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One of today’s most pressing challenges is the maintenance, conservation and restoration of ecosystem biodiversity and functioning, while simultaneously allowing for the exploitation of ecosystems by people who depend on their services, goods and benefits. Climate change makes it even more difficult to predict and manage the complicated trade-offs between sustainability and multiple, sometimes antagonistic, exploitation goals. Maritime spatial planning (MSP) aims to allow for the joint protection and use of the sea, and continues to mature across European Seas. It is the main integrated marine governance and management process aiming to balance sustainability and exploitation objectives, but despite this, it does not yet have a clear capacity or set of widely accepted methods to help achieve EU and global environmental policies. In particular, although there is a plethora of statutory instruments, such as EU Directives, and management bodies, many European MSP and marine protected area (MPA) designation processes are currently uncoordinated.


To remedy these deficiencies, the overall goal of MarinePlan is to develop and apply a Decision Support System (DSS) for ecosystem-based maritime spatial planning (EB-MSP) together with best practice guidance to enhance the design and effectiveness of spatial conservation and restoration measures for marine biodiversity in European Seas. The DSS will be founded on a conceptual EB-MSP implementation process and will provide the tools and best available knowledge to ensure the allocation of coherent MPAs and restoration areas in the context of EB-MSP. As the main tool for MPA designation, we will operationalise ecologically or biologically significant marine areas (EBSA) criteria, which have emerged from a global effort let by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). After development, the DSS will be applied across eight archetypal European Planning Sites (hereafter called Planning Sites), ranging from coastal ecosystems to open ocean and the deep sea and from local to trans-boundary scales.


MarinePlan will ensure the uptake of the DSS by end-users (national decision makers and societal stakeholders) as we will co-develop the DSS (guidelines and tools) and best practice for its application together with Planning Site stakeholders. Its legacy will ensure effective policymaking to support the implementation of the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 and the Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 in European Seas as well as enabling streamlined planning processes for marine industries. Hence, MarinePlan stakeholders and beneficiaries comprise pan-European and national policy makers, national planning and conservation authorities, industry representatives (offshore renewables, fisheries, tourism, etc), NGOs, regional seas conventions (e.g. OSPAR, HELCOM, SPA/RAC), regional advisory bodies (e.g. ICES, GFCM) and academia. The above stated main goal will be achieved through four specific objectives for the European seas:


  1. Co-develop with stakeholders the conceptual elements of the DSS (guidelines and tools) and derive best practice guidance for EB-MSP implementation

  2. Develop quantitative metrics to operationalise ecological or biological significance and their application at various spatiotemporal scales

  3. Implement and apply the DSS based on objectives #1 and #2, its guidelines, metrics and tools at Planning Sites representing the diversity of European marine areas

  4. Provide recommendations and improvements in relation to the shortcomings, impediments to and opportunities of prevailing governance processes to enhance the implementation of EB- MSP


To learn more about MarinePlan, visit the project's website and follow their Twitter account.


For more information on the MarinePlan project, contact Dr. Wesley Flannery (


MarinePlan has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme HORIZON-CL6-2021-BIODIV-01-12 under grant agreement No 101059407 and by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee grant numbers 10038951 & 10050537. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or UK Research and Innovation. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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