Lessons Learned in Maritime Spatial Planning


These lessons learned are derived from four case studies analysed as part of the study, Cross-border cooperation in Maritime Spatial Planning. They highlight and compare the MSP practices that have been more critical to the success of each case study based on their contexts, as identified in the Case Study Summary Reports. Lessons learned cover factors related to the context, drivers, goals, design, collaboration and consultation, and results of MSP processes analysed. 

May 2017
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Cross-border cooperation
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Vision and aims
Analyse spatial aspects
Develop and implement plan
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 

Questions this practice may help answer

  • How does context influence an MSP process?
  • What should be kept in mind for collaboration and consultation in a cross-border MSP process?
  • What are fundamental elements and necessary resources for implementing a cross-border MSP plan?
  • What aspects of jurisdictional MSP can be applied to Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ)?

Implementation Context

These lessons learned were developed from an analysis of four in-depth case studies as part of the study, Cross-border cooperation in MSP. The the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP); The Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR); The Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI- CFF); and Xiamen Marine Functional Zoning (MFZ). General trends from the Global MSP Inventory were also included.

Aspects / Objectives

The lessons learned are aimed at assisting the development and implementation of MSP initiatives, particularly by EU Member States under the MSP Directive. The lessons learned cover five aspects relevant to MSP:

  • the role of context in shaping MSP process and objectives;
  • collaboration and consultation in MSP;
  • implementation of MSP;
  • resourcing MSP implementation; and
implications for MSP in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.


Case study analysis followed a standardised analytical framework applicable to each of the four case studies. MSP attributes were organised into eight categories: 1) Context; (2) Overview of the MSP process; (3) Drivers, issues and goals; (4) Scope and design of the MSP; (5) Collaboration and consultation in the MSP planning phase; (6) Features of the MSP process implementation phase; (7) Implications of the application of MSP in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), and (8) Outcomes and lessons learned. Attributes were investigated using both descriptive and assessment questions, and data was collected through a literature search and targeted interviews.

The data and findings from each case study was then analysed according to the following steps:

  • Comparison of lessons learned across the Project four case studies, based on findings presented in the four Case Study Summary Reports (see Supporting Material to this report)
  • Identification of MSP practices that have been more critical to the success of each case study based on their contexts, i.e. lessons learned, compared with common practices identified through the Global MSP Inventory
  • Review of the MSP Directive scope, objectives, requirements and suggestions to Member States
  • Extraction of MSP good practices in support of cross-border cooperation relevant to the implementation for the MSP Directive based on the requirements introduced by the Directive

See Appendix 1 of the report for a detailed description of the project methodology, and Appendix 2 for the analytical framework.

Main Outputs / Results

The following list of lessons learned is presented in Chapter 4 of the study. Each lesson is supported by relevant descriptive evidence from the case studies.

The role of context in shaping MSP process and objectives

Lesson 1: The governance context has a major influence on the nature, legitimacy and effectiveness of the governance mechanism for MSP and cross-border cooperation.

Lesson 2: Socio-economic and environmental conditions shape the drivers and goals of MSP

Lesson 3: MSP can be an instrument for ‘blue growth’ if it contributes to simplifying administration and minimising risk and uncertainty in investment

Lesson 4: The lack of shared understanding of the core principles of ecosystem-based management (EBM) poses challenges

Lesson 5: The scope of the MSP process can limit the extent to which comprehensive EBM can be applied

Lesson 6: A clear and structured process that is understood by all relevant parties facilitates engagement and accelerates the planning process

Lesson 7: Coordination across land and sea depends on the extent of authority of the marine plan over land-based activities and the coordination with existing coastal management instruments

Collaboration and consultation in MSP

Lesson 8: The governance and cultural context determine the degree to which non- governmental actors and resource users are involved in MSP

Lesson 9: Sectoral engagement bodies can keep up momentum during planning and implementation and ensure data sharing is maintained in the long-term

Lesson 10: A coordinating body or mechanism accepted across different jurisdictions facilitates commitment from relevant parties during planning and implementation

Lesson 11: Creating a sense of collective purpose and trust among authorities involved in the MSP planning process assists collaboration

Lesson 12: Addressing language barriers facilitates decision-making in multicultural contexts

Lesson 13: Information exchange can support not only the development of MSP itself but also in building trust

Lesson 14: Reciprocal capacity building can be used to strengthen MSP cooperation

Implementation of MSP

Lesson 15: A clear legal framework underpinning the plan assists in establishing the roles and responsibilities of governmental and non-governmental actors

Lesson 16: The mandate for MSP determines the scope of the process

Lesson 17: The establishment of common measures across borders may require clear incentives to relevant parties

Lesson 18: Surveillance and enforcement mechanisms in combination with targeted capacity development and incentive mechanisms can facilitate adoption of good practices by user groups

Lesson 19: A consistent, user-oriented and adequately resourced M&E system can assist in demonstrating progress, adjusting implementation and communicating results

Resourcing MSP implementation

Lesson 20: MSP implementation relies on sustainable funding

Implications for MSP in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ)

Lesson 21: Strong, context-specific decision-making rules are an essential part of tackling the compliance challenges in ABNJ

Lesson 22: Incentive mechanisms, both formal and informal, are necessary to establish consistent management measures across jurisdictions

Lesson 23: Combining traditionally sectoral approaches in a single mandate greatly facilitates ecosystem-based MSP in ABNJ


The lessons learned are aimed at assisting the development and implementation of MSP initiatives, particularly by EU Member States under the MSP Directive. They show that the practice of MSP is as much, often more, a social and political process with major economic consequences, as it is a scientific and technical challenge. This conclusion has implications for cross-border collaboration in MSP and thinking, through how best to address the priorities and challenges that lie ahead in a given marine area. As stated in the report, MSP is not a „one size fits all“ process, thus important contextual caveats should be considered when applying the lessons.


The report was prepared for the European Commission DG Mare by the following entities:

Coordinator: NIRAS

Project Partners:
 QED, SAERI, TNC, UNEP-WCMC, URI CRC, WMU, Xiamen University




Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries; 
Directorate A — Maritime Policy and Blue Economy; 
Unit A.2 — Blue Economy Sectors, Aquaculture and Maritime Spatial Planning; Contact: Valentia Mabilia
, E-mail: valentina.mabilia@ec.europa.eu, 
European Commission 
B-1049 Brussels