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Overview of Sea Marine Spatial Planning (msp)

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Sea Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a tool designed to aid analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives that have been specified through a political process. It maintains an exceptional level of marine and coastal protection whilst allowing several human activities to occur in these areas. MSP is a proactive initiative toward better planning for preservation or rehabilitation of marine ecosystems as well as establishing a framework for feasible spatial use of natural resources by human activity. This is to ensure appropriate maintenance well into the future whilst being able to balance the demands for development geographically for different interests.

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MSP has been implemented by governments globally, particularly the North Sea region. The region is bordered by multiple countries including the United Kingdom (England and Scotland including its Archipelago), France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. These countries maintain a thriving economy and it is no wonder the North Sea is a highly industrialized area with two of the largest ports situated in Rotterdam and Hamburg. Extensive shipping frequents this area and aids in trade for oil & gas, aquaculture, as well as energy (hydrocarbon and offshore wind), aggregate extraction, defense and recreation. MSP for multiple countries proves to be very complex particularly if mutual goals are not agreed upon and ownership is in dispute. Whilst it is unfortunate to see the disputes occurring in the South China seas, the North Sea maintain adequate MSP processes. Bordering countries of the North Sea have maintained a fairly symbiotic relationship, however it is important to understand the complexities involved with planning on this scale and the continuous assessment and monitoring of current integrated multi-level processes.

Being a highly industrialized area it can be assumed that the repercussions to coastal areas will be felt. For a long time the North Sea has established plans to preserve coastal and marine life with relatively harmonious process in place to benefit all. However, coastal erosion still presents a common issue between countries bordering the North Sea and necessitates the need for MSP. Coastal erosion in the Netherlands was reported to have occurred in over 134km and with large parts of the country below sea level. This has prompted the need for MSP over the past decades and has seen the construction of dunes, dams and storm-surge barriers to increase the countries flood defenses. Recent developments for the Netherlands have seen the introduction of a ‘sand-motor’ hundreds of millions of cubic feet of dredged sand, an $81 million dollar investment to reinforce protection for the coastline. Belgium’s regional authorities state that approximately a third of the coastline is inadequately protected against a storm and flooding similar to that of the 1953 disaster. With consistent greenhouse gas emissions there has been a predicted 30cm sea rise by 2050 and US$2.7 billion in damage. Harrowing images of coastal homes in Norfolk close to collapse has prompted MSP. Here, coastal erosion has seen wave activity gradually punch out supporting cliff face that had previously maintained the foundation for up to 600 homes in the region. Reports of evacuations of tenants and home owners occur as the situation deems these homes unsafe for people to live. The North Sea is home to over 201 species of fish many which fall under the IUCN’s conservation status as “Least Concern” and few species like the Angelshark deemed as “critically endangered.” There are also few species of Chondrichthyes, three species of Agnatha, a family of interesting jawless fish, and several other Osteichthyes or bony fishes. A very recent discovery of deep sea coral reefs in the North Sea presents much controversy around the possibility of regeneration of this once vastly coral abundant seabed.

It is evident that recognition of the seas as a whole has brought the North Sea neighboring countries together. Whilst they have managed to implement MSP with status 3 – 8 there are still challenges that exist. Legal and regulatory policies remain obstacles when implementing region wide MSP that bring to light issues in vertical integration when considering national laws and regulation. Statements of plans to reduce emissions to reduce pollution from Scotlands oil extraction efforts have experienced scrutiny prompting new promises since the 1990 plan for reduction. Furthermore, reports of 50% of birdlife in living across bordering countries are said to have some form of plastic in their stomachs. This suggesting better intersectional integration could be adopted. Local laws, governing systems per country, spatial claims, differing user groups and stakeholder engagement make MSP challenging as it does worldwide. Constant review and updating of cross-cutting policies along with organizations that employ multi-disciplinary professionals to consider all facets of coastal management will always be a necessity for managing this region.

With legislations in place to instigate Member States to initiate public participation stakeholders can benefit from common information bases and progressive change through common goals between nations. The MAPNOSE project recognizes the need for cross-border cooperation, in particular between Belgium and the Netherlands and has also helped create a foundation for informal networks to create policies. OSPAR is another organization to benefit this region and suggests progressive steps toward ideal coastal management planning and policy. MSP can also benefit from common information bases. Different regulatory bodies and sectors can use MSP data to make decisions including biophysical and ecological information, human use aspects, distribution of activities and planning for future activities. Ocean industries also make contributions to data and information gathering, sharing for scientists to provide a better understanding of activity in these waters. Environmentalists improving preservation of marine ecosystems is an obvious and important benefit and allocation of responsibilities between countries will see less doubling up of jobs and thus better use of resources economically.

There are several benefits to well managed MSP between countries bordering the North Sea. Access and long term sustainability through renewable energy resources with projected usage by installment of wind turbines representing 3% of EU’s total electricity consumption by 2020. The economic benefits to help sustain fisheries and oil & gas sectors. Cooperation between countries in managing these ever evolving forms of energy provide a snowball effect of benefits including increased employment thus further contributing to the economy. Tourism and recreation continue to do well in the North Sea for this region is also known for its infamous regattas held by several organizations attracting an international range of competitors that boost tourism.

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