Marine Spatial Planning

Marine spatial planning (MSP) is a practical way to create and establish a more rational organization of the use of marine space and the interactions between its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect marine ecosystems, and to achieve social and economic objectives in an open and planned way. MSP is a process that identifies when and where human activities can occur in marine spaces, however other measures are needed for managing the performance of human activities and the ecological aspects of the marine environment. MSP is an important tool to achieve ecosystem-based management, focused on marine, spatial, and planning aspects to meet multiple management objectives.

In the Atlantic Region

Marine spatial planning was conducted in the Gully, a large submarine canyon in the Western North Atlantic and a marine protected area under the Oceans Act since May of 2004. With a long history of conservation efforts the Gully MPA was created by DFO in support of integrated management, providing additional legal protection for important marine species and habitats. The management of the Gully MPA involves a number of activities and a range of interests including petroleum activity, scientific research, and vessel traffic. The Gully MPA Regulations designates the Gully as an MPA and outlines all management activities.Regulations prohibit the disturbance, damage, or removal of any living thing or habitat within the Gully. The management zones established in the Gully MPA are zone 1, zone 2, and zone 3 and correspond to varying levels of management based on conservation objectives and ecological vulnerabilities. The Gully Marine Protected Area Management Plan is available in pdf format from DFO.

MSP is about analyzing and allocating parts of three-dimensional marine spaces to specific uses, to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that are usually specified through the political process. MSP does not lead to a one-time plan, it is a process that learns and adapts over time. To be effective, MSP needs to be conducted as a continuous, iterative, and adaptive process and consists of at least three ongoing phases: planning and analysis; implementation; and monitoring and evaluation.

Framework for Guidance

Comprehensive MSP provides an integrated framework for management that provides a guide for, but does not replace, single-sector planning. MSP aims toprovide guidance for a range of sectors, activities or concerns so that they will have the means to make decisions confidently in a more comprehensive, integrated, and complimentary way. For example, MSP can provide important contextual information for marine protected area management or for fisheries management, but does not intend to replace them. When developed properly, marine spatial planning can have significant economic, social, and environmental benefits. As stated in the report Marine Spatial Planning in the Context of the Convention on Biological Diversity “Marine Spatial Planning has the potential to transform the way the oceans are managed”.


With growing interest in ocean resources and rising public concern about the ocean environment there is global recognition of a need for modern land management systems to enable governance over offshore areas. A marine cadastre, position and physical extent of rights in a property rights system, could be a core element to enable such governance.

Additional Resources

COINAtlantic and MSP

Two ACZISC meeting presentations focus on marine cadastres. “Introduction to 3CM & Marine Cadastre” highlights the components of a marine cadastre system in Canadian context and “Canada’s Arctic Spatial Data Infrastructure & Marine Cadastre” focuses on the need for marine cadastres in the Canadian Arctic and the associated challenges. The NOAA Coastal Service Center and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have partnered with government agencies, NGO’s and regional entities, and regional planning bodies to create, a data viewer for information on ocean planning in the United States.

Collaborative Planning

Marine spatial planning is aided by tools such as Sea Sketch, an interactive mapping tool supporting collaborative planning for oceans and a platform for collaborative ocean Geodesign. Sea Sketch is a GIS platform designed for marine spatial planners and ocean resource managers who need to work with partner agencies and stakeholders to make decisions about oceans resources. Users can generate hundreds to thousands of alternative proposals representing a range of perspectives and interests. Analytical feedback is provided for the proposals, as well as engagement of stakeholders for collaboration and discussions. Sea Sketch puts powerful tools in the hands of stakeholders that were once limited to GIS professionals.

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