Scientific Research

Main issues

Along with the increasing need of sea space for maritime activities, determined by growing Blue Economy, scientific research and monitoring of the marine environment and ecosystems has grown rapidly in the last years. This is to increase knowledge on ocean state, trends and functioning, and also to support knowledge on marine resources availability, both biotic and abiotic and increase understanding of the impacts of human activities. Space at sea is also needed for field testing of new technologies in fields like e.g. renewable energies, aquaculture. Such research can be very space consuming.

MSP needs to accommodate the spatial needs for scientific research and monitoring, minimizing interferences with other maritime activities.

Key issue is distinction between research requiring permanent or long-term occupation of sea space, such as installation of research platforms or areas for testing new technologies and the research that can be done without reserving space, such as monitoring campaigns, surveys, scientific trawling. Research requiring permanent sea occupation needs deep concern from MSP but also the second type has to be considered when planning marine space, since access to monitoring areas should be allowed without conflicting with other activities taking place in the same area.

Provisions from UNCLOS are available for marine research[1]. Research is a freedom in the high seas (Art. 87), and all states may conduct scientific activities there (included land-locked states), but exclusively for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of mankind as a whole. Instead, within its territorial sea, a coastal state has the exclusive right to authorise, impose terms on, or refuse research activities (Art. 245). Coastal states have also the right to regulate, authorise and conduct marine scientific research in their EEZ and on their continental shelf (Art. 246). They will normally be expected to grant consent to other states and competent international organisations to conduct MSR, unless a limited range of exceptions apply, such as where research would be of direct significance to exploration for or exploitation of natural resources.

[1] Daniel T. 2006. Marine Scientific Research under UNCLOS: a Vital Global Resource? Internation Hydrographical Review 7 (2): 6-17.

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

Research and monitoring activities (in situ observing systems) can consist of surface moorings measuring a wide variety of sub-surface variables including temperature, salinity, and currents over long periods of time (e.g. Mongoos network in the Mediterranean, NOOS in the North Sea). Offshore installations equipped for oceanographic multidisciplinary research should also be considered (e.g. FINO1 in Germany, Piattaforma Acqua Alta in Italy). Long-Term Ecosystem Research (LTER) areas are another example of scientific research demanding space at sea. Through research and monitoring, LTER seeks to improve knowledge of the structure and functions of ecosystems and their long-term response to environmental, societal and economic drivers."Traditional" LTER-Sites are relatively small (about 1-10 km²), comprising mainly one habitat type and one form of use. At present about 30 marine LTER sites are established across European seas, including habitats such as Polar Seas, Coastal lagoons & River deltas, Coastal wetlands, Estuaries, Temperate shelf and sea. Examples of sites are: Scheldt estuary (BE), Black Sea (BU), Western Gulf of Finland (FI), German Bight (DE), Northern Adriatic Sea, Gulf of Naples, Marine ecosystems of Sardinia (IT), Ria de Aveiro (ES), Dutch Wadden Sea (NL).

Ensuring long term durability is the key concept underpinning all these type of research activities. Spatial needs of scientific research and monitoring at sea should therefore be taken into account in maritime spatial plans, considering the areas where they are carried out and avoiding conflicts with other maritime activities.

Areas at sea are also needed, permanently or on the long term, to test new technologies, including floating wind turbines (e.g. in France-Britain), wave energy generators (e.g. Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site, Ireland-County Mayo), aquaculture plants testing new technologies (e.g. SINTEF Aquaculture Engineering, Norway-Trondheim; AZTI Offshore marine aquaculture experimentation area, Spain-Basque coast).

The European Marine Energy Centre EMEC established since 2003 in Orkney (Scotland, UK) provides developers of wave and tidal energy converters with a base for testing, benefiting from an oceanic wave regime, strong tidal currents, grid connection and sheltered harbour facilities. The site represents a combination of research activities and environmental monitoring. EMEC and individual developers testing at the sites collect data for the purpose of environmental monitoring/baseline characterisation, or as a requirement of Marine Licence conditions.  EMEC runs also a Wildlife Observation Programme Data to provide information about marine species presence and behaviour at each testing site..

Scientific research and monitoring have been considered as possible co-uses with offshore platforms dedicated to O&G extraction or wind energy production. For example, collaborating closely with key players in the oil and gas industry, the SERPENT project has arranged regular visits for scientists to offshore oil and gas installations for oceanographic data collection and scientific production. Scientific research and monitoring are also recommended by the Ocean Multi-Use Action Plan developed by the MUSES project as one of the possible uses of the platforms being decommissioned especially in the North Sea and Adriatic Sea).

Strategic maritime sectors and their spatial requirements at national level are normally included in maritime spatial plans. This can include scientific research activities. Marine research, survey and educational activities are indicated among the sectors considered by the Portuguese National Ocean Strategy 2013-2020. Research actions are identified, aimed to study the ocean and the processes that occur therein. Technologically based initiatives for monitoring of the marine environment or that lead to an improvement of the conditions of the different productivity sectors within a framework of sustainable economic exploitation are also encompassed. The Maritime Spatial Plan for the Territorial Sea of Mecklenburg - Vorpommern also considers the identification of locations for education, culture and research. In the Polish Maritime Spatial plan, only maritime research requiring permanent occupation (closure to other sea uses) of the sea space is regulated. In principle, research is possible almost everywhere with exception of sea areas with a priority navigation function. In coastal zones, research is restricted to forms that do not negatively influence coastal dynamics.

Monitoring the marine environment according to the requirements of MSFD is a key task for MSs and dedicated monitoring programs have been established in the EU countries. These programs rely on networks of fixed and periodically sampled monitoring stations and surveys. These monitoring activities require their own space, and conflicts with other maritime activities should be prevented by considering their needs in the MSP process. Coordination of MSFD monitoring activities at regional sea level and development of a common monitoring strategy can substantially contribute to this aim and also provide support to MSP.

In this regard, HELCOM has developed a joint Monitoring and Assessment Strategy,  based on agreed visions, goals and ecological objectives, and jointly developed quantitative targets and associated indicators through the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. The key principles behind the strategy are: i) National monitoring programmes use the principles of the Joint Monitoring System to achieve a high degree of coordination, cooperation, sharing and harmonization; ii) the Joint Monitoring System feeds a Data Pool that is the basis for the Assessment System; iii) this system produces assessments of the health of the Baltic Sea that can be used by HELCOM countries as well as EU, observers, stakeholders, etc.

Decision-making tools for integrated environmental monitoring for the MSFD, to support management of human activities and their effects in EU marine waters are available from the results of the IRIS-SES project. DeCyDe-4-IRIS tools; these consist of a GIS planning tool and a decision-making tool. The latter was developed to support the decision on the parameters to be monitored, the methods and the infrastructure needed for each MFSD descriptor.

Maritime Spatial Plan for the Territorial Sea of Mecklenburg - Vorpommern

The Spatial Development Plan foresees sustainable spatial development for nature conservation, offshore wind farms, resource extractin, cables and tourism. In 2016, more uses like shipping, ports, fisheries and coastal protection were added.


The aim is to develop decision-making tools for integrated environmental monitoring for the MSFD to support management of human activities and their effects in EU marine waters and scope the potential for joint programs (within and between Member States). Tools include GIS planning and decision-making tools. Objectives include the development of information layers and ultimately to create a unified platform for Western, Eastern Mediterranean and Black Seas.

National Ocean Strategy 2013-2020

An action plan aiming at the economic, social and environmental valorisation of the national maritime space through the implementation of sectoral and cross-sectoral projects.

Monitoring and Assessment Strategy

The Strategy is a common plan to monitor and assess the health of the Baltic Sea in a coordinated and cost-efficient way between all HELCOM Contracting Parties.