Maritime Spatial Planning - sustainable use safeguards the future of the marine environment

According to the European Commission's Blue Growth Strategy, the seas and oceans are important engines for the European economy. They also have considerable potential for innovation and growth.

4x5 aspect ratio

Pekka Salminen

The author worked as Maritime Spatial Planning Coordinator at Southwest Finland Association

Blue growth is expected to improve the EU's international competitiveness, increase resource efficiency, and contribute to the creation of jobs and new growth factors.

Despite its growth goals, the strategy also emphasises growth sustainability. Its purpose is to protect the marine environment and to ensure the continuity of services provided by healthy and vibrant marine and coastal ecosystems.

However, it is up to each state and sea region how such growth sustainability is considered.

The Blue Growth Strategy focuses specifically on certain sectors

The purpose of maritime spatial planning (MSP) is to reconcile the various uses of the sea and to prevent conflicts. MSP also aims to bring the long-term development of maritime activities in a sustainable way. This includes considering the combined effects of different human activities.

With the Blue Growth Strategy, various measures, such as aquaculture, coastal tourism, blue marine biotechnology, marine energy, and the development of seabed mining, will be specifically targeted.

In Finland’s case, as things currently stand, marine energy means offshore wind power. The development of mining, in turn, involves the use of underwater gravel resources, while aquaculture means the farming of rainbow trout.

These industries can also exert intense pressure on the marine environment. The construction of offshore wind power can mean increasing noise, as well as destroying habitats in the building area, either temporarily or permanently. On the other hand, the foundation structures of offshore wind farms can also serve as artificial reefs, thereby creating new habitats.

Even the extraction of underwater gravel threatens the underwater extensions of esker islands, as well as submerged sandbanks, both of which are mentioned in the European Union Habitats Directive.

Increasing tourism and boating may, in turn, increase the disturbance levels in archipelago habitats. Construction activities on islands and beaches can also increase dredging and sediment deposition.

Further, rainbow trout farming increases the nutrient load, albeit locally. However, these disadvantages can be reduced if the fish cages are located in areas with good water circulation, and the so-called “Baltic Sea” feed is used to feed the fish. This purified fish meal is made from Baltic Sea herring. It removes phosphorus from the Baltic Sea, recycles nutrients, and significantly reduces the nitrogen load of fish farming.

Underwater part of an esker island.

Maritime spatial planning should consider the needs of many different actors

Maritime spatial planning should especially consider the potential of offshore wind power, maritime transport, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, and recreational activities. MSP also includes the identification of possibilities to protect, conserve, and enhance both the environment and nature.

For Finland, shipping lanes and shipping links are very important, as most exports and imports are by sea.

The needs of national defence and the maritime cultural heritage are also considered in MSP.

Protecting the seas requires a great deal of research data

Many offshore activities cause harm and stress. This is considered in the framework of current legislation in the area of location guidance, maritime spatial planning, as well as the environmental impact assessment and permit-granting processes of individual projects.

In the future, the ecosystem-based arrangement and zoning of maritime activities may be an increasingly important means of reducing damage to the marine environment.

However, this requires a considerable amount of data about the location and sensitivity of the species and their habitats, while also considering important natural assets.

In this regard, Finland has exceptionally good possibilities relative to the rest of Europe, particularly now that the data collected under the Underwater Biodiversity Inventory Programme (VELMU) covers the entire Finnish marine area. Such data provides an excellent basis for using an ecosystem-based approach, which is compliant with maritime spatial planning.