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Most appropriate geographical scale for MSP at national scale


This methodology can be used for the selection of the most appropriate geographical scale for MSP at a national scale in the areas covered in the SUPREME, SIMNORAT and SIMWESTMED cross-border MSP projects. The project reports define and suggest a number of criteria or guiding principles relevant for ensuring that appropriate geographical scale and boundaries are defined, in order to support implementation of the MSP Directive, and take into account transboundary issues in defining scales and boundaries. 

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 is a multi-scalar approach applied in MSP?

Implementation Context: 

This report was jointly conducted under both Supporting Implementaion of Maritme Spacial Planning in the Western Mediterranean region (SIMWESTMED) and Supporting Implementation of Maritime Spatial Planning in the Northern European Atlantic region (SIMNORAT). 

Aspects / Objectives:

The objective of these studies was to develop a methodological guidance for determining the most appropriate geographical scale when developing national maritime spatial plans.  


This study was done through a literature review on the concept of scale to suggest principles to follow in the scaling of a plan, defining its boundaries and the number of plans to develop within a country, always considering transboundary issues. 

Main Outputs / Results:

An up-to-date literature review and principles to follow in scaling a maritime spatial plan were developed. The main themes covered in this guidance were the following:

1. The delineation of physical boundaries

2 The scale in the ecosystem approach (ecosystem-based management) 

3 Multi-level governance and hierarchization of scales

  • 3.1 The intakes of local scale plans
  • 3.2 The intakes of national and regional scale plans
  • 3.3 The intakes of nesting scales
  • 3.4 The importance of the cross-border approach

In addition the following criteria and guiding principles were defined: 

1) The operational ecosystem approach; 
2) Land-sea interactions. The consideration of land-sea interactions is consistent with other formal or informal processes, such as integrated coastal zone management; 
3) The Cross-border issues. 

 Guiding principles:

  • Be sure to define each type of boundaries: offshore, landward and lateral and air, water surface, water column and deep-sea soil and underground boundaries; 
  •  Always take into account that the sea has a clear, three-dimensional spatial scale that is difficult to represent on two dimensional-maps; 
  •  To ensure an operational ecosystem approach, start with a bioregional scale (e.g. marine bioregion) in order to understand the ecosystem, take into account coastal and near shore waters and LSI, then make some focus on specific areas if necessary. It is also important because MSP's environmental objectives will only be met when MSP also addresses environmental effects beyond the planned area; 
  • It is necessary to distinguish two types of scales: analysis scale and management scale. Indeed, analyzing phenomena, whether environmental or socio-economic, within the administrative boundaries could lead to misunderstanding of these phenomena and thus mismatch with the planning boundaries in as much as the latter could be broader; 
  • Where planning and ecosystem boundaries do not match, analyze what it implies and set up appropriate measures to achieve coherence; 
  • Differentiating an analysis scale from a management scale could then lay the foundation for different management scales depending on the peculiarities and the characteristics of each local area. Areas with specific marine environment elements, multiple uses, or multiple pressures may require detailed spatial plans, finer than plans at an EEZ or subregional sea level; 


This study gives a methodological framework for determining geographical scales when drafting a national maritime spatial plan which can be applied to regions outside of the scope of this project. 

Responsible Entity: 

SUPREME: Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea - IMELS


Costs / Funding Source: 





Contact person(s): 


Dott. Oliviero Montanaro

Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea – IMELS



Dilasser, J.