The Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission organised a workshop on 11 September 2018 at the premises of the University of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria (Spain). Around 40 participants representing islands from across Europe and Outermost Regions jointly discussed on the basis of expert presentations, panel discussions and two interactive sessions on the topic of ‘Specific challenges for implementing MSP for islands’ and ‘Blue Growth opportunities for islands’. A full workshop report will be published in the coming weeks, based on the workshop briefing paper.
Preliminary workshop conclusions
A wide variety of speakers presented their perspectives on MSP from islands of different situations in Europe, including Shetland (Scotland), Malta, Iceland, Åland (Finland) and Greece. Panel and group sessions facilitated interaction between participants and gathered views on the challenges and opportunities in islands, and the role of MSP. Preliminary workshop conclusions include an acknowledgement that islands are highly diverse but united in their remoteness, which influences their economic, social, environmental and governance characteristics, in different ways. Ecologically, island ecosystems can be rich in biodiversity, but they are fragile, and ecosystem-based MSP is critical for balancing ecological integrity, economic development and social interests. It can focus data gathering activities and understanding of local ecological conditions, which is costly, particularly for islands with near shore deep-water areas, such as the Canary Islands and the Azores. Socially, island communities may engage well with MSP given their strong connection with the sea built up over long maritime histories, however, a mental shift is required, from one of ‘exploitation’ to one of ‘stewardship’. There can be limited human capital for MSP delivery locally, along with problems of partisanship, and any development must consider broader social challenges faced related to poverty, health, etc.
MSP for islands governance arrangements
Governance arrangements across islands vary widely, with implications of different levels of autonomy from distant national governments. Delivery of MSP by an island-based authority has many benefits, including better understanding of local issues and established trust with local stakeholders. Island-scale MSP can also be more adaptive, presenting an opportunity to learn from the testing of approaches, such as the alternative to zoning being implemented in Shetland, Scotland. However, an overarching government can develop primary legislation, provide enforcement capacity, finance economic development, etc., noted as critical for the French Overseas Territories. Integrated MSP that is clearly nested in broader governance structures can provide coherence, including opportunity to address differences between island priorities and those of associated national governments.
Islands often host small and specialised domestic economies, which are vulnerable to external market fluctuations and often reliant on external financing. However, attracting private investment is difficult since the scale of development is constrained by local demand, available space for development (offshore and onshore), human capacity for sector development and costs associated with transportation. By providing greater certainty regarding potential development, such as allocating areas for aquaculture, supportive policies and mitigating risk of conflict, MSP can encourage and direct public and private financing e.g. for financing of emergent Blue Growth sectors such as renewable energy and biotechnology.
Importance of MSP for islands
Overall, MSP is essential in implementing Blue Growth through managing conflict, promoting multi-use and balancing the context-specific socio-ecological needs of islands with economic opportunities. Locally developed MSP is particularly relevant in reflecting the ambitions, priorities and challenges of islands, and guiding investment into Blue Economy sector development. The ‘softer’ aspects of MSP were repeatedly highlighted as a valuable contribution, in providing an opportunity for dialogue among stakeholders, developing trust, collaboration and collective understanding of complex challenges. However, MSP is not ‘the solution’ since many challenges are non-spatial, beyond the remit of MSP and therefore integration with other decision-making processes needs to be clear.
While remoteness and insularity are defining features of islands which underpin their vulnerabilities and challenges, their role in ‘connectivity’ underlines their role in transboundary processes, including as ‘stop-overs’ for shipping and migratory species, as well as connecting societies through exchange of goods and people. This emphasises the need for MSP to take a broad and integrated view, and to maintain focus on the importance of islands in the ‘global’ blue economy.