A guide to Maritime Spatial Planning with nature in mind


Guidance for NGOs.

The main purpose of the guide is to embed good practices in Maritime Spatial Planning that can support healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas. It presents a number of guiding principles for Maritime Spatial Planning, identifies aspects NGOs should consider when engaging in stakeholder participation processes, and provides useful links to relevant guidance documents and good practice examples.

Sea Basin(s): 
April 2019
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Nature protection
Type of Issue: 
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Habitats and Birds Directive
Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Marine Strategy Framework Directive
Strategic Environmental Assessment

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • What aspects should NGOs consider when engaging in MSP?
  • What are the links between the MSP Directive, MSF, and MPAs?
  • How can it be ensured that MSP is in line with environmental objectives?


This guidance was developed by Seas at Risk, an umbrella organisation of environmental NGOs from across Europe. The idea of this guide emerged after the workshop on MSP, organised by Seas At Risk in March 2017. Indeed, sharing experiences among NGOs has seemed to encourage them to be involved in MSP processes. 

Aspects / Objectives:

The objective of this guidance is to raise awareness of how MSP can support healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas, instead of being simply an instrument for Blue Growth (as per the European Commission understanding). It is therefore intended to support NGOs (Seas At Risk members and others) in their involvement in the MSP process in their country, and in their discussions with maritime planning authorities.


The MSP Directive is analysed through this guidance, which is divided between guiding principles developed by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission or HELCOM) and Vision And Strategies Around the Baltic Sea (VASAB).

You can find:

  1. Sustainable management – the environment as the foundation of social and economic development;
  2. Ecosystem-based planning – breaking away from sectoral silos in planning;
  3. Long-term perspective and objectives – getting the aims, objectives and policies of maritime spatial plans right;
  4. Precautionary principle – not gambling with nature;
  5. Marine Protected Areas, MSFD targets and sensitivity zoning as a precondition to MSP;
  6. Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) – ensuring plans are in line with environmental objectives;
  7. Participation and transparency – the importance of public participation and stakeholder engagement;
  8. High-quality data and information basis – effective monitoring and closing evidence gaps;
  9. Transnational coordination and consultation – the importance of cross-boundary cooperation on MSP;
  10. Coherent terrestrial and Maritime Spatial Planning – ensuring land-sea interactions;
  11. Continuous planning – stay in the loop.

Each section contains recommendations to NGOs and aspects to be considered. In addition, case studies are listed to provide shared experiences of the NGOs. A final section gathers useful links to other existing guidance on MSP.

Main Outputs / Results:

This document has developed a guide to help NGOs to engage effectively in MSP participatory process.


Although the guidance focuses on NGOs, this guide could be adapted to other entities for a better implementation of the MSP process, with nature in mind.

Responsible Entity:

Seas At Risk

Rue d’Edimbourg 26,

1050 Brussels, Belgium

Tel: +32 (0)2 893 0965

E-mail: secretariat@seas-at-risk.org

Twitter: @SeasAtR

Funding Source:

The report was developed by Seas At Risk which is funded both by membership fees and grants from external bodies.