priority into the evolution of marine spatial planning.