Synthesis Report on the Ecosystem Approach to Maritime Spatial Planning


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The report integrates the concepts of the ecosystem approach and Maritime Spatial Planning, as well as the relationship between them with a focus on the Baltic Sea context. The report incorporates information from the scientific literature, selected reports and pertinent guidance documents. It aims to analyse the consistency between the identified perspectives and recommendations and the manner in which the ecosystem approach is characterised and operationalised in the HELCOM-VASAB Guideline for the implementation of ecosystem-based approach in Maritime Spatial Planning in the Baltic Sea. 

Sea Basin(s): 
Application in MSP: 
Taken into account in an MSP process
Nature protection
Type of Issue: 
Ecosystem-based approach
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Vision and aims
Analyse spatial aspects
Develop and implement plan
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer: 

  • How to implement an ecosystem-based approach in the MSP process? 

Implementation Context: 

The synthesis is developed in the context of the Pan Baltic Scope project. 

Aspects / Objectives: 

The activity is anticipated to contribute to the coherent implementation of the ecosystem-based approach (EBA) in the national MSP process in the Baltic Sea Region. The aim is to share experience regarding the practical implementation of EBA in partner countries (including implementation of the SEA-framework), and to test the HELCOM-VASAB Guideline and the tools for the implementation of EBA in MSP. 


The first part of the search was conducted using the key words related to the ecosystem approach and maritime spatial planning. Relevant documentation was selected and retrieved materials were analysed. The main criterion for including the sources in the synthesis was their relevance to the application of the ecosystem approach in the MSP, but not exclusively in the Baltic Sea context. The aim of this selection was to collect a sample sufficiently large and representative. Once the first conclusions and recommendations were produced, the results were compared to the content of the HELCOM-VASAB Guideline. 

Main Outputs / Results: 

The first part of the synthesis presents the review of scientific literature, relevant reports and guidance document. This is followed by the presentation of the HELCOM-VASAB Guideline for implementation of the ecosystem-based approach in the MSP and the Malawi principles for the Ecosystem Approach. In the last part of the synthesis, the Guideline and Malawi principles are compared with the study, resulting in conclusions and recommendations formulated for the improvement of the Guideline.  

Detailed recommendations and criticism were made concerning:  

  • Best available knowledge and practice
  • Precaution (i.e. more reflective and systematic handling of uncertainty)
  • Alternative development 
  • Identification of ecosystem services 
  • Mitigation of negative environmental effects 
  • Relational understanding
  • More guidance on participation and communication  
  • Subsidiarity and coherence
  • Adaptation to changes 

While the Guideline is well aligned with the Malawi principles, it provides limited help to users interested in the ecosystem-based approach for the MSP. 


The study was conducted for the Baltic Sea, but the information and applied research methodology could be useful for other regions.

Responsible Entity: 

Pan Baltic Scope Project 

Funding Source: 

This synthesis report was developed within the framework of the Pan Baltic Scope project which is funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).