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A quantitative approach to assess the role of maritime spatial planning in ocean sustainability



The concept of marine spatial planning (MSP) is converging with the worldwide momentum towards more sustainable behaviours. For example, the United NationsSustainable Development Goal 14 (“Life Below Water”) has principles of conservation andthe sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development, and MSP is seen as an essential approach in reaching these goals. However, some MSP projects have not provided promising preliminary results, as they were developed based on a sectoral approach rather than an ecosystem one (Jones et al., 2016). We developed an index to assess how MSP initiatives address the common goal of ocean sustainability. The index integrates indicators of the three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental, and economic – and governance under the scope of MSP projects. The methodology was inspired by the “Handbook on Constructing Composite Indicators: Methodology and User Guide” (OECD, 2008) and by Rickels et al. (2016), considering indicators that might be influenced by the implementation of MSP and the availability of data for the periods that both precede and follow implementation. This methodology therefore allows for a temporal analysis and evaluation of how MSP initiatives affect the selected indicators and contribute to sustainable ocean use. A case study – Shetland Marine Spatial Planning – was used to test the methodology. This work is a novel approach to evaluate MSP using a composite indicator (CI) through the lens of ocean sustainability. Some considerations and adaptations according to the region assessed must be carefully observed during the development of such an index, yet this tool is a preliminary approach to translate the complexity inherent in both MSP and processes of ocean sustainability into simple terms. This translation is especially important when process complexity needs to be communicated to broad audiences with different backgrounds. This work is thus a step forwards in the discussion of the use of such a tool and the assessment of MSP.

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 sustainability of Maritime Spatial Planning process be assessed?
  • How can composite indicator frameworks contribute to assessing ocean sustainability?

Implementation Context:

The concept of sustainability has been broadly developed, discussed and promoted worldwide and is at the core of Maritime Spatial Planning which is implemented in more than 70 nations to sustainably manage their marine spaces.

Aspects / Objectives:

This work aims to assess how Maritime Spatial Planning is contributing to the ocean's sustainability using a composite indicator (CI) framework.


This paper is based on the Shetland Marine Spatial Planning case study which was used to test the composite indicator framework. A first step towards selecting the indicators to make up the framework was to divide them into three parts: (i) identification of indicators to evaluate the sustainability of marine spatial plans, (ii) selection of criteria, and (iii) experts’ consultation. A second step consisted in normalising the data which often had different units of measurement. Finally, a third step consisted in weight ad aggregate data.

Main Outputs / Results:

This article provides an innovative approach to assess the MSP effect on the ocean's sustainability and a tool which can be used by local, national, and international institutions to evaluate the development of the process of MSP, by a standardised and comparable assessment.


The tool introduced in this paper can be used to assess other MSP processes.

Responsible Entity:

GPS Azores project

Costs / Funding Source:

This work was supported by the European Commission Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) and the results of which contribute to the GPS Azores – Geographical and Political Scenarios and Maritime Spatial Planning for the Azores and North Atlantic project, (Ref. ACORES-01-0145- FEDER‐00002 GPS Azores) financed by Azores2020 Operational Programme (85% by FEDER and 15% by Regional Funds). .

Contact person:

Camila Pegorelli: (pegorelli[dot]camila[at]gmail[dot]com)

Catarina Frazão-Santos: (cfsantos[at]fc[dot]ul[dot]pt)

Helena Calado: (helena[dot]mg[dot]calado[at]uac[dot]pt)