Perspectives on implementing Ecosystem-Based Management in Marine Spatial Planning

For the sixth MSPglobal online seminar – the first in English – organized on 6 May 2020 on “How to ensure Ecosystem-Based Approach principles in the context of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP)”, more than 300 participants joined from over 45 different countries.

According to a poll launched during the event, 32% of the participants had only basic knowledge on the topic of the seminar, while 50% had a solid background and 18% considered themselves as experts.

The audience had the opportunity to listen to the perspective of five different speakers:

Mr. Ant Turkmen presented two examples of ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach in MSP developed in Turkey: the Gulf of Iskenderun and Gokova Bay. In the first region, where environmental values and economic activities merge, ecological studies were conducted in order to prepare an environmental sensitivity map for every key habitat area. Most of these studies were carried out in the context of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for pipeline projects; additionally, contingency plans for oil spills were prepared on the basis of these ecological studies.

In Gokova Bay, no fishing zones (NFZs) were established and managed in strong collaboration with local fishermen. For these NFZs, detailed habitats maps were developed to record key species, fish production and feeding spots. Population dynamics of fish species of economic importance were monitored to compare the results between no fishing zones and free areas. A year after the inception of the no fishing zone, the total fish abundance had increased by 27%.

Ms. Shannon Hampton presented the Mami Wata project which aims to develop an integrated ocean management approach for West, Central and Southern Africa by way of capacity building activities and the exchange of expert knowledge through three different tools (Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas – EBSAs, State of the Marine Environment reporting – SoME and MSP process) in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Benin.

For the MSP component of the project, the work is based on the “Step-by Step Approach toward Ecosystem Based Management in MSP” guide by IOC-UNESCO. In the development of the first 5 steps, the project emphasizes the importance of having stakeholders on board from the start, highlighting as one of the main challenges how to incorporate data and information from local stakeholders, a crucial input to the effectiveness of MSP. Finally, one of the lessons learned is that MSP should include adaptive management as part of an integrated ocean management plan that will include non-spatial tools too.

Mr. Luke McEachron presented the case of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), in the framework of which the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is tasked with managing fish and wildlife for their long-term well-being which inherently requires an EBM approach.

In 2019, the FWC was in charge of reporting the status of biological resources to justify whether the established management zones were effective and how new zones will impact biological resources. The main challenge was to manage such a big data volume, specifically from the ecosystem perspective, considering different types of data and ecosystem components used by the different institutions. To overcome this challenge, they developed partnerships, established standards and created ecosystem models.

Ms. Lisa Sousa shared the experience of the EBM approach in the MSP implementation process in Portugal. EBM was one of the guiding principles when developing the Situation Plan, among other principles such as adaptive management, integrated management, precautionary approach, etc.

The CESAM was specifically involved in the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Situation Plan. Pressures of marine uses on the marine environment were identified in line with the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The study assessed the degree of exposure and the interaction between the pressure and the protected area and species. Whenever the impact was considered significant, mitigation measures were identified and integrated to the plan; when the result was unknown, the measure adopted the precautionary principle. Moreover, the entity responsible for the implementation of MSP and MSFD in Portugal is the same, which is seen as an advantage to apply EBM in MSP.

Ms. Janica Borg presented a WWF Position Paper published in February 2020 to support and guide countries and regions in developing ecosystem-based marine spatial plans. The main suggestions include the need to establish measurable goals and carry out cumulative impact assessments for the entire lifespan of new activities, the importance of EIA and SEA and the need to adopt the precautionary principle when there is no certainty regarding impacts.

These actions will support the Sustainable Blue Economy and the financial flow towards sustainable solutions. In order to achieve that, the process needs to include all stakeholders, be transparent, iterative and adaptive and consider cross-border consultation. Plans must align with other marine legislation and it is important that there is no discrepancy. WWF recommends that MSP should be binding or any of the other European directives will easily override it.

The recommendations suggested by the audience to improve the application of EBM principles in MSP focused mainly on:

  • Developing a transparent process where all stakeholders are equally engaged in order to build trust
  • Promoting training and capacity development in institutions in charge of MSP
  • Enhancing awareness and improving education, communication and dialogue
  • Improving coordination and cooperation between institutions with interests on the sea and with those on land whose activities might affect the sea
  • Generating political will and setting EBM principles as a national priority
  • Increasing research, improving data collection, establishing standards and a holistic set of environmental indicators as well as effective monitoring
  • Enhancing cooperation between academia, authorities and society
  • Establishing long-term ecological assessments and flexible adaptive management
  • Developing cumulative impact assessment prior to the formulation of planning scenarios
  • Directing more resources to operationalize EBM in MSP

Watch the speakers’ presentations below:

The next MSPglobal online activity will take place in French on 13 May and address the integration of Integrated Coastal Area Management and Marine Spatial Planning.

How to integrate EBM and MSP


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