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The ecosystem-based approach in MSP - the Latvian recipe


This practice description presents the application of the ecosystem-based approach in the first Latvian Maritime Spatial Plan.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
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Stage of MSP cycle:
Coherence with other processes:
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Questions this practice may help answer

  • How to apply an ecosystem-based approach in MSP?

Implementation Context

The Marine Protection and Management Law of Latvia demands the application of an ecosystem-based approach and conformity with environmental protection and spatial development principles.


The overall aim is to maintain the ecosystem’s integrity and to ensure the sustainable use of its goods and services by identifying the possible negative impacts and applying the effective measures for minimising these effects on the marine ecosystem. The development of the Latvian MSP was done in accordance with the HELCOM-VASAB guideline for the implementation of an EBA in the MSP (see figure below).  EBA was applied within all steps of the MSP’s development by assessing the possible negative impacts on nature’s assets and ecologically significant areas, and thus avoiding as much as possible the negative impacts on marine ecosystem.

Implementation of the ecosystem-based in Latvia MSP and integration of HELCOM-VASAB key elements


The Latvian approach to EBA can be sub-divided into four parts:

  • Stocktaking of conditions and ecosystem components
  • Assessment of the environmental status of marine water with indicators
  • Mapping and assessment of ecosystem services
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment

Stocktaking of conditions and ecosystem components

A stocktaking was carried out on the

  • Geological conditions
  • Marine physio-chemical conditions
  • Distribution of bird species, fish species as well as marine mammals
  • Character of the fish spawning and nursery area
  • Distribution of marine benthic habitats.

Data for this came from a multitude of sources including national surveying activities, projects and HELCOM. Distribution maps and abundance tables were produced. The analysis was carried out separately for two areas with distinct conditions, i.e. the Baltic Proper and the Gulf of Riga.

Assessment of the environmental status of marine water with indicators

An indicator approach was used to assess the environmental status of marine waters. MSFD descriptors as transposed into the Latvian law as well as more precise, complementary criteria and indicators defined by the European Commission Decision 2010/477/EU were compiled. These indicators were used in several steps of the Latvian MSP:

  • Characterisation of the existing situation
  • Assessment of trends
  • Assessment of strategic scenarios for the use of the sea
  • Strategic environmental assessment

Mapping and assessment of ecosystem services

The ecosystem services concepts was approached through

  • Mapping and assessment of the ecosystem structure and its different components
  • Characterisation of the functions and services
  • Biophysical mapping of the ecosystem potential to deliver a service based on the distribution of benthic habitats and the ecosystem service follow, illustrated by the landing of commercial fish and use of the coastal areas for tourism and recreation

The characterisation of the ecosystem services was based on the CICES v4.3 (2013) classification system with the three main categories i) provisioning services, ii) regulating services and iii) cultural services. Maps showing which areas are more / less important for the provision of a specific ecosystem service were produced. The maps were used in the strategic environmental assessment for assessing the impacts of alternatives scenarios, as well as optimal solution of the use of the sea.

Example of a mapping of ecosystem services

Strategic Environmental Assessment

The four different MSP scenarios that were developed in the Latvian MSP process were assessed quantitatively applying the multi-criteria analysis, including environmental criteria. Each scenario was assessed spatially against the impact on the ecosystem components as well as on ecosystem services provisioning.

Main Outputs / Results

Application of EBA as required by national law as well as the EU MSP directive.


The Latvian application of the EBA can serve as inspiration for MSP processes in other countries

Responsible Entity

Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia

Contact Persons

Kristīne Kedo and Ingūna Urtāne