MSP Options and scenarios

Main Issues: 

In order to deliver wise and coherent planning of ocean space within one (EU) sea basin, it is essential that different MSP systems in the Member States can work together. Building on the EU MSP Directive, co-operation is especially needed with regard to MSP topics, which have a transnational dimension; tools (types and ways of how to share data and information across countries) and modes of co-operation and consultation for the various MSPlans prepared by Member States together with the necessary structures of decision-making.

The basis for establishing such processes is a good understanding of the respective MSP options and scenarios within each of the Member States bordering one sea basin. Despite the framework established by the EU MSP Directive, national MSP options differ in many ways as they are grounded on different planning cultures, differing legal frameworks, different national or regional priorities for sea uses or different MSP governance structures (e.g. different MSP decision-making levels; different ministries responsible). Moreover; countries across one sea-basin are often in different stages of MSP development. 

Terrestrial planning experience can be utilized to develop a tradition of comparative analysis of MSP options and scenarios. The potential to learn from others by providing critical insights might be especially relevant for the potential transferability and adaptability of certain aspects of practice into other circumstances. The topic is therefore highly connected to all other topics on the FAQ page.

Frequently asked questions

Can you provide examples of countries that have made use of scenario development as part of their MSP process?

Considering different scenarios for development is a common tool employed when formulating a Maritime Spatial Plan. Different scenarios, which primarily focus on different driving forces can affect spatial use in the maritime area and its marine resources.

The Maritime Spatial Plan (MSP) for the Internal Waters, Territorial Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Latvia was published in 2016.  In the development of the MSP four alternative scenarios were put forward identifying different maritime development options, which were then strategically assessed in order to arrive at an optimal sea use solution, which was acceptable to all stakeholders and society. In the Latvian example Strategic scenarios for use of the sea, the following four scenarios were assessed:

  • Economic growth
  • Social well-being
  • Resilient marine ecosystem
  • Development within common space of Baltic Sea Region

The practice description accessed via the link above outlines the objectives, methodology and results of this example.

The MEDTRENDS – Future Trends in the Mediterranean Sea Project was a 12-month project, which was completed in May 2015 and implemented in early 2016. The practice Scenarios of maritime economy for the Mediterranean from the MEDTRENDS project illustrates scenarios of maritime economic activity over the next 20 years. The project analysed the existing situation and potential future trends in 10 maritime economic sectors along with their drivers and environmental impacts. The project examined these sectors at the Mediterranean regional or sub-regional (Adriatic Sea) scales and at the level of 8 Mediterranean countries (Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Slovenia and Spain). A series of reports were published providing an analysis of the existing economic sectors and users of existing marine and coastal resources as well as the current and potential future interactions between sectors in order to reflect their spatial extent. Reports have been created for each individual country as well as on a regional and sub-regional (Adriatic) scale. MEDTRENDS scenarios and other project outcomes within the next implementation of the MSP process in the Mediterranean.

What kind of decision-support tools are available with regards to Maritime Spatial Planning?

According to (Sprague & Carlson, 1982) decision support tools or Decision Support Systems (DSS) are defined as interactive computer-based system designed to help decision makers utilise data and models to solve unstructured problems. Decision support tools are commonly separated into 4 distinct classes according to their focus as follows:

  • Model driven DSS – are often more complex systems using mathematical, statistical or simulation models to generate results.
  • Data driven DSS– do not require a computer model rather allow users to use data to provide specific answers to specific questions for example by selecting options within a database in order to generate a result.
  • Communications driven DSS – facilitate communication between different stakeholders to assist in providing different outcomes. An example of this could be online collaboration systems.
  • Knowledge driven DSS – (also known as expert DSS) use a series of stored rules and facts in order to generate results. These systems are designed to produce results, which mimic the way experts reach decisions.

Below is a list of examples of different decision support tools that are available:

MARXAN site selection tool in MSP

Developed by the University of Queensland Marxan is a model driven decision support tools which is most commonly be used in the selection of site for nature protection. It is reported to be the most widely used decision support software used for conservation planning globally and used in 184 countries globally ( As part of the BaltSeaPlan the Marxan software tool was tested in MSP for site selection of i.e. offshore wind power and/or fishery areas.

DISPLACE Model for spatial fishery planning and effort displacement

The DISPLACE project developed a model based platform primarily for research purposes aimed to transform the fishermen’s detailed knowledge into models, evaluation tools. The software also has the facility to incorporate other utilization of the sea including but not limited to energy production, transport and recreational uses.

DeCyDe for Sustainability Policy tool

The DeCyDe for Sustainability tool is a data-driven, spread sheet based set of indicators and decision support tool that allows coastal communities and Authorities to self-assess their progress towards sustainability goals.

FisherMap - Mapping the Grounds: recording fishermen’s use of the seas

FisherMap is an example of a communication driven decision support tool, which aimed to map the nature and extent of fishing activities and fishermen’s knowledge of marine ecosystems. The tool developed by Finding Sanctuary a regional development partnership aimed to assist them in developing a network of Marine Protected Areas around the coasts and seas of South West England.

A series of interviews were conducted with individual fishermen who also highlighted they areas they used on maps along with providing information of the types of equipment used, species targeted and other relevant information. The results were fed into a GIS database and maps digitised. The information was used to create summary maps, which were made publicly available. 


[1] Sprague, R. H. & E. D. Carlson. Building Effective Decision Support Systems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1982.

[2] Vanessa Stelzenmüller, Janette Lee, Andy South, Jo Foden, Stuart I. Rogers. Practical tools to support marine spatial planning: A review and some prototype tools, Marine Policy, Volume 38, March 2013, Pages 214-227