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Bright spots as climate-smart marine spatial planning tools for conservation and blue growth

Global Change Biology


Marine spatial planning that addresses ocean climate-driven change (‘climate-smart MSP’ is a global aspiration to support economic growth, food security and ecosystem sustainability. Ocean climate change (‘CC’) modelling may become a key decision-support tool for MSP, but traditional modelling analysis and communication challenges prevent their broad uptake. We employed MSP-specific ocean climate modelling analyses to inform a real-life MSP process; addressing how nature conservation and fisheries could be adapted to CC. We found that the currently planned distribution of these activities may become unsustainable during the policy's implementation due to CC, leading to a shortfall in its sustainability and blue growth targets. Significant, climate-driven ecosystem-level shifts in ocean components underpinning designated sites and fishing activity were estimated, reflecting different magnitudes of shifts in benthic versus pelagic, and inshore versus offshore habitats. Supporting adaptation, we then identified: CC refugia (areas where the ecosystem remains within the boundaries of its present state); CC hotspots (where climate drives the ecosystem towards a new state, inconsistent with each sectors’ present use distribution); and for the first time, identified bright spots (areas where oceanographic processes drive range expansion opportunities that may support sustainable growth in the medium term). We thus create the means to: identify where sector-relevant ecosystem change is attributable to CC; incorporate resilient delivery of conservation and sustainable ecosystem management aims into MSP; and to harness opportunities for blue growth where they exist. Capturing CC bright spots alongside refugia within protected areas may present important opportunities to meet sustainability targets while helping support the fishing sector in a changing climate. By capitalizing on the natural distribution of climate resilience within ocean ecosystems, such climate-adaptive spatial management strategies could be seen as nature-based solutions to limit the impact of CC on ocean ecosystems and dependent blue economy sectors, paving the way for climate-smart MSP.

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

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • How can ocean climate change modelling support the MSP decision making process?
  • How can environmental resilience and blue economy development concur in a disparate environment?

Implementation Context:

Climate change induces long-term significant environmental changes in a disparate way within the marine environment. This leads to a worldwide deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems. Hence, the management of maritime space is crucial to secure environmental health, the perennity of environmental services and the sustainability of marine economic activities, while supporting the coexistence of maritime industries activity and nature conservation and the necessary trade-offs. Therefore, ocean climate change modelling becomes a key tool to identify areas which can support the development of sustainable blue bioeconomy growth in the medium term. This study details the process implemented and presents the advantages and opportunities proposed by such an approach.

Aspects / Objectives:

This study presents a Climate Change assessment commissioned to inform the MSP process in Ireland, aiming to inform the development of sector-specific spatial management strategies that could be prioritised within the Irish MSP process.


This study followed the following steps:

Data Gathering

1. Selection of focal MSP sectors
Identification of key issues for marine planning in Ireland.
2. Selection of modelling data sets
Based on peer reviewed literature, stakeholders, reports, policy documents, these modelling data sets represent the environmental conditions, species & habitats underpining the sector's activity
3. Identification of the expected climate change trend for each data set
Based on climate change literature review


4. Analysis and modelling based on each data set
Projection and prediction of changes in the Marine environment
5. Identification of Climate Change hotspots, Bright spots, and Climate change refuge
Mapping of spatial distribution of these different areas


6. Overlay with blue economy sector activities
Indication of climate-driven sector effects and cross sector interactions, based on data gathered from practitioners, reports and data repositories.


7. Information reporting to MSP process

Main Outputs / Results:

Identification of bright spots where there may be an increased abundance of species targeted by fisheries and where conditions for protected species and habitats may be improved within the NMPF implementation time-frame.

Due to the displacement of resource abundant zones, the interactions between sectors are likely to change. This raises the necessity to further balance which specific sustainability targets planners may prioritise.

Climate Change modelling integration in the MSP process remains challenging due to the complexity of marine ecosystems, temporal variability and planners needs.


Providing specific recommendations for the management of bright spots in Irish EEZ are transferable to other regions of the world.

Responsible Entity:

Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Costs / Funding Source:

Irish Government; COPERNICUS, Grant/Award Number: 2018/C3S_422_Lot2_PML; Global Challenges Research Fund, Grant/Award Number: NE/P021050/1 and NE/ P021107/1; European Maritime & Fisheries Fund, Grant/Award Number: SERV-18- OSIS-002; European Union’s Horizon 2020, Grant/Award Number: 869300

Contact person:

Ana M. Queirós, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth, UK. Email: (anqu[at]pml[dot]ac[dot]uk)