Skip to main content
European Commission logo


This glossary includes terms commonly used when discussing or referring to maritime spatial planning (MSP) in general or certain aspects of the MSP process. The sources of the presented definitions are included at the bottom of this page. An overview of the key documents outlining what MSP is and how the process might be initiated and managed can be found on the Library page, along with a short Introduction to MSP.

Adaptive management 
A ‘systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices toward achieving articulated goals and objectives by learning from the outcomes of previously employed policies and practices. Active adaptive management is where management options are used as a deliberate experiment for the purpose of learning’[1].

The Area 
The 'seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.... common heritage of mankind'[2]. *see images below

Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) 
The overarching international legal framework for regulating activities in ABNJ is provided in UNCLOS, where ABNJ comprise areas 'beyond the limits of national jurisdictions, including ‘High Seas’ (water column beyond Exclusive Economic Zone (or beyond the Territorial Sea if no EEZ has been declared)) + ‘Area’ (seabed beyond the limits of the continental shelf)'[2].

The 'normal baseline for measuring the breadth of the territorial sea is the low-water line along the coast as marked on large-scale charts officially recognized by the coastal State'[2]. *see images below

Blue Economy 
The ‘sum of economic activities of ocean-based industries and the assets, goods and services of marine ecosystems’[3]. Alternatively, the blue economy / ocean economy refers to the ‘sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihood and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health’[4].

Blue Energy 
All technologies to harvest the renewable energy of seas and oceans other than offshore wind, such as wave, tidal stream, tidal range, ocean thermal or salinity gradient energy[5].

Blue Growth 
The ‘long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole, recognising oceans as drivers for the European economy with great potential for innovation and growth’. Blue Growth is the European Commission’s initiative to further harness the potential of European oceans, seas and coasts for jobs, value and sustainability. There are five sectors with high potential for sustainable blue growth, including renewable energy, biotechnology, coastal and maritime tourism, aquaculture and mineral resources[6].

Competent authority 
The ‘authority or authorities competent for the implementation of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, as indicated to the European Commission by the Member State’[7].

Contigiuous zone 
A zone 'contiguous to its territorial sea, where the coastal State may exercise the control necessary to prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea; and punish infringement of the above laws and regulations committed within its territory or territorial sea. The contiguous zone may not extend beyond 24 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured'[2]. *see images below

Continental shelf 
Comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance'[2]. *see images below

Continental slope 
The 'deepening sea floor out from the shelf edge to the upper limit of the continental rise, or the point where there is a general decrease in steepness'[29]. *see images below

Ecosystem-based approach 
A ‘holistic approach with a focus on preserving/restoring marine ecosystems and maintaining ecosystem services to support human needs. It should provide spatial solutions for the management of human activities in a way that is compatible with the achievement of good environmental status (GES) and the capacity of marine ecosystems to respond to human-induced changes’[8]. Alternatively, a ‘strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way’[9].

Ecosystem services 
The ‘benefits that humans derive from ecosystem functions, either directly or indirectly[10], including provisional, regulating, cultural and supporting services’[11].

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 
A ‘process of evaluating the probable environmental impact from a proposed development, taking into account socio-economic, cultural and human health impacts, both beneficial as well as adverse’[12]. Alternatively, a ‘tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts of a development before decision-making takes place, taking into account finding ways and means to reduce adverse impacts’[13]. In Europe, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85/337/EEC) has been in force since 1985 and it aims to provide a ‘high level of protection of the environment and to contribute to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation of projects, plans and programmes with a view to reduce their environmental impact.’[14] In addition, the Espoo Convention (Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context) obliges contracting parties since 1997 to assess the environmental impact of certain activities at an early stage of planning and it also obliges contracting parties to ‘notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries.’[15]

Exclusive Economic Zone 
The ‘zone where coastal nations have jurisdiction over natural resources. ‘It is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea: it can extend to a maximum 200 nautical miles from the baselines (usually the mean low-water mark)’[16]. *see images below

Good Environmental Status (GES) 
The ‘environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive within their intrinsic conditions, and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations’[17].

High Seas 
‘All parts of the sea that are not included in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State’[18]. *see images below

Integrated coastal management (ICM) 
A ‘dynamic, multi-disciplinary and iterative process to promote sustainable management of coastal zones. It covers the full cycle of information collection, planning (in its broadest sense), decision-making, management and monitoring of implementation. ICZM uses the informed participation and co-operation of all stakeholders to assess the societal goals in a given coastal area, and to take actions towards meeting these objectives. It seeks, over the long-term, to balance environmental, economic, social, cultural and recreational objectives, all within the limits set by natural dynamics’[19]. Also often referred to as Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).

Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) 
The European Union’s coherent approach to maritime issues, with increased coordination between different policy areas, focusing on issues that do not fall under a single sector-based policy e.g. Blue Growth and issues that require the coordination of different sectors and actors e.g. marine knowledge. The objective of the IMP is to support the sustainable development of seas and oceans and to develop coordinated, coherent and transparent decision-making in relation to the Union’s sectoral policies affecting the oceans, seas, islands, coastal and outermost regions and maritime sectors, including through sea-basin strategies or macro-regional strategies, whilst achieving good environmental status as set out in Directive 2008/56/EC[20].

Macro-regional Strategy 
A macro-regional strategy is an ‘integrated framework endorsed by the European Council, which may be supported by the European Structural and Investment Funds among others, to address common challenges faced by states in a defined geographical area. In this framework they benefit from strengthened cooperation contributing to achievement of economic, social and territorial cohesion’[24].

Marine Strategy Framework Directive(MSFD) 
A European Directive that aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) of European waters by the year 2020 and to ‘protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. It contains the regulatory objective that biodiversity is maintained by 2020, as the cornerstone for achieving GES. The Directive was adopted in 2008 and it enshrines in a legislative framework the ecosystem approach to the management of human activities having an impact on the marine environment, integrating the concepts of environmental protection and sustainable use. Each Member State is required under the Directive to develop a strategy for its marine waters, to be reviewed every six years’[17].

Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) 
Tthere are various definitions of MSP, starting with the definition provided by UNESCO: ‘a public process of analysing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that are usually specified through a political process.’[21] The European Commission defines MSP as ‘a process by which the relevant Member State’s authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives’ as outlined in the MSP Directive’[7]. The IMP identifies maritime spatial planning as a ‘cross-cutting policy tool enabling public authorities and stakeholders to apply a coordinated, integrated and trans-boundary approach’[20].

Sea Basin Strategy 
A ‘structured framework of cooperation in relation to a given geographical area, developed by Union institutions, Member States, their regions and where appropriate third countries sharing a sea basin; a sea basin strategy takes into account the geographic, climatic, economic and political specificities of the sea basin’[24].

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) 
The ‘process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of Plans and Programmes and prior to their final adoption[13]. The SEA requires the environmental authorities to be consulted at the screening stage; scoping and it requires an assessment of reasonable alternatives and the Member States must monitor the significant environmental effects of the implementation of plans / programmes in order to identify unforeseen adverse effects and undertake appropriate remedial action’[26].

Territorial sea 
The ‘sovereignty of a coastal State extends, beyond its land territory and internal waters and, in the case of an archipelagic State, its archipelagic waters, to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea. This sovereignty extends to the air space over the territorial sea as well as to its bed and subsoil. Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit of not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with the Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The outer limit of the territorial sea is the line every point of which is at a distance from the nearest point of the baseline equal to the breadth of the territorial sea’[27]. *see images below

Transboundary MSP 
Engagement of multiple entities (e.g. countries, states, provinces) across one ecosystem in an MSP process. Entities may necessarily share a common border, and it can encompasses sub-national entities as well as include consideration for the high seas. Each entity has individual jurisdiction over different ocean spaces, different economic considerations, and drivers for MSP [30]

An international treaty that ‘provides a regulatory framework for the use of the world’s seas and oceans, inter alia, to ensure the conservation and equitable usage of resources and the marine environment and to ensure the protection and preservation of the living resources of the sea. It was adopted in 1982 and entered into force in 1994’[28].

more complicatd ts EEZ diagram

Source: UNCLOS

All at sea - diagram economis

Source: Economist, 25/08/2012

[1] Blue Solutions (2017) Blue Planning in Training Participant Handbook, available at:

[2] UN General Assembly (1982) Convention on the Law of the Sea, available at:

[3] OECD (2016) The Ocean Economy in 2030, available at:

[4] World Bank and United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs  (2017) The Potential of the Blue Economy: Increasing Long-term Benefits of the Sustainable Use of Marine Resources for Small Island

Developing States and Coastal Least Developed Countries, available at:…

[5] European Commission (2014) Memo Questions and Answers on an Action Plan to support the Development of Blue Energy, available at:

[6] European Commission (2014) Blue Growth Infographic, available at:

[7] Directive 2014/89/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014 establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning, Article 20. Available at:

[8] BalticSCOPE (2017) The ecosystem approach in MSP – A checklist toolbox, available at:…

[9] United Nations (1992) Convention on Biological Diversity, available at:

[10] Costanza, R., d’Arge, R., de Groot, R. S., Farber, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., Limburg, K., Naeem, S., O’Neill, R. V., Paruelo, J., Raskin, R. G., Sutton, P. and van den Belt, M. (1997), The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital, Nature, 387(6630): 253–260.

[11] Alcamo, J., Bennett, E. M., & Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (Program). (2003). Ecosystems and human well-being: A framework for assessment. Washington, DC: Island Press.

[12] United Nations (1992) Convention on Biological Diversity, available at:

[13] UNEP (2004) Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment – Towards an Integrated Approach, available at:

[14] Directive 2014/52/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 amending Directive 2011/92/EU on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment Text with EEA relevance, available at:  

[15] United Nations (2015) Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a transboundary context, available at:… 

[16] UN General Assembly (1982), Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December, available at:

[17] Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (Text with EEA relevance) Available at:

[18] UN General Assembly (1982), Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December, available at:

[19] Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on integrated coastal zone management: a strategy for Europe /* COM/2000/0547 final */ Available at:

[20] Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (2017). Integrated Maritime Policy. Retrieved from:

[21]Ehler, Charles, and Fanny Douvere (2009). Marine Spatial Planning: a step-by-step approach toward ecosystem-based management. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and Man and the Biosphere Programme. IOC Manual and Guides No. 53, ICAM Dossier No. 6. Paris: UNESCO. Available at:

[22] Directive 2014/89/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014 establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning, Article 20. Available at:

[23] Ibid.

[24] Interact Programme (2014) Handbook | What is what? Macro-regional strategy and Sea basin strategy Fields of expertise:  Macro-regional strategies, available at:…

[25] Environmental Protection Agency (2017) Strategic Environmental Assessment. Retrieved from:

[26] Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment (SEA Directive). Available at:

[27] UN General Assembly (1982), Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December, available at:

[28] Ibid. 

[29] IHO, 2008. Standardization of Undersea Feature Names: Guidelines Proposal form Terminology, 4th ed. International Hydrographic Organisation and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Monaco, p. 32

[30] Definition adapted from: European Commission Directorate-General for Regional Policy (2011). „European Territorial Cooperation: Building Bridges between People“.