Marine and coastal spatial planning

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Marine and Coastal Spatial Planning is important as a comprehensive framework for policy integration and a process to implement Strategies concerning Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). At a global, regional (i.e. Mediterranean, Baltic, etc.) and EU level there are various enabling frameworks (e.g. European Parliament and Council Recommendation concerning the implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management in Europe, Barcelona Convention,) which support such activities. Such frameworks also exist at a national level (recently a Special Framework for Spatial Planning and Sustainable Development for coastal areas has been adopted in Greece to guide public policy providing a policy platform towards ICZM). There is also a wide range of possible ICZM planning research agenda across Europe but a few highlights could assist in bringing forward some of the opportunities which exist.

The main topics cited for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning cover a wide range of issues in different spatial scales and for different approaches.

Conceptual Approaches-Theoretical Constructs

In this section basic approaches constructing Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning are being analyzed such us Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Sustainability. The reason of this section’s existence is to make an introduction to definitions that are crucial for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning and provide some first valuable information to coastal professionals before assessing important issues and challenges.

Key Issues/Analysis/ Priorities for action

This section emphasises on mostly contemporary issues that seem to concern coastal scientists, practitioners and policy makers. These issues could be located either on small ecosystems –urban or not- or on large environmentally important coastal ecosystems. They also vary from area to area and over time depending on the area’s characteristics.

Spatial scales, planning and ICZM

This section focuses on interdisciplinary approaches between Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Spatial Planning, examining the implementation of environmental planning on different spatial scales providing a better understanding of the coast and its resources. Special cases are being presented such us Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Integrated Water Resources Management, Ecosystem based Marine Management, Coastal Cities etc.

Methodological tools

This section proves the importance of the availability of tools, data and analysis of coastal processes, collecting a wide range of physical and environmental characteristics and providing long-term monitoring procedures and programmes. Some of the most known and recognised methods are Geographical Information Systems, Decision Support Systems, Carrying capacity analysis etc.

Policy instruments

This section provides an overview of the development of policies and regulations for an effective coastal and marine management that could determine not only the environment related issues but also define the roles and responsibilities of coastal scientists, policy makers and practitioners.

Policy responses

This section describes the experiences of policy issues drawn from different spatial levels, including the European Union (e.g. Strategic Environmental Assessment), the International and World Regional level (e.g. Updating NorVision - Towards a New Spatial Agenda for the North Sea Region), the National level (e.g. The Case of Greece) and the Sub-regional and Local level.

Development and implementation of ICZM in EU coastal nations

Present status (2009)

There is an overlapping of objectives between Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning and land use or environmental planning. The similarities in addition to the different kind of impacts that occur in each case bring out difficulties in the implementation of sustainable actions. The variety of levels and approaches of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning provide difficulties in defining its concept and create integrated policies. The lack of a single and appropriate definition of its concept also prevents planners from a clear perspective, trying to combine different policies. This process creates a vicious circle since fragmentations in coastal zones approaches enhance the difficulty of extracting a clear definition. In terms of management there is a need of a better approach of sea resources in integration with the existing coordination of land resources which is far more developed and examined.

One of the issues most referred to in Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning is the lack of transparent and sufficient instruments to support policies. This need for instruments could be easily met in the legislation since there are a lot of legislation gaps and a lack of commitment and conflict within it. Problems are also met in exercising planning with a lack of institutional procedures and a poor application of time consuming regulatory systems to constant changes. There is also a noticeable lack of indicators monitoring and defining coastal and marine area surface (difficulties in GIS data) and procedures that seem to be ideal for the success of implementation actions (mostly in small scales), such us participation processes, cost too much. As a result, hesitations within the government in terms of monitoring the environment are very common creating more boundaries and fragmentations in spatial planning. Finally, there are a lot of inefficiencies in decision making stemming from sectoral behaviour and uncertainty in Decision Support Systems effectiveness.

Success factors

The existence of success stories in the application of policies and projects is very important for creating guidelines and best practices of experience in coastal issues. Case studies from affiliated programmes could provide extended knowledge of coastal areas in a European and international level that could be applicable in other cases. Such knowledge might be able to fill gaps in tools and methodologies.

One of the most critical actions for coastal and marine areas would be the definition of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning and the identification of the boundaries of coastal zones. It is believed that a clear definition could withdraw the existing problems and difficulties in spatial planning applications and lead to spatial innovations.

Some very crucial issues also need to be taken into account for the successful implementation of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning. First of all, regarding the general issue of the coastal and marine environment, humans and human activities need to be considered as part of these natural systems because, usually, natural systems are examined according to human activities. There is also a need to identify and estimate coastal resources and consider them in relation to land uses taking place in such areas (e.g. hotels and second houses on beaches and uncertainties such us floods, sea level rising etc.). This action demands also a better connection between smaller (details, conflicts) and higher scales (better integration). In this way a better foresight and assessment of spatial impacts to prevent conflicts between coastal uses could be achieved.

It is also generally highlighted that spatial planning in coastal and marine areas should involve participation processes including the planners, the authorities and the people. Those processes could result a better perspective from the local administration of coastal issues, stimulation on behalf of the planners and people (by informing them and extracting opinions).

Finally, regarding tools and indicators, it is stressed that the harmonization of methods and indicators giving extra attention to data collection and developing sustainability indicators and systems of indicators in relation to major coastal drivers is of high priority.

Promising strategies

A need mostly stressed in potential strategies for coastal planning is the connection between policy and science and their identification in terms of spatial planning. There is also an urgency of examining space from an Integrated Coastal Zone Management perspective as well as focusing on coastal issues (impacts, land uses, environmental drivers) in relation to spatial terms (including social and economic aspects).

One of the experts’ suggestions on coastal approaches is a better harmonization of activities at a national level and compliance with EU policies, such us Water Framework Directive, especially in terms of classification and a special focus of the EU Frameworks on spatial issues that include important environmental factors. At a European level there is also a need for a common typology of the coast along with the development of recommendations for each member state.

The existence of efficient tools and their integration are also very critical for the successful implementation of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning. For instance, tools for monitoring, evaluating and visualizing the coastal status are important for foreseeing coastal evolution and participation processes and the development of administrative systems related to coastal issues could lead to a better application of strategies as well as environmental education procedures.

The issue of scale is also considered to be extremely highlighted including the need for action plans on different levels, the regionalization of Coastal Zone Management (conflicts and pressures vary at different levels as well as how people accept frameworks and policies), risk assessment on impacts and uncertainties etc.

Lastly, it is crucial to stress the importance of the production of more projects addressed to coastal and marine areas. The existence of such projects provides useful experience and guidelines for better understanding coastal ecosystems and being able to plan for them.


Concluding, it is important to acknowledge the necessity of spatial planning in coastal and marine areas since most of them are facing severe environmental problems and conflicts stemming from the coexistence between human activities and natural ecosystems. In order to create planning policies for such important environmental ecosystems as coastal areas it is essential to provide a coherent ‘mechanism’ that would integrate different perspectives all of which would have one common goal, to preserve, protect and plan for the coast. The success of this mechanism depends on its structure involving planning processes, policies, laws, tools and methodologies to support its function and create useful and applicable solutions. The construction of such mechanism is difficult but the necessity of actions taken for coastal and marine zones is increasing rapidly. This state of the art states some issues raised by coastal experts and form the basis of an action plan needed for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning issues.

Related articles

Marine Spatial Planning - the need for a common language
Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)
Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Integrated Water Resources Management
Strategic Environmental Assessment

External links

The website Maritime spatial planning of the European Commission provides links to the most recent EU-funded studies on marine spatial planning.