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Experiences from the Ionian islands pilot project


This UNEP-MAP PAP-RAC funded pilot project aimed to apply MSP approach and ICZM principles to the region of Ionian Islands in Greece. It included: (i) the analysis of key MSP-related information about the region, including collection of data, organisation of local meetings and questionnaires to local stakeholders, (ii) the analysis of the ecological characteristics of the target area; (iii) the definition of appropriate management units in the area; (iv) the evaluation of available methodologies and tools related to MSP (e.g. MSP governance scheme, GIS application, 3D mapping, assessment of ecosystems vulnerability, cumulative impact assessment). Based on the case study analysis outcome and wider literature review, suggestions and final recommendations for MSP implementation in the Mediterranean Sea were provided.

Application in MSP:
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Questions this practice may help answer

  • Which suggestions are available for effective MSP governance in the Mediterranean countries?
  • Which suggestions are available for the optimal combination and implementation of ICZM and MSP in the Mediterranean?

Implementation Context

Suggestions and recommendations for the implementation of MSP in the Mediterranean were produced in the context of a project commissioned by PAP/RAC (UNEP/MAP) to the University of Thessaly, in an effort to facilitate the implementation of the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in the Mediterranean, in particular as regards the provisions related to the marine part of the coastal zone. Carrying out such a project in Greece (specifically in Ionian islands region) had a double advantage since the country has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean and it is at the same time a Contracting Party (CP) to the Barcelona Convention and a Member State (MS) of the European Union (EU). Therefore, the outcomes of the project combine elements needed for the implementation of both the ICZM Protocol and the EU MSP Directive. Thus, the project can be beneficial on the one hand to the CPs that are also EU MS who can avoid overlapping of actions and unnecessary administrative burden and on the other hand to the non‐EU CPs that could be inspired by the experience of the others.

Aspects / Objectives

The main objective of the pilot project was to facilitate the implementation of the ICZM Protocol in particular with regards to its provisions related to the marine part of the coastal zone, in order to assist the Contracting Parties of the Barcelona Convention to meet the common objectives of integrated marine spatial planning and management. This objective implies:

  • to evaluate available methodologies and existing tools;
  • to propose possible cooperation/management schemes;
  • to identify pre-requisites and possible ways to deal with the challenges.


The Region of the Ionian Islands, situated in the Ionian Sea (in the middle of the Mediterranean Basin and adjacent to the Adriatic Sea), was selected to serve as the specific case study area of the project MSP Med – Greece. For the needs of the pilot project the following activities were carried out:

  • Literature review, as regards the identification and documentation of relevant methodological and technical approaches on MSP as well as the identification of international MSP practices and relevant tools for MSP.
  • Collection of geo‐spatial data for the case‐study area.
  • International meetings; these were organized aiming to: a) exchange experience and know‐how on MSP issues with national and international decision‐makers; b) discuss the needs and gaps to be filled‐in by the project; c) create networks for exchange of information.
  • Local meetings, dedicated to the interaction among local stakeholders in the case study area to: a) discuss critical issues of MSP; b) test methodological tools for MSP; c) test governance schemes; d) create networks for exchange of information.
  • Questionnaire addressed to stakeholders (e.g. on synergies or conflicts in the use of the sea, etc.) and to PAP/RAC and RAC/SPA (both from UNEP/MAP) in order to obtain information on international experience and practice regarding planning and governance issues of the marine space.
  • Synergies and networking. The work was developed in close cooperation with the competent Directorates, Representatives of the Ionian Island Regional Authority, in order to get access to relevant data and check the effectiveness of the methodological tools and the governance schemes.

This image shows the The case study area: Region of Ionian Islands. Source: Paving the Road to Marine Spatial Planning in the Mediterranean, Athens (2015)

Based on the case study analysis outcome and wider literature review, suggestions and final recommendations for MSP implementation in the Mediterranean Sea were provided.

Main Outputs / Results

Main project outcome includes suggestions and final recommendations for MSP implementation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Suggestions for an effective MSP governance

Legal and Institutional Aspects

  • An overall scheme of governance is needed including: (i) the competent authority with a description of its role; (ii) the other Ministries involved and any special bodies with their roles and the scheme of their cooperation; (iii) the procedures of decision making.
  • An overall decision‐making scheme with concrete reference also to institutionalized procedures of participation of socio-economic partners and NGOS is needed.
  • It is preferable to foresee formal institutional schemes of consultations.

Governance of the planning process (strategy, monitoring and evaluation, adaptive)

  • A large number of planning tools and methodologies that can serve such governance approach are used already for the purposes of MSP in other projects and/or regions outside the Mediterranean. Most of them are: (a) rather sophisticated for the conditions of the Mediterranean and would need to be adapted, (b) for the use of planners and decision‐makers in particular.
  • Capacity building might be very useful to prepare necessary skills in at least some of the Mediterranean countries.
  • As regards compatibility of sea uses, Mediterranean countries could profit from the experience in EU and be inspired by publications of the EC with guidance on conditions for operation of aquaculture, wind farms, energy installations, etc. in Natura 2000 areas.


Suggestions for the optimal combination and implementation of ICZM and MSP in the Mediterranean

MSP methodologies, procedures and context

  • MSP is necessary to become a statutory process in each country and marine spatial plans have to become binding ones.
  • MSP eco-based management units (i.e. geographical coverage of Marine Spatial Plans) must include marine and terrestrial areas, following the concept of the ICZM Protocol, launched by UNEP/MAP.
  • Identification of the appropriate ecosystem-based management units in MSP should definitely consider and adapt to: (i) ecosystem boundaries (including marine and terrestrial areas); (ii) geopolitical boundaries (as described in the UNCLOS); (iii) administrative boundaries (national, regional etc.).
  • Identification of the appropriate ecosystem‐based management units must also adapt to a multi‐scalar approach. This means that MSP must be tackled at different scales (national, regional, local).
  • Connection and compatibility between sea and land‐use planning has to be accomplished at two levels: (i) spatial planning frameworks per se (i.e. integration of land and sea‐use planning systems); spatial planning regulations and arrangements (affecting unilaterally sea and land areas).
  • Elaboration of marine spatial plans has to be based on a zoning system, according to the following types of zones: high‐level protection zones, sectoral zones (for economic and productive activities), zero‐use zones, networks and linear zones.


Creation of the necessary geo‐spatial dataset

To overcome the above obstacles affecting MSP in the Mediterranean, it is of paramount importance that:

  • Mediterranean countries proceed to the creation of the necessary databases, to the benefit of a better knowledge of the Mediterranean ecosystem and of an integrated management of the Mediterranean marine space.
  • All geographical data for the Mediterranean Basin must comply with common standards. Such standards are provided by the EU INSPIRE that could be used as a valuable guide for non‐EU countries, too.
  • Cooperation is established, both among neighbouring countries and among different authorities and organisations in the same country.

Compiling the existing data, identifying gaps and trying to fill them at Mediterranean level, as soon as possible, would be of great importance. Mediterranean countries could profit from regional systems already in place, like EMODnet (EU), the Virtual Knowledge Centre (EU, IMP‐MED), as well as the UNEP/MAP database and the respective webgis platform where data produced in the context of different MAP RACs are in the process of being compiled.


Utility and use of tools in the MSP process

  • Cartography produced with the use of GIS tools is indispensable in various steps of MSP.
  • Immediate application of available Vulnerability and Cumulative Impacts Assessments tools in the Mediterranean is limited from data availability. Adaptation and simplification of these tools is therefore needed. Vulnerability assessment on a large scale can be carried out by a rapid approach, with matrixes of basic ecological characteristics and major pressures and a weighting system to be based on strategic objectives. Furthermore, countries could use check‐lists, as it is the case in the Baltic Sea, to accelerate the process. As regards the Cumulative Impacts Assessment, the map of the Mediterranean Sea prepared by Micheli (see figure below) can be used as a serious indication of pressures on some marine areas. Yet, for a more accurate picture of the situation, one would need to feed the model with concrete data.

This image shows Cumulative impacts in the marine Regions of Mediterranean and Black Sea. Source: adapted from Micheli et al. 2013. Cumulative Human Impacts on Mediterranean and Black Sea Marine Ecosystems: Assessing Current Pressures and Opportunities. D
Final recommendations

  • It is of paramount importance to identify and nominate formally the competent MSP national authority. This will be the one that will create the enabling environment for the policy and plans that will be prepared. It will be the one also to create relations of credibility and trust among authorities involved and stakeholders.
  • It is recommended to follow the 10 steps of MSP as proposed by IOC, which are also compatible with the ICZM process as proposed by PAP/RAC.
  • In particular for countries with long coastlines, extended territorial waters and limited resources, it is important to identify as soon as possible the most vulnerable marine areas calling for MSP by priority. This could be achieved through a “rapid vulnerability assessment”.
  • It is strongly recommended that the Mediterranean countries start as soon as possible to build and/or complete their marine databases and information systems. These national systems could be also linked to related regional and international databases (e.g., MAP, EMODnet).
  • It is broadly accepted that countries need to integrate the EcAp in their MSP processes. Ecological criteria must be clearly set out in the strategic objectives and reflected into the planning process. There must be clarity on which sensitive areas (including buffer zones) will be protected and how.
  • The MSP process, to be effective, requires close cooperation among all relevant authorities, all different scientific backgrounds involved and all major stakeholders interested.
  • It is recommended to proceed by pilot projects both at national and regional levels. One approach that could combine the ICZM Protocol provisions as well as the need for adaptation to possible impacts of climate change would be to integrate MSP in the new generation of CAMPs.
  • It would be most useful to create a GIS tool for the entire Mediterranean for planning purposes.
  • It would be most useful to explore possibilities of cooperation, exchange of experience and synergies with other Regional Sea Conventions (e.g. HELCOM, OSPAR).


Recommendations are relevant for MSP implementation in the whole Mediterranean basin and for all Mediterranean countries. Different aspects are of relevance for MSP at national level and for cross-border cooperation issues.

Contact Person

Dr Athena Mourmouris

Member of the Project Core Team

Honorary Director General for the Environment, Greece

E-mail: (athenamour[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]uk)

Responsible Entity

Priority Actions Programme/Regional Activity Centre (PAP/RAC), UNEP/MAP (Split, Croatia)