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Spatial demands in European sea basins assessment


Qualitative assessment of current and projected trends of different uses of the sea and assessment of the level of conflicts/synergies that are likely to arise from growing uses.

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

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the current and projected trends of different uses in the European sea basins?
  • What conflicts and synergies in the different sea basins are likely to arise from growing uses?

Implementation Context

Maritime spatial planning (MSP) is an important tool for anticipating and managing conflicts between sea users, and for ensuring that sea basins maintain a healthy status. To ensure a good basis for planning decisions, it is useful and necessary to assess the current and expected developments in spatial demands of the different users of the sea. As most maritime activities are not restricted to a single national EEZ, spatial demand will also determine the need for liaising national MSP and international MSP-related instruments.

Aspects / Objectives

Assess the current and projected trends of different uses of the sea and the level of conflict/synergies in the different sea basins that are likely to arise from growing uses.


The sea basins included are the North Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Atlantic Coast and Irish Sea. These sea basins have very different characteristics with respect to attractiveness for ORE (Offshore Renewable Energy) projects, expected developments of other sea use functions, environmental concerns, and current and future conflicts with ORE. For each of the sea basins the following questions are used for this research:

  • What are the current and expected developments in spatial demands of the different users of the European sea basin included in the Seanergy2020 study?
  • What are the key anticipated or potential spatial conflicts or issues that will require MSP to solve in the above-mentioned sea basins?

Main Outputs / Results

The report shows the finding of the study. The most important findings for the individual sea basins are:

North and Baltic seas

  • The North and Baltic Sea basins are both highly attractive for offshore wind development.
  • Offshore renewables, together with the necessary grid infrastructure, are projected to grow significantly in these sea basins. However, cost and technology constraints are likely to restrict new farms mainly to areas that are already covered by a number of other uses such as shipping, fishing, military use and designated nature conservation areas.
  • Both sea basins face extensive growth in human activities. Shipping, cables and pipelines, coastal tourism and nature conservation areas are all expected to grow. Increased shipping is being/will be further facilitated by expansion and upgrading of ports and harbours in both sea basins. Military areas, sand extraction, oil and gas extraction and fisheries are expected to stay stable or decline.
  • North Sea countries have fairly well established MSP processes, and several conflicts between offshore renewables and other sea uses are currently being addressed. The Baltic Sea countries are already taking steps to improve MSP processes in this regard. However, a large expansion of offshore wind energy will require more attention through MSP to find adequate space. In particular, opportunities will need to be sought for co- existence or multi-use, such as using the spaces between adjacent wind farms to reduce turbulence and regenerate the wind resource, and for other sea use functions like fishing or lower frequency shipping lanes. This opportunity for co-existence becomes more relevant as future offshore wind farms are developed in large clusters. Furthermore, sea uses, which are not location sensitive, or can be relocated or decreased in size without undue impact, should ideally be investigated to find space for additional low cost offshore renewables.
  • The cumulative effect of growing sea use and the strain this puts on the maritime ecosystem also needs to be addressed. The cumulative pressures resulting from uses and how these will evolve in the future is important, in particular for uses that include large expansion plans, such as offshore wind energy. As many activities are transnational and can have cross-border impacts, a transnational approach, that includes sharing information, developing a common approach towards the management of certain activities and identifying common resource use and protection objectives, should be adopted.

Mediterranean Sea

  • The Mediterranean basin is currently a less attractive sea basin for offshore renewable energy development, largely because it is a deep sea basin with few suitable areas close to shore.
  • The most intensively used areas in the Mediterranean are those situated near the coast. In these, a variety of maritime activities take place, such as aquaculture, fishing, maritime transport (including ports and harbours), dredging/sand extraction, and marine and coastal tourism (for example recreational boating, bathing, diving). The near-to-coast locations are also the most attractive areas for offshore wind energy development. It is expected that activities relating to tourism, aquaculture, shipping, cables and pipelines, and nature conservation areas will grow in the future. In a few areas, such as the coastal waters of Greece, there are also plans to build new oil platforms. It is also important to consider archaeological and heritage sites.
  • Future efforts to increase the share of renewable energy in total energy consumption could encourage EU Mediterranean states to scale up ambitions for offshore renewable energy deployment. There are several conflicts that would need to be addressed through MSP processes. One is the social acceptability of wind farms in areas of coastal tourism, bearing in mind that the Mediterranean Sea is a leading tourist destination.

Atlantic Coast and Irish Sea:

  • The Atlantic Coast and Irish Sea are relatively attractive for all three offshore renewable energy technologies – offshore wind, wave and tidal – due to high resource levels.
  • In the Irish Sea there are multiple sea uses including tourism and recreation, oil and gas extraction, ports and shipping, naval defence, renewable energy, fishing, aquaculture, and mineral extraction. The Atlantic Coast is an area rich in natural resources and resource potential, supporting traditional sectors such as maritime transport, tourism, fishing, aquaculture, seafood processing and sand and gravel extraction. New sectors, such as offshore renewable energy, marine biotechnology and deep-sea mining are emerging.
  • There have been important developments in MSP in this region to facilitate growth in electricity generation from offshore wind, wave and tidal, and to address conflicts with other uses. Designation of further zones for offshore renewable energy development is likely to cause additional friction with these sea uses. In particular, shipping – which is already a significant user – is expected to grow extensively, leading to new shipping routes, increased safety zones along certain routes as well as upgrading of existing routes to higher frequencies.


Due to the very different characteristics with respect to attractiveness for ORE (Offshore Renewable Energy) projects in the sea basins, the conclusions and recommendations are not transferable. However, findings can be used as an inspiration for other research and case studies.

Costs / Funding Source

Intelligent Energy Europe

Responsible Entity

European Wind Energy Association

Contact Person

Dorina Iuga

European Wind Energy Association

Email: (di[at]ewea[dot]org)

Tel: +32 (0) 2 213 18 09