Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Marine protected areas and marine spatial planning – allocation of resource use and environmental protection

Marine Protected Areas - Science, Policy and Management


Rarely is the strong link that exists between Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) explicitly recognised. MSP is the process by which the use of marine space is identified and used to inform development decisions made by regulators. Marine areas that are important for marine conservation/ecology form one of the most common data layers within marine plans. Some of these marine areas will be formally adopted/designated and have legal protection as MPAs; other marine areas may be protected culturally or through informal agreements. Where MPAs do not exist, marine plans can aid in the identification of areas where they could be sited optimally (taking into account environmental, social, economic and political considerations). MPAs and marine plans are generally based on current information, be it habitat/species distribution or marine uses; however, both marine plans and MPAs may be used as tools to drive future sustainable use of the marine environment. This requires recognising existing uses and identifying how these uses may be affected by climate change, economic development, marine users' social licence to operate and also how the government of the day sees the future use of its seas.

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

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • How can the objectives of Marine Protected Areas be assisted by Maritime Spatial Planning?
  • How can Marine Protected Areas assist in the delivery of Maritime Spatial Planning?
  • How is the data essential to decision-making?
  • How can scenario analysis help natural resources management?

Implementation Context:

This article is the second chapter of the book "Marine Protected Areas: Science, Policy and Management". The initiative for this book came from a conference in Poole, UK at the eastern end of the ‘Jurassic Coast’ World Heritage Site and overlooking a large multi-designation MPA.

Aspects / Objectives:

The aim of this article is to identify synergies between Marine Protected Areas (MPA) and Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP).


The article examines the development of marine protected areas and maritime spatial planning by pointing out the synergies between the two approaches, based on a bibliographical corpus.

Main Outputs / Results:

This article targets both MSP and MPA practitioners and highlights how they can work together to improve marine environmental protection.


This practice is transferable to any MPA or MSP process. 

Responsible Entity:




Access to this full article is subject to subscription or fees. If you have difficulties accessing the scientific articles, please contact your institution.