Step 8. Implementing the plan

“Talk doesn’t boil rice.”

– Confucius, 551-549 BC, Chinese philosopher

What outputs should be delivered from this step?

  • Clear identification of the management actions required to implement, ensure compliance with, and enforce the spatial management plan.


After the steps already discussed in this guide have been completed, the first round of planning will be complete and the spatial management plan and the zoning plan should be ready for the next step: implementation, the action phase of management. The end of planning is the beginning of implementation. The focus of this guide is on marine spatial planning (MSP). The next steps dealing with other marine spatial management steps will be described only briefly.

DEFINITIONImplementation is the process of converting MSP plans into action or operating programs. As part of the implementation process, designated governmental institutions or newly created bodies (inter-ministerial coordinating councils) will begin the new management actions set out in the approved management plan. Implementation is a critically important step of the MSP process. It is the action phase and it continues throughout the existence of MSP programs. Effective implementation is integral to the success of any MSP program.


When official approvals by governmental bodies have been obtained (to the extent necessary), your MSP program will be formally established. Now implementation can begin. Most States will not have opted for the creation of a ‘super’ marine management agency (as the UK has done, for example), and so some sort of interagency or inter-ministerial council will have been created, or a ‘lead’ agency designated to coordinate and oversee the MSP implementation process. The process will become operational when this institutional arrangement begins to function on a continuing basis.

In most cases, existing single-sector management institutions will carry out most actions toward implementation of the marine plan. These institutions can use the comprehensive marine spatial management plan and the zoning plan as guides for permitting, as well as other actions for which they are responsible. Implementation actions can also be coordinated among levels of government. For example, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (USA) management action were put into effect at three levels of government: (1) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for federal waters (beyond three nautical miles); (2) by appropriate state agencies for marine waters under the jurisdiction of the state of Florida (within three nautical miles); and (3) by Monroe County (a local jurisdiction that has authority for land use management and development controls) for land. These actions are coordinated through an integrated management plan for the entire Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.


Compliance occurs when requirements are met and desired changes in behaviour are achieved so that, to give a few examples, catch limits are not exceeded, or human activities are located appropriately in designated zones, or certain human activities do not occur in protected areas. The design of specific management actions affects the success of any marine spatial management plan. If the management actions are well designed and specified, then compliance will achieve the desired results. However, if the requirements of the management actions are poorly designed, achieving compliance and/or the desired outcomes will be difficult.

DEFINITIONCompliance is the conformance to the requirements of the specific management actions of marine spatial plans by relevant ocean users.

Compliance and enforcement are essential elements of the rule of law and good governance. However, they are often the weak links of the MSP process. General requirements, such as zoning regulations, permits and licences will be most effective if they closely reflect the practical realities of compliance and enforcement. With this in mind, they should:

  • Be clear and understandable;
  • Define which human activities are subject to the requirements;
  • Define the requirements and any exceptions or variances;
  • Clearly address how compliance is to be determined by specifying procedures;
  • Be flexible enough to be constructively adapted through individual permits, licences or variances to different regulatory circumstances;

Compliance will require all responsible single-sector management institutions not only to implement these plans while carrying out their own responsibilities, but also to generate their own plans and programs in accordance with the spatial management plan. Promoting voluntary compliance can be encouraged by a number of actions including:

  • Educating the public and other stakeholders about plans, rules and regulations, and the implications for each stakeholder group;
  • Developing ‘codes of conduct’ through agreements with various stakeholders
  • Technical assistance through which governmental agencies provide information on the feasibility of different spatial management actions;
  • Self-regulation through which stakeholder groups, such as fishers, manage their own constituents; and
  • Installing physical markers, such as buoys, around important habitats or security zones.

Global Fishing Watch: a game-changing compliance monitoring system

One of the fundamental questions about human activities at sea is how do we know what is happening and where in the vastness of the world ocean? One answer to this question comes from the Global Fishing Watch, a project from Oceana, SkyTruth and Google, aims to crack down on illegal fishing by training surveillance satellites on the world’s approximately 35,000 commercial fishing vessels. The online technology platform collects more than 22 million data points per day from hundreds of thousands of ships. The tool lets anyone monitor and track activities of large commercial fishing vessels in near real time. Automatic Identification System (AIS) also tracks the movement of merchant and cruise ships.

Global Fishing Watch gathers data from the AIS aboard vessels, that boat captains use to broadcast their position, course and speed to nearby ships, base stations and satellites. Small fishing vessels are not required to install AIS technology—yet.

The surveillance platform uses cloud computing and machine learning to process satellite AIS data and identify which vessels are fishing boats. It then logs when and where those vessels are fishing. The tool analyses the movement of vessels to predict when they are fishing. The tracker is regularly updated to show vessel tracks and fishing activity from January 2012 to the present.

Global Fishing Watch uses the Google Earth Engine to display all of this information on an interactive map, that also shows the boundaries of marine protected areas and exclusive economic zones.

Access to the Global Fishing Watch information is currently a free service.


DEFINITIONEnforcement is the set of actions that governments take to achieve compliance with regulations of human activities to correct or halt situations that damage the marine environment or the public.

Enforcement by the government usually includes:

  • Inspections to determine the compliance status of the regulated human activities and to detect violations;
  • Negotiations with individuals or managers of activities that are out of compliance to develop mutually agreeable schedules and approaches for achieving compliance; and
  • Legal action, where necessary, to compel compliance and to impose some consequence for violating the law or posing a threat to public health or environmental quality, including monetary penalties or withdrawal of a permit.

Non-governmental organisations may also become involved in enforcement by detecting noncompliance, negotiating with violators, and commenting on government enforcement actions. In some cases, where the law allows, they may take legal action either against a violator for noncompliance or against the government for not enforcing the requirements.

In addition, certain industries (such as the banking and insurance industries) may be indirectly involved in enforcement by requiring the assurance of compliance with MSP requirements before issuing a loan or insurance policy to construct an offshore facility.

MSP will only be as effective as its ability to enforce the approved plans, rules and regulations. This is a fundamental requirement of the process. The goals of integrated marine spatial planning will be difficult to achieve if there is any significant amount of unauthorised development of marine areas.

An important task in relation to enforcement is to ensure that plans, management actions, and regulations are not too forbidding. Instead, they should be integrated across sectors, and be communicated in a clear, concise manner to the public and the private sector. Stakeholders will usually support effective enforcement if the rules are consistently applied on the basis of transparent policies and procedures.

Good practices in implementing a marine spatial management plan

No good practices in implementing a marine spatial management plan are identified because of the country-specific conditions for successful implementation.

Useful references:

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2014). Regulatory Enforcement and Inspections. OECD Best Practice Principles of Regulatory Policy. OECD Publishing: Paris. Available at:

IOC-UNESCO’s Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-step Approach toward Ecosystem-based Management offers a 10-step guide on how to get a marine spatial plan started in your region – choose a step on the right and click on the title!

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