Skip to main content
European Commission logo

AquaSpace tool to support MSP


The AquaSpace tool was developed within the EU Horizon 2020 project AquaSpace in order to achieve an effective implementation of MSP for aquaculture by adopting an Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture (EAA). The GIS-AddIn allows users to spatially represent and compare risks and opportunities of aquaculture development over a number of potential sites. The overall effect of alternative planned solutions of aquaculture is assessed through a set of 30 specific indicators grouped in four categories (inter-sectorial, environmental, economic and social indicators). Tool outputs are pdf-format reports including general site information, results from all indicators and graphs, allowing comparison among scenarios. As there is no limitation of the quantity of scenarios one can assess, the tool produces a csv file, facilitating the comparison of multiple indicators values, planning trade-off discussions as well as communication of opportunities and risks. The overall process supports stakeholders in taking informed and evidence-based decisions on proposed aquaculture solutions.

Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the opportunities and risks of a proposed marine aquaculture site in a multi-use context?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of different aquaculture site locations?
  • How can opportunities and risks of a proposed aquaculture site be spatially represented?
  • What are the inter-sectorial, environmental, economic and socio-cultural effects of a planned marine aquaculture activity and how can they be assessed?

Implementation Context

AquaSpace tool was developed within the EU Horizon 2020 project AquaSpace. The project aims to provide increased space of high water quality for aquaculture by adopting an Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture (EAA) to support Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and to deliver food security and increased employment opportunities through economic growth with a long-term view.

AquaSpace tool applies to the marine environment, enabling users to assess marine site locations planned for aquaculture in terms of biological, ecological, economic, physical and social aspects. AquaSpace tool comes with an EU-wide data package, provided as file GDB (Arc GIS 10.3).

Aspects / Objectives

In order to achieve an effective implementation of MSP for aquaculture, studies within AquaSpace project revealed a need for tools allowing:

  • the implementation of an ecosystem approach incorporating the functionality required to support EAA and explicitly considering economic and market issues;
  • the implementation of a spatially explicit Geographic Information System (GIS)-based multi-use context, addressing the functionality for cumulative risk assessments and conflict analysis;
  • the intuitive design of the interface, which is meant to be end-user driven, allowing industry and policy-makers to make more informed, evidence-based, decisions.

AquaSpace tool allows users to compare risks and opportunities of aquaculture development over a number of potential sites. It includes functions that enable users to assess the spatially explicit performance (under different aquaculture planning scenarios) of inter-sectorial, economic and socio-cultural indicators.

The AquaSpace tool is designed to allow for a spatial representation of opportunities and risks of a proposed aquaculture activity at a specific marine location, in a multi-use context. Opportunities relate to possible socio-economic or environmental benefits of the new planned activity or to synergy potential with other uses. Risks relate to possible spatial use conflicts with other existing activities and to an additional pressure contribution with possible cumulative effects on vulnerable components of the environment.


AquaSpace tool was developed as a GIS Add-in under Arc GIS 10.3 and combines the GIS model builder and python scripts.

Inter-sectorial, environmental, economic and social effects of aquaculture development in a marine area are assessed through a set of indicators, grouped in four categories, as follows:

  • Inter-sectorial effects (synergies or conflicts with other activities, opportunity for Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture IMTA, risk of disease spread);
  • Environmental effects (aquaculture suitability, water quality, water depth, wave height exposure of the site, physical and chemical characteristics of the site, cumulative pressure, habitat vulnerability);
  • Economic effects (performance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact);
  • Socio-cultural effects (visual impact, distance from cultural heritage and tourism sites).

As for the inter-sectorial effects, the information of constraining, conflicting or synergistic human uses is delivered by users through the compilation of an interaction matrix to define spatial constraints (score =6), conflicts (score from 2 to 5) and opportunities (spatial synergy potential due to co-location, score = 1). Conflict scores can be defined on expert judgement or derived from literature. Other inter-sectorial effects of aquaculture options are directly provided by the tool, indicating suitable areas for developing IMTA, in order to suggest sustainable development of aquaculture and calculating the potential for disease spread, based on literature patterns of risk decline from an infection source.

Information about environmental effects is mostly depending on data already incorporated in the AquaSpace tool. Data providing information about the suitability of a site is extracted from the WATER tool (Where Can Aquaculture Thrive in Europe), which specifies the performance of key species as a function of environmental data. Furthermore, AquaSpace tool accounts for cumulative pressures affecting the integrity of marine habitat and for cumulative effects on vulnerable habitats. The cumulative pressure indicator is calculated as the sum of pressure categories found at each aquaculture site tested. To this aim all human activities occurring on a large scale in European waters are categorised into 8 generic pressure categories (abrasion, alteration, contamination, enrichment, extraction, obstruction, siltation and smothering). Essential and highly sensitive benthic habitats were scored according to their vulnerability to aquaculture aiming to inform about the environmental effects.

Economic effects are provided to get a general economic view of the aquaculture activity according to the future productivity and market expectations. Direct economic assessment comprises a quantitative assessment to evaluate the direct economic performance of an aquaculture activity, and a qualitative (i.e. rating) assessment of its effectiveness and its efficiency. Indirect or induced assessment comprises an estimation of the impact (i.e. economy-wide effects) on other sectors (related to aquaculture) after introducing a production change related to the new planned aquaculture sites.

Socio-economic effects are finally assessed through an indicator of visual impact (merging a population density layer with a distance buffer) and distance-based indicators reflecting the magnitude of aquaculture impact on cultural-heritage sites and touristic sites.

Source: Gimpel, A., Stelzenmüller, V., Töpsch, S., Galparsoro, I., Gubbins, M., Miller, D., Murillas, A., Murray, A.G., Pinarbasi, K., Roca, G., and Watret, R. A GIS-based tool for an integrated assessment of spatial planning trade-offs with aquaculture. Science of the Total Environment (2018). DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.01.133

The image above shows the AquaSpace tool end-user driven interface and an interactive menu. Shown are the AquaSpace tool mxd, including the table of contents (left), the AquaSpace toolbar (top) and the Arc GIS catalogue window (right), the location of the AquaSpace tool geodatabase. The AquaSpace toolbar (highlighted in blue, top) is simplifying the selection of the extent (Country), the harbour from which the aquaculture site will be supplied (Port), the aquaculture species to be assessed (Species), the background layer which shall be highlighted in the result map (Map Layer), the manually defined extent if the user wants to “zoom in” (blue button), the siting tool (Site Location) and the Interaction matrix tool (purple button) (from left to right). The AquaSpace siting tool (highlighted at the bottom right) is available from the AquaSpace toolbar and facilitates the site selection. Further, a zoomed visualisation of a case study area is presented (‘German Bight of the North Sea’). Indicated are selected suitability maps for European seabass (color-coded in purple).

The whole process of each run starts with the user inputs which define the study area (country), the port from which aquaculture business should be transacted, the cultured species, the corresponding culture system, the compilation of constraining, conflicting or synergistic human uses and the aquaculture locations to be tested. Consequently, the AquaSpace tool estimates all opportunities and risks based on inter-sectorial, environmental, economic and socio-cultural indicators.

Tool outputs (i.e. AquaSpace tool Assessment Reports) are provided in pdf- and csv-format, whose design offer a clear summary of all tool runs (i.e. scenarios) and the respective indicator values. 

AquaSpace tool conceptual overview. Source: AquaSpace Deliverable 3.3, "AquaSpace tool to support MSP"

Main Outputs / Results

Tool outputs comprise detailed reports and graphical outputs (maps and charts) provided in pdf format and a csv file. Those include the general site information (site characteristics, management information and aquaculture specific information, forming the first part of the report) and information about the inter-sectoral, environmental, economic and socio-cultural indicators (forming the second part of the report).

Report charts can compare selected indicators among different planned aquaculture sites while report maps can be designed individually: The background layer can be selected from a range of indicators, which are visualised in terms of their current status (e.g. current state of cumulative pressure; see figure below). The report design, complemented with such graphical elements, facilitates planning trade-off discussions as well as communication of opportunities and risks. The overall process supports stakeholders in taking informed and evidence-based decisions on proposed aquaculture solutions.

Examples of Aquaspace tool outputs: extract of the AquaSpace Assessment Report (top) and cumulative pressure map for different scenarios (15 to 30) for blue mussel aquaculture (bottom). Source: AquaSpace Deliverable 3.3 "AquaSpace tool to support MSP


AquaSpace tool comes with a GIS geodatabase (GDB) which integrates several datasets at the European Scale. The tool can be customised to properly adapt to some site specific features, adding for example individual fishery classifications, specific tourism polygons, individual suitability layers or changing default values for economic input parameters.

The tool can bring together spatial outputs from models which can produce a data format compatible to ArcGIS. Hence, the tool structure facilitates the integration of spatial layers generated by other models and tools.

The AquaSpace tool has been developed in the GIS environment to be linked with open Geospatial Consortium Web Feature Service Interface Standard (WFS) that provides an interface allowing requests for geographical features across the web using platform-independent calls.

Contact Person

For the tool development:

Antje Gimpel

Thünen-Institute of Sea Fisheries (Germany)

E-mail: (antje[dot]gimpel[at]thuenen[dot]de)


For AquaSpace Project

Paul Tett

AquaSpace coordinator

Scottish Association for Marine Science

E-mail: (paul[dot]tett[at]sams[dot]ac[dot]uk)


Responsible Entity

Thünen-Institute of Sea Fisheries


Costs / Funding Source

The tool was developed within the Horizon 2020 AquaSpace Project