Skip to main content
European Commission logo

A novel approach for cumulative impacts assessment for marine spatial planning

Environmental Science and Policy, 106 (2020), 125-135  


The study proposes a new approach to Cumulative Effect Assessment (CEA), using the best data available. In the MSP context, CEA is crucial for effective management of marine space as it provides an estimation of cumulative impacts of existing and planned activities, and an understanding of how these impacts interact with the changes occurring in the environment. The tool developed in this study (and tested in the UK) is one of the most recent for CEA. The study also draws attention to the lack of data and its impacts on CEA.

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


  • What is the Cumulative Effect Assessment (CEA)? 
  • How is CEA conducted using the best available data?
  • How can a Cumulative Effect Assessment support a more efficient MSP? 


The study represents one of the results of a PhD project, partially funded by CEFAS (UK), as well as two European projects CERES and DEVOTES. It uses the UK as a case study.


The purpose of this study is to design a new approach to the Cumulative Effects Assessment (CEA) with the purpose of assisting project managers and policy-makers to manage the impacts of maritime activities on the environment. Using available spatial data, the study aims at developing a visual representation of the cumulative impacts from activities or projects to support the decision-making process. The tool is designed for use by someone with no experience. 


The tool uses a spatio-temporal database of existing or potential maritime activities (including the depth dimension) and pressure’s matrix. It provides insights regarding the present and future pressures on receptors (i.e. habitats, species etc.) according to the development of activities. 


The study provides a novel and innovative approach to CEA. The method improves previous tools while attempting to rectify its limitations, such as the overestimation of project impacts or the "double counting" of pressures. The tool identifies areas where pressures are already significant or where they can be reduced. 


While developed and applied in the UK, the approach can be used worldwide, as Cumulative Effects Assessments allow an estimation of the impacts of multiple uses on maritime space for the implementation of the MSP.

Responsible Entity: 

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (UK) 

Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, University of Hull (UK) 

Costs / Funding Source: 

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS, UK) 

Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, University of Hull (UK) 

This study was also partially supported by the DEVOTES (DEVelopment Of innovative Tools for understanding marine biodiversity and assessing good Environmental Status) project funded by the European Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration, "The Ocean of Tomorrow" Theme (grant agreement no.308392). It was also partly funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 project CERES (Climate Change and European Aquatic Resources, grant no. 678193). 

Contact person: 

Jemma-Anne Lonsdale 

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (UK)