At the event, the EU Joint Communication on International Ocean Governance (JOIN (2016) 49 final) emphasised the potential of oceans for boosting growth, jobs and innovation, the ocean’s key role in regulating the climate system, threats from over-exploitation, climate change, acidification, pollution and declining biodiversity and the need for accurate and timely information on the state of marine resources and ecosystems.  Detailed exchanges between participants attending the Forum were informed by a range of international cross-border perspectives. The so-called NIRAS study on Cross-border cooperation in MSP (EASME, 2017) provided a useful benchmark for the Forum. The Forum concluded that good practices should:

  • Invest in a deep understanding of the existing governance system;
  • Invest in building trust and a common sense of purpose;
  • Adopt an issue driven approach to MSP and a long-term perspective;
  • Manage expectations for stakeholder involvement;
  • Design a monitoring and evaluation system that analyses programme performance, progress and learning.

The Forum also discussed MSP in the context of large transboundary Marine Ecosystems. The issues raised in the forum resonate both with several cross-border ATLAS case studies as well as the project as a whole, which is an example of a transboundary initiative in a sea basin that has MSP systems at different stages of development. ATLAS does not have the mandate to produce a sea basin MSP, but it is viewing Blue Growth opportunities in the context of a changing ocean. In particular, two working groups of the ATLAS project, dealing with marine spatial planning and policy integration, have been considering how such activities should be undertaken in a manner that is efficient, safe and sustainable and which informs ocean governance.

Currently, one of the biggest challenges in ocean governance is the variation between MSP systems and regulations between different jurisdictions. For example, despite work on planning processes in five large ocean management areas for a decade (pre 2010), Canada currently does not have a formal marine spatial plan, although many of the building blocks, such as a comprehensive portfolio of national Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas, are well-established. Canada is committed to re-engage with MSP as a tool and is working to ensure this fully recognises the role and rights of indigenous people. The United States, on the other hand, has a Federal National Ocean Act 2010. Some States, such as Rhode Island with its Ocean Special Area Management Plan, are leading examples of MSP practice.

MSP systems also vary between European countries. For European Member States, Directive 2014/89/EU requires maritime spatial plans in place by 2021 and Article 11 mandates transboundary cooperation. Iceland’s National Planning Agency (Skipulagsstofnun) generates a National Planning Strategy, a strategy document not a marine spatial plan, but one that provides a context for MSP. No MSP is yet in place in Greenland, however, as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland has a partnership agreement with the EU that recognizes the value of MSP (Schutz, 2018). Norway is undertaking a third iteration of her set of Integrated Management Plans, but these are policy documents that set the framework for sector-based spatial planning processes rather than MSP. Area-Based Planning Tools are firmly on the agenda of the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference for negotiations on a legally binding implementing agreement to UNCLOS for biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction but currently there is no MSP for these areas.


Ocean planning in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction will be key topics at the upcoming First Session of the Intergovernmental BBJN Conference on this month (September 2018) at the UN Headquarters in New York. ATLAS will consider these different MSP systems and the varying timelines along which they are evolving when considering a strategic environmental vision for the North Atlantic sea basin.

To learn more about the Joint IOC-UNESCO – EC DG-MARE International Forum for Marine/Maritime Spatial Planning, please see:

By: Prof David Johnson, ATLAS partner, Seascape Consultants Ltd., UK


EASME (2017) Cross-border Cooperation in Maritime Spatial Planning: Final report. DOI: 10.2826/28939. Service contract: EASME/ECFF/2014/1.3.1/S12.717-82

Schutz, S.E. (2018) Marine Spatial Planning – Prospects for the Arctic. Arctic Review on Law and Politics (1.2.18) DOI: 10.23865/arctic.v9.899




Cross-border region: two or more countries share a border

Transboundary region:  multi-actors share borders and share borders with international water areas (outside exclusive economic zones)