By Tundi Agardy, Contributing Editor, MEAM. Email:

The recent juxtaposition of two EBM-related teaching/training sessions, one in the Baltic and the other in the Adriatic, led me to ponder why approaches to EBM are so fundamentally different in these two parts of Europe. While there have been many scholarly papers written on how European policies under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Common Fisheries Policy, and Maritime Spatial Planning Directive catalyze an ecosystem approach and make room for the precautionary principle, there has been little attention paid to whether these complex regimes may actually be inhibiting effective EBM.

The view from northern Europe

In March I participated as a trainer in a weeklong “Blue Planning in Practice” course on the island of Vilm, Germany. By all accounts the training was successful and participants learned new ways of looking at marine management problems and solving them through MSP. The Blue Planning in Practice training method involves investigating a fictional country’s marine issues, but trainees were also exposed to the real-life challenges of management in the Baltic Sea. A day-long workshop in the nearby mainland town of Stralsund focused on MSP in Germany with presentations and a panel discussion by national and regional authorities.

The Stralsund planning and management workshop was a good reality check. We were surprised to realize that MSP in the Baltic cannot really be considered EBM, despite the advances made through the pioneering HELCOM Convention and the advanced management capacity of Baltic States. Why? There are a number of possible factors – the situation in the EU in which EEZ fisheries do not get considered alongside other maritime uses (the Common Fisheries Policy takes precedence over other marine management policies), the fact that there is surprisingly little coordination between national level marine and coastal planning, and the disconnect between management of wetland or transition areas and the rest of the coast. In fact, it appeared as if most of the MSP in this area of the Baltic focused on accommodating two main stakeholders – offshore wind and seaside visitors with concern for the viewsheds. These shortcomings were acknowledged in the panel discussion, but not explained. This made me wonder – could it be that the extensive regulations and the highly complex legislative and institutional frameworks for marine and coastal management in Europe actually impede integration and consideration of the full suite of affected stakeholders?

The view from southern Europe

A month later I joined colleagues in Venice to teach a workshop on the use of ecosystem services for the Erasmus Mundus course on maritime spatial planning. Observing planning and management in the Adriatic brought the differences between northern and southern Europe into stark relief.  Of course, the Adriatic is a European sea too – but to achieve cooperation in the whole of the Adriatic requires that EU nations work alongside countries like Albania, which is geographically part of Europe but not yet a member of the Union and therefore not bound by EU policies. 

The approach to integrated marine and coastal management in the Adriatic is much more undefined and fluid. This could lead to lapses in management or lower standards of performance, but it also opens the door to creativity and innovation, and bona fide EBM.

Through AdriPlan, Elena Gissi and colleagues from the University Iuav of Venice have been focusing on a number of information platforms that will steer marine management in the direction of true integration and EBM. One platform looks at cumulative impacts to identify marine and coastal activities that need urgent attention. Their cost-benefit analysis of management measures under uncertain conditions has the ability to drive new approaches to management not stipulated in any of the hundreds of municipal, regional, national, or EU-wide regulations and policies regarding marine management. Another approach focuses on assessing ecosystem services, and using this information not only to determine management priorities, but also to define planning areas that span political and biographic borders. The ecosystem services perspective allows planners to engage stakeholders that might have been left out of planning processes in the past. One example concerns water management in Venice Lagoon – a challenging task initially focused only on controlling river inputs, but now encompasses the concerns of local artisanal fishermen, Adriatic commercial fishermen whose catches are linked to nursery areas within the lagoon, ecotourism operators, and other stakeholders.

Creating new management frameworks presents opportunities to do it right

What is happening in the Adriatic is mirrored in other parts of the Mediterranean as well, where European countries find themselves adapting their planning and management to a setting where neighboring countries have uneven capacities for these tasks. Here one finds the Mediterranean Action Plan working with its 22 Member States to adapt EU policies under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to the needs of the non-European nations in North Africa and the Middle East. One result has been the Ecosystem Approach initiative, which has defined 11 common ecological objectives for integrated coastal and marine management in true EBM style.  Unencumbered by the extensive regulations on marine pollution, biodiversity conservation, wetlands protection, and fisheries policies that each EU member state is required to uphold – each set of which is dictated by siloed management agencies in each country – the regional sea can work collectively and cooperatively to find common ground and craft a set of streamlined management practices to achieve those common goals.

The students in the Erasmus Mundus MSP Masters course are largely from the developing world, as were the trainees at the Blue Planning in Practice in Vilm. It struck me that holding up examples from the developed world, with its burdensome regulations and complex institutional frameworks, could serve less as an example of how to achieve EBM, and more of a lesson on the enormous opportunities that exist for cooperation, collaboration, and new insights in places where marine management is still in its infancy. With the engine of Blue Growth being revved by coastal nations across the whole of the world, the chance to get it right and prevent the silos of sectoral management from being built is more important than ever.