Sharing experiences on Marine Spatial Planning between Argentina, Mexico and Spain

On 16 June 2020, official representatives from Argentina, Mexico and Spain participated in an online seminar organized by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO) to share experiences on the development and implementation of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) in the framework of the MSPglobal Initiative.

Mr. Ariel Troisi (Argentina), in his role as Chairman of IOC-UNESCO, and Alejandro Iglesias Campos, representing the IOC Secretariat, welcomed the representatives of these three countries characterized by their administrative and institutional decentralization.

Mr. Salomón Díaz Mondragón, Director of Ecological Planning at the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources of the Government of Mexico, presented the concept of marine ecological planning in his country, which started to be implemented in the 1990s. Mexico is a pioneer throughout the region with regard to transparency, technical accuracy as well as adaptation and public participation processes. This led to the publication in 2006 of the Manual on the process of ecological planning (Manual del proceso de ordeniamento ecológico), which is used in the implementation of the process in the four different planning areas (marine bioregions) that make up Mexico’s maritime jurisdiction (Gulf of California, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, North Pacific and South Pacific, the latter still under development).

From an institutional point of view, Mexico has a technical committee in which different sectors take part, together with an executive committee representing the public administration and an observer representing civil society. These committees operate alongside other instruments, and commissions or working groups are integrated into the broad framework of the country’s policies.

Mr. Díaz Mondragón stressed the need for a specific legal framework to integrate coastal and marine planning in Mexico. Regarding planning at regional or transboundary level, the importance of Large Marine Ecosystems was emphasized, such as the Gulf of Mexico shared with Cuba and the United States, as well as the new exercises being carried out in the Pacific Central American Coastal LME with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Representing the Spanish Government, Ms. Sagrario Arrieta, Head of the Department for Marine Environment and Environmental Protection at the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge of the Spanish Government, indicated that since 1988 the country has a pioneering Law on the management of the maritime-terrestrial (Land – Sea) public domain that has made it possible to preserve the coast to a large extent despite the great pressure it faces. In the marine field, the Law 41/2010 on the protection of the marine environment established a number of marine strategies to provide the general framework to which the various sectoral policies affecting the marine environment must necessarily conform.

Currently underway in the countries of the European Union, the implementation of Marine Spatial Planning was proposed as an extension of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to link the environment and sustainable development from the early stages of the process, using the marine regions established for the strategies as a planning unit. The Directorate-General for the Sustainability of the Coast and the Sea has competencies in the protection and guardianship of the coast and the sea at national level.

The Government of Spain has coordination mechanisms with public administrations at regional and local level for all sectoral issues (fisheries, environment, aquaculture, etc.) in which there are shared competences. Nevertheless, some competences are specific to the Autonomous Communities, for instance on aspects related to territorial planning. Spain considers fundamental the involvement of all stakeholders from the beginning of the process, as it is the most effective way to ensure efficient MSP implementation; still, much remains to be done at both regional and local level.

With regard to conservation areas, Spain boasts 300 different marine protected areas that in many cases already have their own management plans; for those that do not, the inclusion of their management in the respective marine spatial plan will be considered. As for cross-border collaboration, Ms. Arrieta stressed the importance for Spain to work together with its partners and European neighbors (Portugal, France and Italy) through various projects to strengthen institutional capacities and exchange experiences.

Regarding Argentina, Mr. Antonio De Nichilo, Coordinator of the Project “Governance strengthening for the management and protection of coastal and marine biodiversity in key ecological areas and the implementation of the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) GCP/ARG/025/GFF” of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Government of Argentina, indicated that the Blue Pampas Initiative launched the MSP process in the country, with the intervention of national state agencies with responsibility for the sea. Nineteen working groups were created on different marine thematic areas in order to promote scientific knowledge, technological development and productive innovation in the South Atlantic.

In 2016, the Working Group on Biodiversity Conservation recognized the importance of MSP. As a result of this recognition, the former Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development made MSP one of its priority areas, involving national organizations through inter-institutional workshops as well as collaborating with IOC-UNESCO for capacity building workshops in the country.

In 2019, the former Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development developed the internal document “MSP: A tool for the environmental planning of maritime spaces in Argentina”, which presents the background information, implementation process and priority actions (establishment of marine bioregions, sea atlas, creation of a , pilot projects) needed to develop guidelines for the application of MSP in Argentina, which is currently in its pre-planning stage.

This process is currently in the development and validation phase of the bioregions which will be proposed to address MSP implementation, and where marine protected areas will be considered as one additional use of the sea.

Mr. De Nichilo stressed the importance of creating coordination mechanisms with processes related to integrated coastal zone management, which is more advanced than MSP in Argentina, as well as potential exchanges with neighboring countries – once the national process is more advanced – to have a regional vision of planning and consider any issue of common interest.

The three national representatives, together with the members of their teams who participated in this seminar, held a discussion about public participation at local level.

In the case of Mexico, examples of good practices were mentioned, such as the one led by the state of Quintana-Roo. Spain has developed public participation processes at local level, although they are more related to integrated coastal zone management, as is the case in the Coastal Area Management Programme of the Levante de Almería in Andalusia, which could be considered during the MSP participatory process in the country. Likewise, this exercise facilitated the publication of the Territorial Plan of Andalusia.

In relation to participatory processes, there was a discussion on how they enriched and strengthened decisions as well. The fact that some other countries started to work on MSP to solve specific problems was also mentioned, but also that MSP can be an opportunity to anticipate issues.

In conclusion, the three national representatives provided recommendations on MSP based on their experiences and lessons learned:

  • Need for a broad participatory process with strong political support;
  • Importance of hosting forums and meetings to exchange experiences and lessons learned among countries, such as this online seminar organized by IOC-UNESCO;
  • Establish the legal basis for the instruments needed for MSP;
  • Harmonize, as much as possible within institutional and competence constraints, the different instruments for the coast and sea;
  • Prioritize the development of technology systems to promote and document public participation, such as the work done by the National Autonomous University of Mexico;
  • Importance of developing holistic plans with ecosystem-based approaches;
  • The first marine spatial plans will not solve all the problems of a country. Rather, they will help to define initial objectives and – over time, and as institutional and planning adjustments are being made – address more demanding objectives.


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