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Ecosystem-based approach

Main issues

The ecosystem-based approach (and similar terms ecosystem-based management, or ecosystem approach) is highlighted as an important underlying principle within maritime spatial planning. It has its origins in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The ecosystem-based approach (EBA) has had a large impact on policies concerning the usage and management of natural resources and is also a starting point for the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

According to the EU MSP Directive, MSP shall follow the ecosystem-based approach, which means – among other requirements – that MSP shall be based on the best available scientific knowledge about the ecosystem and its dynamics (cf. HELCOM & OSPAR, 2003). In practice this transposition has a number of challenges. Practical implementation of the ecosystem-based approach as the scientific basis for MSP is in the early stages throughout the EU.

Application of the ecosystem-based approach presupposes a holistic perspective, continual development of knowledge of the seas and their usage, application of the precautionary principle, and flexible management. In all MSP contexts one of the main challenges, related to this topic, is the evaluation of cumulative effects that may result from the combination of different projects and activities and the potential lack of a continuous series of data and related assessment tool. This aspect is linked to the need for evaluation and monitoring of conflicts among uses, in order to detect how these conflicts evolve in the course of implementation of a MSP plan.

The EU MSP Platform developed a policy brief on the topic of implementing EBA in MSP. The brief provides a detailed overview of EBA in relevant EU legislation, including the relationship between the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the MSP Directive; discussion of the challenges and potential solutions for integrating EBA and MSP; and examples of existing tools for integrating the two. The policy brief can be downloaded here.

Policy Brief: Implementing the Ecosystem-Based Approach in Maritime Spatial Planning (October 2018)

The questions below provide more detailed information described in the policy brief.

The definition of the ecosystem-based approach used in the HELCOM-VASAB Guideline, as adopted jointly by HELCOM-OSPAR in 2003: "the comprehensive integrated management of human activities based on the best available scientific knowledge about the ecosystem and its dynamics, in order to identify and take action on influences which are critical to the health of marine ecosystems, thereby achieving sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and maintenance of ecosystem integrity."

Please note that this section of the EU MSP Platform website is not currently being updated with new information. However, the resources throughout our website remain relevant to our mission of sharing knowledge and experiences on MSP in the EU.

Frequently Asked Questions

Blue Corridors


This set of practical information introduces blue corridors and provides some examples and recommendations on how to work with Blue Corridors in practical marine spatial planning.

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Adriplan methodology


Methodology developed to carry out the ADRIPLAN project and proposed as reference methodology for practically implementing MSP in the Adriatic and Ionian Region (including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania).
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Adaptive Marine Policy (AMP) Toolbox


Developed to assist marine policymakers to achieve or maintain GES (Good Environmental Status) of coastal and marine ecosystems in the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins. It is aimed at policymakers...

  • Dec 2015

Approach for ecosystem-based management


ODEMM developed an approach including a series of resources that can help support decision-makers to implement operational EBM. This report documents the overall approach and individual resources developed, before reflecting...

  • Jan 2014

The MareFrame Decision Support Framework


Developing, testing and adapting a decision support framework (DSF) to provide an evidence basis for policy makers and other stakeholders about the trade-off between various management options on a multispecies basis.
  • Jan 2015

Environmental management strategy for MSP


The aim of the study to provide general guidance to planners, decision makers and stakeholders in improving the competitiveness and effectiveness of maritime planning activities existing within the national marine...

  • Jun 2019