By Tundi Agardy, MEAM Contributing Editor. E-mail:

The European Commission has embraced the concept of marine spatial planning (MSP) as a way to promote ecosystem-based management. But will its endorsement of MSP lead to active changes in management and, more specifically, to the development of ocean zoning? It is a key question. A commitment to MSP without a commitment to ocean zoning is like two people living together and vowing to be faithful, but who are unwilling to take the plunge into marriage for fear of commitment.

The process of marine spatial planning allows for doing many good things, including engaging stakeholders from multiple sectors and attaching values to certain uses of the marine environment. However, in developing marine spatial planning programs, some countries have focused solely on those aspects while backing away from ocean zoning, wary of a public backlash based on fears of what ocean zoning could entail (i.e., restrictions on use). These countries' hope is seemingly that, following the planning process, stakeholders and agencies will simply do the right things on their own without needing a zoning system in place to direct them. This is a colossal missed opportunity.

It is clear that the EU feels a solution to status quo marine management is within reach. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive ( spells out what kind of changes need to be made. The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has calls for proposals for MSP in the North and Baltic seas, while an initiative in the Mediterranean is expected soon. And the 2006 Maritime Policy states, "The mapping of existing and planned activities in the water and on the seabed is essential."

But what these MSP efforts will actually lead to is not at all clear, at least not from the information that has been made public. Even the EC Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap ( fails to articulate the connection between MSP and ocean zoning, nor to detail how planning will operationally change management.

The EU has led the world in many aspects of marine management, and European policies around EBM and MSP are still in a state of play. I am hopeful that the European countries will recognize the immense potential of ocean zoning, and not shy away from it. By advocating a larger vision – to develop a strategic, comprehensive, coordinated planning effort in member states and in regions that member states border – European countries face an unprecedented opportunity to develop an integrated spatial plan regulating activities and uses at EBM scales. Zoning in which environmental protection is harmonized with uses of the sea is likely the most effective approach to mitigate and possibly reverse extensive and increasing human impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems.