MSP Data

Main Issues: 

Across all European sea basins, countries are encountering similar issues with respect to MSP data needs. Differences are found in the scope of activities and sea uses between Member States and sea basins and the type of planning that is being carried out. Common data gaps include socio-economic data for different uses and socio-cultural information. By and large, data and information gaps are less about missing data than about how to aggregate and interpret data in order to acquire the information needed by a planner. Challenges for Member States lie in developing second generation plans, which require more analytical information and strategic evidence. Underlying this is the need for spatial evaluation tools for assessment, impact and conflict analysis purposes. Transnational MSP data needs are different to national MSP data needs. While the scope and level of detail of data needed is typically much simpler at international level, ensuring its coherence and harmonisation across borders remains a challenge. Pan-European initiatives, such as the EMODnet data portal and sea basin checkpoints have the potential to support transboundary MSP data exchange needs by providing access to a range of harmonised data sets across European Sea Basins and testing the availability and adequacy of existing data sets to meet commercial and policy challenges.

The MSP Data Study (undertaken on behalf of DG MARE between February and December 2016) presents an overview of the data and knowledge needed by Member States to make MSP decisions, taking into account variations in scale and the differing points in the MSP cycle. It examines current and future MSP data and knowledge issues from various perspectives (i.e. from the perspectives of Member States, sea basin(s) as well as projects and other relevant initiatives) in order to identify:

•  What data is available for MSP purposes and what data is actually used for MSP;

•  Commonalities in MSP projects and Member State experiences;

•  The potential for EMODnet sea basin portals to help coordination of MSP at a regional level and options for realising marine spatial data infrastructures to implement MSP;

•  Potential revisions to be made concerning INSPIRE specifications for MSP purposes.

The full study can be downloaded here.

What themes or categories of data have been frequently used for the MSP purposes?

MSP information and data needs strongly depend on the type of planning that is being carried out. As part of the Data Study, a systematic analysis of data and information was conducted using the following categories: a) data known to be available, b) accessible (i.e. not being owned by companies) to MSP Planners and then c) used by MSP Planners. The analysis was based not only on a review of existing MSP plans, but also on relevant strategy reports from Member States who have appointed an MSP authority and have expressed the intention to develop an MSP plan.

Table 1 provides a list of types and categories of data and information commonly used in MSP processes. The table also indicates how these MSP themes and categories relate to INSPIRE spatial themes (column 3). This is not to say that MSP planners have no need of additional data sets, but rather that these may be either unknown or inaccessible to MSP planners, or in fact non-existent due to ‘knowledge gaps’. Analysis shows that the data categories currently used by MSP planners are essentially similar (Table 1).

Four broad categories can be identified: 1. Administrative boundaries, 2. Description of the geophysical environment and biological/ecological features, 3. Data relating to the relevant human activities and sectors, 4. Socio-economic and policy-related data. Least variation is noted with respect to the first two categories, i.e. the description of the geophysical environment and biological/ecological features in the planning areas and boundaries (basic geographical and administrative boundaries, such as the limits of the EEZ, country and county boundaries or depth contours).

Physical and biological data are often related to the MSFD categories and, in some cases, are drawn directly from MSFD assessments. Such data is largely descriptive and serves to characterise the planning area and its major features. Where there are direct links to MSFD assessment, the descriptive data categories also include human pressures and occasionally the sources of such pressures (e.g. marine litter, marine underwater noise, point sources of pollution). Linking MSFD and MSP efforts in this manner seems an effective way of ensuring MSP is based on sound environmental evidence; in turn, it is a way of ensuring that MSP is able to contribute to achieving the objectives of the MSFD.

The third category, data relating to human activities and sectors, is more varied. The main sectors are once again similar and differences are mostly found in the weight given to each sector in terms of the diversity of data categories specified and the expression of the sector (e.g. whether offshore energy refers to offshore wind farming, wave energy, CCS, oil and gas, etc.). The most significant differences are found in the fourth category (socio-economic and policy-related data) and whether this is included in the plan/data portal. There is evidence that older plans are less likely to include this type of information (e.g. the German plan for the EEZ) but all of the more recent drafts or plans make some reference to it. It is therefore likely that this data category will become more important in the future.

Data, information, evidence and knowledge are closely related concepts but each has their own role in relation to the other. Knowledge is the logical interpretation of evidence from data and information. Evidence needs are therefore likely to be influenced by:

• The strategic level of the plan, taking its timeframe into account (e.g. requiring evidence on future trends, long-term perspectives, scenarios and projections),

• The level of integration pursued by the plan (e.g. requiring more complex evidence, such as evidence of cumulative impacts of sea use),

• The degree of participation and, linked to this, the types of knowledge included in decision-making (influencing the kind of evidence that is admitted to the decision-making process – e.g. scientific vs. non-scientific evidence),

• The need to be able to justify planning decisions (e.g. if the plan is challenged in court),

• Transboundary dimension of the plan, if relevant,

• Monitoring and evaluation of the planning area and the plan itself.

The Data Study has also identified technical and political issues concerning accessibility and availability of the data, and gaps in information. A list of known data deficiencies and knowledge gaps was compiled. Guiding questions were:

• What data and information do planners need to have, and at which stage of the planning process?

• Which data categories and data sets does this translate into?

• To what extent do planners rely on their own or local knowledge?

• What are the key knowledge gaps?


What are known MSP information gaps?

Countries seem confident with stocktaking and the descriptive part of MSP status quo assessments. Most are taking a similar approach, though using slightly different data sets and description of categories (according to needs). However, there is a predominance of descriptive data, which describes the marine environment, and less analytical information, which is where the challenge lies in developing second generation plans. These tend to be more ambitious in scope and focus on a broader range of evidence. Some data gaps do exist, and commonly, these are found under the categories of socioeconomic data for different uses/activities, commercial fisheries data and socio-cultural information. The latter is almost entirely lacking, even though it is especially important in the context of implementing the ecosystem based approach (EBA). While the concept of ecosystem services has advanced over the last decade and theoretical approaches have been developed to quantify their value, applying these practically in an ecosystem based approach remains a struggle for planners. There is a need for tools and guidance on how to factor in this type of data and information. Data and knowledge gaps are examined in one form or another in many of the finalised and ongoing projects / initiatives. Common challenges with respect to data gaps, data policy and transboundary data exchange are found at the European, sea basin and regional scales. These include:

• Availability of suitable data sets in a consistent manner (i.e. compatible formats) across sea basins and regions, coherence across boundaries.

• No statistical unit (i.e. NUTS equivalent) for sea space.

• Difficulty in disaggregating information between land and sea

• Paucity of data or information on land-sea interactions, e.g. degree to which coastal communities are dependent on their links to adjacent seas and the potential for them to benefit from growing maritime  

• Limited access to social, economic and governance data, although this is improving.

• Gaps and weaknesses in historical time series, and ensuring data quality.

Overall, with respect to data and information gaps, the challenge for MSP authorities is not so much about what data but more how to aggregate and interpret the data in order to acquire the information needed by the planner. Further insight into specific data and information gaps are likely to be identified as part of the EMODnet Sea-basin Checkpoints where the availability and adequacy of marine data to meet different commercial and policy challenges is being evaluated.

What data infrastructure have been made/used ?

A systematic analysis of data infrastructures across European sea basins was carried out as part of the Data Study in order to identify the scope and potential relevance of existing data infrastructures to MSP processes. The focus was on European and national level systems which are operational (i.e. regularly updated and maintained). Themes and sub-themes adopted from the MMO Evidence Strategy 2015 – 2020 were used to establish the scope of the data infrastructure with respect to providing relevant data for MSP purposes. A total of 60 data infrastructures potentially addressing one or more of the above MSP process themes have so far been identified. Among these, a broad coverage of different types of data infrastructures across the different sea basins was found, with data portals being at the forefront, followed by GIS mapping tools and information services.

Information services, data catalogues and data portals which provide data that describe marine areas may also be of use to MSP Planners, but are not explicitly made available for MSP purposes. These include the following:

European-wide Data Infrastructures (not MSP-explicit)

Atlantic Sea Basin

Baltic Sea Basin

North Sea Basin

Mediterranean Sea Basin

Data portals that were developed to support an MSP process or project can be found at the bottom of this page with a short description.

What are some assessment tools that have been used for MSP?

In various completed projects, assessment tools were called for to support the interpretation of information and building of evidence for MSP (Table 1). However, only in some instances were assessment tools actually developed and/or applied throughout the course of a project.

Most notably within the currently ongoing BalticLINes and NorthSEE projects, which are implemented by the MSP authorities around the Baltic and North Sea countries, project partners work towards further developing the current 'MSP Challenge' game. This has so far been used mainly to raise awareness among stakeholders of the overall MSP dimension as well as for educational purposes. Within the projects, it is being developed into a 'simulation tool', which shall assist MSP Planners as well as sectors in visualising the spatial dimension of future trends and developments as well as sea-basin wide planning issues - and thus potentially provide support for future planning decisions to be taken by the respective EU Member States.

Descriptions of additional assessment tools which are or could be used in an MSP process are available below.

Does a common standard exist for representing uses / sectors / activities on maps used in national MSPs?

Cartographic standards for MSP are a national issue, often determined based on specific national planning ordinances. Therefore, common and agreed standards for representing uses / sectors / activities on maps in national MSP plans do not yet exist across EU Member States. As a result, uses and their respective spatial areas are often symbolised in diverse formats. 

However, there have been some attempts at the sea-basin level to develop common cartographic standards for depicting maritime uses and activities as a result of voluntary, transnational cooperations. For example, the Adriatic Atlas to support ICZM and MSP was the result of the Shape project in the Adriatic Sea region. 

Additionally, the INSPIRE Directive relates to data on spatial aspects of maritimes uses and activities. The relationship between the INSPIRE Directive and MSP data is discussed in the recently published MSP Data Study, specifically in the section "MSP data themes and the INSPIRE Directive.“ 



Tools4MSP Geoplatform

The Tools4MSP Geoplatform (former ADRIPLAN Portal) is a community-based, open source portal based on GeoNode, a web-based Content Management System (CMS) for developing geospatial information systems (GIS) and for deploying spatial data infrastructure (SDI).

Baltic Sea Data and Map Services

The HELCOM Data and Map service is a Baltic Sea oriented online mapping tool combining spatial data from different HELCOM thematic map portals.

Adriatic Atlas to support ICZM and MSP

The "Adriatic Atlas to support ICZM and MSP" is the first Web Atlas for the Adriatic Sea that was developed, within the Shape project, through a cross-border approach. The Adriatic Atlas is designed as a tool for storing, visualizing and managing data which are necessary for the implementation of MSP and ICZM policies in the Adriatic basin and through a cross-border cooperation approach.

MISIS Black Sea, Marine Atlas

MISIS Black Sea Marine Atlas is a GIS application that provides user-friendly information to decision-makers on to the open public and facilitates the monitoring of Black Sea waters.

On line tool providing access to the marine planning evidence base

The Marine Planning Evidence Base presents information on all sectors and activities submitted to support the development of marine plans, including environmental, economic and social data.

Finnish Inventory Programme for the Underwater Marine Environment

The programme's (VELMU) objective is to survey marine habitats in Finnish waters, give an overview of species occurrence and develop a management system for data collected on the benthic marine environment. The programme collects data on the diversity of underwater marine biotopes and species.

Pegaso Spatial Data Infrastructure

PEGASO Spatial data Infrastructure (SDI) is a distributed data sharing infrastructure made up of GeoNodes composed of three main components: a Map Viewer, a Data Catalogue and a Map Atlas. Thanks to the SDI metadata, services and datasets related to PEGASO project are shared and can be used by end users in a standardized, harmonized and interoperable way. 

Marine management atlas

A spatial analysis tool that can be used to produce maps that are ideally suited to the needs of each user.

Web-GIS platform for implementing MSP in Greece and Cyprus

Besides mapping most relevant maritime uses, the web-GIS services were used to visualise conflicting interactions (considering both maritime and land-based activities and uses) and derive density activity maps and/or conflicts maps.

Adriplan Cumulative impact tool

The Cumulative Impact is the main methodological tool used in ADRIPLAN to evaluate the potential impact of maritime activities on the environment, quantifying the pressures generated by the uses on the environmental components (in the current and future scenarios). Cumulative impacts are a key point for the construction of maritime spatial plans using an Ecosystem Based Approach (EBA). The analysis of cumulative impacts aims at identifying areas in the sea where the environmental and ecological components are more exposed to anthropogenic pressures that negatively affect them.

Confidence Assessment Tools

The MESH project aimed to promote harmonised production and use of marine habitat maps covering the North West European seas by adapting and enhancing previous achievements in this area. It involved the collation of habitat mapping information across several countries, including UK, Ireland, Netherlands and Belgium. The Confidence Assessment Tools were created by the MESH Project help to assess the suitability of maps to their intended purpose.

MARXAN site selection tool in MSP

The modelling tool MARXAN is a tool normally known to be used for selection of sites for nature protection. In the BaltSeaPlan project however, it was tested in MSP for site selection of i.e. offshore wind power and/or fishery areas.

BaltSeaPlan Web Application / BoundaryGIS

The web application for MSP developed in the framework of the BaltSeaPlan project and based on Boundary-GIS Geoportal is a supporting tool which should facilitate stakeholder involvement. The application allows any kind of stakeholder to view the current planning status of an area and comment upon them. The user can do so without any specific computer knowledge.