Efficiency and sustainability in a planned maritime space

There is increasing competition for maritime space from the growth of activities such as renewable energy, aquaculture and other developing sectors; these require efficient, sustainable management to avoid potential conflicts and to allow synergies to develop between the diverse activities.

This is the main goal of the recently approved Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, which establishes the minimum requirements to draw up national plans to better coordinate the various activities that take place at sea.

In coastal and maritime areas many activities compete for the same space and resources: fishing grounds, aquaculture farms, marine protected areas, as well as maritime infrastructures such as cables, pipelines, shipping lanes and oil, gas and wind installations.

Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) is therefore an essential tool to improve understanding of the distribution of marine resources and offers investors greater certainty about potential economic development.

MSP will resolve operators’ doubts as to what, where and for how long maritime activities can take place, thus helping to drive the development of sources and networks of renewable energy, establish marine protected areas and facilitate investment in oil and gas.

As a legal instrument it will avoid existing over-legislation and administrative complexity. For example, in some countries up to nine executive agencies need to be contacted to obtain a license for an offshore aquaculture site.

As the European Commission explained, an improvement in coordination, for example, could accelerate by up to three years investments in offshore aquaculture or renewable energies, which could produce economic gains of between 60 and 600 million euros between now and 2020.

Furthermore, it is hoped that MSP will also contribute to a more efficient implementation of EU environmental legislation in marine waters and will help Member States reach good environmental status of their waters by 2020.

At the same time, the new legislation will be essential in cross-border co-operation, allowing the establishment of coherent networks of Marine Protected Areas, pipelines, wind farms, etc.

The 28 Member States must transpose the Directive into national legislation by 2016 at the latest, and nominate the Competent Authority responsible for the implementation of the MSP. They then have until 2021 to tailor the content and strategies of their national plans to the specific economic, social and environmental priorities of each State.