In the view of many ocean stakeholders, the terms "ocean zoning" and "marine spatial planning" are often taken to mean the same thing: that is, lines on a map showing where some ocean uses are allowed and others are not. However, there are in fact distinctions between the concepts. The most basic is that marine spatial planning (MSP) is the process of planning ocean uses, whereas zoning is a regulatory measure to help implement the results of such planning.

That distinction matters. Although marine spatial planning generally results in regulatory zoning maps, such is not always the case. The current initiative to apply coastal and marine spatial planning in the US, for example, will stop short of applying zoning regulations, according to organizers. What does MSP look like in practice when it involves, or does not involve, ocean zoning? In this issue, MEAM gathers the viewpoints of practitioners in the EU, US, and China.

[For definitions of marine spatial planning and ocean zoning, click here.]

A. European Union: Integration of spatial planning and ocean zoning

[Background: The European Commission is actively promoting the use of maritime spatial planning across European waters. In 2008, the Commission published a Roadmap for Maritime Spatial Planning, providing a framework with 10 key principles for implementation. This past December, the Commission published a report that reviewed MSP in practice in EU member states; it also reiterated that action is essential at the EU level to ensure coherent MSP, particularly in cross-border marine areas. Both publications, as well as other EU documents on MSP, are available at

Implementation of MSP is the responsibility of EU member states. The European Commission acts as a facilitator to enhance cooperation and develop a common approach to MSP.]

The following comments are from Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

On MSP and its role in sustainable growth

"A common approach to MSP across the EU would enable the efficient and smooth application of maritime spatial planning in cross-border marine areas. Ensuring that MSP is used in all member states would enhance sustainable growth across the different maritime sectors – be they traditional (fishing or maritime transport) or new (marine renewable energies).

"Maritime spatial planning is crucial for legal certainty, predictability, and transparency, thus reducing costs for investors and operators, in particular those operating in more than one member state. MSP also has a vital role to play in supporting the implementation of existing EU legislation, such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, as well as possible future developments in the field of integrated coastal zone management."

On the role of ocean zoning in European MSP

"Spatial planning is a wider concept than ocean zoning and entails a cyclical process of analyzing and allocating space (and time, where relevant) to achieve ecological, social, and economic objectives. The MSP process involves sectors and stakeholders, and results in a broad plan. The zoning [in that plan] is one aspect of MSP.

"Allocating marine areas for a specific purpose, or regulating the activities in a specific area, is nothing new. EU member states have practiced this in different forms for some time. We have marine protected areas, shipping lanes, harbors, sand extraction areas, fishing areas, areas designated for wind energy, etc. These can all be called zones.

"I underline that at the EU level, we look at this issue from a process perspective and do not deal with specific space allocation [zoning] between individual maritime user groups. That allocation is within member states' competence. However, due in part to the stability, transparency, and predictability provided by MSP, we are under the impression that stakeholders are generally in favor of the space allocation that results from it."

On whether all stakeholder groups will be involved

"I anticipate and advocate that all economic activities at sea, including fisheries, are to be taken into account in the MSP process. MSP is identified as a tool for integrated maritime policy and should, therefore, not exclude any particular activity.

"There is, however, a particular difficulty in including fisheries in the MSP process. The EU fisheries policy in general (seaward from 12 nm) is an exclusive competence of the EU, whereas spatial planning at sea is the responsibility of the relevant EU member state. This means, in practice, that fisheries decisions are taken by different authorities and at a different level than the MSP process. (EU member states may still propose fisheries measures, including zoning measures, in their territorial waters, so the issue of exclusive EU competence only applies beyond 12 nm.) To solve that issue, we will have to look into the possibility of establishing mechanisms for cooperation and decision-making between the EU authorities responsible for fisheries matters and the national authorities responsible for the MSP process. This is an issue we are currently looking at in the framework of the reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

"The same goes for other maritime economic activities that, under international law, do not fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the coastal state in national waters (such as maritime transport) or international pipelines and cables crossing national borders."

For more information:

Lone Mikkelson, EU Commission Press Officer for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (Commissioner Maria Damanaki). E-mail:

BOX: On the EU's distinction between maritime spatial planning and marine spatial planning

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki explains why the EU uses the term "maritime spatial planning" rather than "marine spatial planning":

"There is no difference between marine spatial planning and maritime spatial planning. In the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the word 'marine' is used more in the context of the marine environment. Meanwhile, in the context of the EU Integrated Maritime Policy, the word 'maritime' refers to all maritime (human) activities, including the protection of the marine environment. When spatial planning of the sea was a new concept, it was mainly perceived in the EU as an environmental policy. However, it is now regarded as a sector-neutral approach with the objective not only to protect the marine environment but also to promote economic growth of the maritime economy."

B. US: Spatial planning that stops short of ocean zoning

[Background: In July 2010, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing a national ocean policy ( The policy adopted the final recommendations of an interagency task force, including the framework for a national system of coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP). The CMSP process will be carried out on a phased basis across nine regional planning areas. Each regional process – involving federal, state, local, and tribal authorities – will report to a National Ocean Council to certify that the resulting plans are consistent with national policy.]

The following comments are from Jennifer Lukens, Acting Director of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is one of several federal agencies that comprise the US National Ocean Council, which will be engaged in CMSP.

On the goals of CMSP

"Coastal and marine spatial planning is a forward-looking planning process. It is focused on the future – or the desired state – of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. In this case, the vision is to have healthy and resilient ocean ecosystems that support coastal communities and economies. We need to look at what our existing uses are and what we want our communities to look like in the future so that we can prepare for the necessary changes (including in infrastructure and transportation) and promote sustainable economic growth. We are also ensuring compatibility of uses, quality of life for residents, and protection of natural resources.

"The basis of the ocean policy framework is science-based decision-making, but a large part of it also involves simply getting stakeholders to the table with federal, state, and tribal decision-makers. There is a lot of relationship-building necessary to understand the needs of the community and to design what the future is going to look like in order to maintain sustainability."

On how the US spatial planning process is different from zoning

"Zoning is associated with a set of regulations. That is, you cannot do a certain activity within a defined area, and there is a statute and a regulation associated to enforce that. I think a lot of stakeholders fear CMSP because they are confusing it with zoning and don't understand that it is a planning process. They worry about regulations and they jump to the conclusion they will no longer be able to do an activity where they want to do it or where they currently do it.

"The upcoming coastal and marine spatial plans from our nine regional processes are intended to identify areas that are more conducive or suitable for certain uses – such as shipping lanes, fishing, recreation, offshore energy development, or important habitat conservation. However, the regional plans will not be regulatory, and they will not supersede existing statutes and authorities. As a result, zoning is not the proper analogy for CMSP, and to call it zoning only creates confusion in understanding what this process truly is.

"That being said, the agencies that sign on to participate in the regional planning bodies will have agreed to execute those plans to their ability within the constraints of their existing regulatory authority. An agency that has existing regulatory authority over a particular sector will be equipped with information it has learned through the CMSP process; if necessary, it can then adapt its regulations through its normal public process and administrative procedures. That is the intent of signing on to participate. As an agency, you are spending the time and going through this process to inform your decisions in accordance with these plans, within your authority and to the extent possible. CMSP is intended to provide a better framework for applying these existing laws and agency authorities, without superseding them."

On whether all stakeholder groups will be involved

"The whole intent of coastal and marine spatial planning is to be as comprehensive as possible so that there is understanding of what the environment can handle sustainably while supporting the current and anticipated uses. However, there will be different drivers in each of the nine regions throughout the country. A particular region may start out by focusing on a couple of uses, with the goal of eventually involving all uses in the comprehensive planning effort."

For more information:

Jennifer Lukens, NOAA. E-mail:

BOX: US invites public comment on development of strategic action plans

The new US national ocean policy features nine priority objectives, including coastal and marine spatial planning, EBM, regional ecosystem protection, changing conditions in the Arctic, and more. To support implementation of these objectives, the interagency National Ocean Council is developing a strategic action plan for each one. The Council has invited public comment on how best to prepare such action plans, including obstacles to achieving the objectives and metrics for measuring progress. To submit comments, go to

C. China: Zoning the entire territorial sea

[Background: In 2002, China's government instituted the framework for a national marine functional zoning scheme to zone the nation's entire territorial sea, from the coast out to 12 nm. All of China's major water bodies within that area have now been zoned, according to government reports. The purpose of the zoning scheme is to reduce user conflicts, guide distribution of marine industries, and protect the environment, including through designation of marine protected areas.

The zoning is a central element of China's marine spatial planning, which also includes a broad system of sea-use authorization and user fees. A synopsis of Chinese marine spatial planning is at]

The following comments are from Wen Bo, Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, Beijing, China

On MSP and zoning in China

"I do not think the national functional zoning scheme has achieved the goals it was supposed to, including guiding the distribution of marine industries and protecting the environment. In reality, the functional zoning scheme has often been ignored. A core area of Huidong marine reserve in Guangdong, for example, was re-zoned to make way for a petrochemical industrial complex. Likewise, a spotted seal national sanctuary was re-zoned for the development of a seaport and coastal industrial complex at Changxing Island of Liaoning province.

"Having a marine functional zoning scheme can be very helpful for ensuring a good understanding of the marine environment and resources. However, China's scheme is often not well-understood or -respected, and law enforcement is rather inadequate."

On MPAs designated under the zoning scheme

"No specific figure is available on the number of protected areas established due to the zoning scheme. However, as of the end of 2010, 1.12% of Chinese marine waters are in MPAs. The State Oceanic Administration's plan is to increase the coverage of MPAs to 3% of Chinese marine waters by 2015 and 5% by 2020."

For more information:

Wen Bo, Beijing, China. E-mail:

BOX: Definitions of marine spatial planning and ocean zoning

Marine spatial planning: The public process of analyzing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives that are usually specified through a political process.

Ocean zoning: A regulatory measure to implement marine spatial management plans, usually through a zoning map or maps and regulations for some or all areas of a marine region. Ocean zoning is an effective tool of MSP.

(Excerpted by MEAM from Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach toward Ecosystem-based Management [2009, UNESCO], available at