The race for the Baltic Sea has begun – maritime spatial planning reconciles different interests

The poor state of the marine environment has become a global concern. At the same time, the pressure for more efficient economic exploitation of marine areas has increased. This is reflected, for example, in the European Union's Blue Growth Strategy.

4x5 aspect ratio

Pekka Salminen and Heidi Lusenius

Salminen worked earlier as Maritime Spatial Planning Coordinator and Lusenius works as Project Coordinator at Southwest Finland Association

Blue growth refers to marine-related business activities. However, the rapid creation of blue growth would require the state to set clearer and more ambitious goals. In addition, any barriers to growth should be dismantled.

Offshore wind power could produce clean energy even for export

Technological developments are creating new opportunities for exploiting the seas. The question is, what new opportunities and opportunities can we seize?

We are used to using the sea in many different ways. However, new uses can easily raise doubts. Ultimately, their exploitation could be inevitable.

If we truly want to meet the challenge of climate change, offshore wind power provides a clean and safe domestic solution. It will allow the production of energy on a large scale and in a cost-effective manner.

Of the Baltic Sea states, Finland has by far the largest offshore wind potential. It could even become an export product if barriers to investment can be removed.

Baltic herring is worth eating

Although locally-produced food is often talked about, herring is not eaten in Finland. Instead, farmed salmon from Norway sells better. The current account deficit in Finnish fisheries is already around EUR 350 million.

The replacement of imported farmed fish with domestic farmed fish could be realised in a very small sea area.

But where and how could production be carried out without contradicting the aims of protecting the marine environment? The national aquaculture location control plan indicates that the most suitable areas are located in the Bothnian Sea.

Exploiting the potential of the sea raises questions

A recent headline from the Finnish science magazine Tiede stated that "Blue gold will be lifted from the sea". The idea of mines in one’s back yard evokes intense emotions in everyone. However, this throws up the idea: what if the mines of the future were located on the seafloor?

However, there are many unanswered questions about such new ideas. Where is the limit for sustainable exploitation? To what extent do the pressures and other impacts of land-based activities reduce the opportunities for maritime industries? Who has the right to use and overload aquatic systems?

Such questions arise due to the interaction between land and sea. Maritime spatial planning (MSP) seeks to find answers to these questions.

Blue growth is guaranteed by sustainable and long-term planning

Maritime spatial planning looks to the future and opens up the debate on the future needs and synergies between the different uses. MSP is a tool. With its help, both good marine status and blue growth are promoted by integrating the needs of the different uses of the sea.

The world has already seen how the offshore wind farm acts as a tourist attraction and a place for locating aquaculture. On this basis, one can only consider what other forms of cooperation could be found in the Baltic Sea.

Maritime spatial planning involves a long-term, transboundary, strategic, and guided plan. Thus, as with any plan, entries marked on the project map are not legally binding.

The design process itself is central to maritime spatial planning. At the heart of the design process itself, new openings emerge through research and dialogue.

Finnish maritime spatial planning is drafted both locally and internationally

The forms of marine use to be addressed in Finnish maritime spatial planning have been outlined in the Land Use and Building Act. Use of the sea includes energy production, maritime transport, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, and recreational activities. Also, marine uses include the preservation, protection, and improvement of the environment and nature. 

Moreover, cultural heritage, the mining sector, blue biotechnology, as well as the maritime industry have been identified as essential planning themes.

The practical phase of national maritime spatial planning started in April 2018. In Finland, eight coastal provinces have jointly drafted three MSPs, of which the provinces of Southwest Finland and Satakunta have jointly drawn up their plans.

Further, the Åland Islands are preparing their marine spatial plans. Along with Finnish territorial waters, these also cover the exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

In Autumn 2018, blue economy profiles were prepared for the planning areas. At the beginning of 2019, together with the stakeholders, work began on a future scenario for MSP, which involves all blue growth sectors.

Maritime spatial plans for all European Union coastal Member States should be ready by March 2021.

The race for the Baltic Sea has begun.