Experiencing the Sea: Marine Planners’ Tentative Engagement with Their Planning Milieu

Planning Practice & Research


It is more difficult for marine planners to gain understanding of their plan areas than terrestrial planners, because of the relative remoteness of the sea. However, direct experience of the marine planning milieu, including the sea’s bio-physical dimensions, may lead to better planning outcomes. A series of interviews with UK marine planning professionals reveals that experience of their planning milieu can be characterised as tentative, though also suggests ways forward in this respect. An ‘experiential’ approach to marine planning is proposed, by which planners seek, through multiple methods of learning, to be cognitively immersed in their planning milieu, including its non-human aspects.

Sea Basin(s): 
November 2021
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Not sector specific
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Develop and implement plan
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • How do marine planners engage with their "planning milieu" (‘the sea’, in an all-encompassing sense)?
  • Could a better experience of the sea from marine planners themselves contribute to better decisions for MSP?
  • How can marine planners strengthen their engagement with their milieu (‘the sea’, in an all-encompassing sense)?

Implementation Context:

This paper is a research article by Stephen Jay, from the Department of Geography & Planning, University of Liverpool, UK.

Aspects / Objectives:

The study investigates the level of direct experience and knowledge of the sea that marine planners have, and their understanding of how suitable this is for them to perform their work. It also seeks to explore whether marine planners might be more likely to achieve their underlying planning objectives by inhabiting more fully, or being more immersed in, the marine planning milieu.


This study is based on a survey of 11 UK marine planners, using in-depth, semi-structured interviews in order to understand their current ways of thinking and acting, as well as the potential for progression that they may indicate. The questions explored the following:

  • Previous and current experience of the sea, and how their personal and professional lives played a role in gaining this;
  • Sense of adequacy in experience and understanding of the sea for fulfilling professional responsibilities, at individual and team levels;
  • Possibilities for gaining greater experience and understanding of this kind, and how this might change their professional work;
  • the notion of ‘thinking and acting with the sea’.

Main Outputs / Results:

Existing levels of engagement of Marine planners with their planning milieu (‘the sea’, in an all-encompassing sense) are mostly informal and indirect, usually beginning with personal experience, which their daily work will add to, especially as described by the stakeholders that planners encounter and the insights of other team members. This often leads to a deep appreciation of the sea. Despite this, marine planners mostly feel that their current level of experience and knowledge of the sea is inadequate and the outcomes of their work could be improved by greater engagement. Their overall engagement with their milieu might therefore be best described as tentative, especially when compared with what are likely to be the higher levels of engagement of terrestrial planners with their milieu. The importance of, and need for, deeper engagement with the marine planning milieu is generally accepted, along with the feeling that it would lead to better planning outcomes.


The results of this study should be shared throughout Europe when looking at ways to strengthen the capacity  of marine planners themselves.

Responsible Entity:

Department of Geography & Planning, University of Liverpool, UK

Costs / Funding Source:

No information

Contact person:

Stephen Jay - stephen.jay@liverpool.ac.uk