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north sea beach by magnetismus, www.flickr.com/photos/magnetismus/6175142092, cropped, applied monochrome filter

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a process for ‘analysing and allocating parts of three-dimensional marine spaces to specific uses, to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that are usually specified through the political process’. It is widely accepted as a 'tool' for applying the ecosystem approach in the marine environment. Member states of the European Union were first encouraged to devise and implement marine spatial plans by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.  It did so by obliging member states to devise and implement programmes of measures designed to achieve and maintain good environmental status.  Facilitating ‘integrated, forward looking, and consistent decision making on the human uses of the sea’. In comparison to planning on land, MSP is a relatively new and evolving concept. It is generally regarded as a complex but essential process. Requiring interdisciplinary collaboration. By mapping human activities, ecosystems and their characteristics; MSP aspires to highlight compatibilities and overcome conflicts created by single sector governance; providing an integrated transparent mechanism for the decision making process; resolving ‘user v user and user v environment conflicts’. Thus providing a place based adaptive management strategy for spatially defined areas. Existing legislative frameworks remain crucial for controlling spatial and temporal aspects of activities, input and output measures and process mechanisms, to ensure the ‘bigger picture’ is provided in the decision making process.

For further information please see the following european and international sites:
European Commission: What is marine spatial planning?
European Commission: Our oceans seas and coasts
UNESCO: Marine spatial planning

UNESCO: Marine Spatial Planning Good Practice 
UNESCO: Marine Spatial Planning around the world