Baltic Sea Maritime Spatial Planning for Sustainable Ecosystem Services

The current and potential use of the seas and oceans is often called the ‘Blue Economy’. Recently, the European Commission launched its Blue Growth Strategy on the opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth. 

The European Commission considers that Blue Growth is a long-term strategy in the marine and maritime sectors with great potential for innovation and economic growth. Holistic spatial planning systems supporting sustainable development have proved themselves in terrestrial planning and are also needed at sea. Due to this reason, the BONUS BASMATI project is based on the ecosystem services approach to assist in assessing sustainable solutions corresponding to policy goals.

The seas have been exploited by people for millennia, but mainly for fisheries and transport of goods and people until recently. In recent decades, new marine uses, such as off-shore oil and gas production and wind energy have become a part of the marine environment. Aquaculture along coasts and in fjords is becoming a major industry, and marine mineral resources and marine biotechnology are contributing strongly to the rapid evolution in the use of seas and oceans. Among the activities competing for marine space are also the increasing cruise tourism and extended recreational activities in coastal areas, which have been emphasized as an important element in the EU strategy for growth and jobs in coastal and maritime tourism.

The use of the seas and oceans is overall regulated by the United Nations (UN), implemented by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which defines rights and responsibilities on the seas and oceans. However, with the rapidly increasing use of the seas and oceans, it is inevitable that conflicts will arise. Accordingly, there has been an increasing international recognition of the need to manage human activities that influence the marine environment and its ecosystems in an integrated, cross-sectoral manner. The paradigm of Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) aims at minimizing the conflicts among different sea uses. This approach includes involving various stakeholders and sectors while targeting sustainable growth.

Blue Growth planning based on sustainable ecosystem services

The traditional approach to spatial planning of terrestrial areas aims at balancing the use and protection of areas in support of sustainable development, from environmental, societal and economic perspectives. Similar planning systems are required at sea and in the interconnecting areas of land and sea, the coasts. The point of departure for the BONUS BASMATI project is the concept of ecosystem services (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The concept of ecosystem services in the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) framework (www.millenniumassessment.org

MSP requires a spatially explicit framework for decision-making; therefore, the overall objective of the project is to develop integrated and innovative solutions for marine and coastal ecosystems services and marine protected areas. The work will be built on the results of former MSP projects and will be carried out in close co-operation with relevant stakeholders in the Baltic Sea region.

Decision support and stakeholder involvement across the Baltic Sea 

To achieve the goals mentioned above, a decision-support tool, the Baltic Explorer, will be developed. This system will be built on interactive information technology and will support an integrated, ecosystem-based approach to MSP. The development of the Baltic Explorer tool will take advantage of the interdisciplinary partnerships in the project team, combining competences from natural, social and technical sciences. The Baltic Explorer will be a multi-channel platform offering an interactive web map and a large multi-touch display for accessing, displaying and analysing harmonized cross-border data from marine spatial data infrastructures available in the Baltic region. The Baltic Explorer will support the collaborative setting of values for different uses of marine space, and will facilitate the negotiations between the regional stakeholders. The use of extensive stakeholder value mapping guarantees the support of ecosystem services and Blue Growth. The Baltic Explorer will utilize open standards for spatial data delivery and modern web technologies, and will be built on open source components to guarantee the free use and extensibility of the application.

Enabling MSP at both local and pan-Baltic scales

A central aim of the project is to facilitate cross-border collaboration. The organization supporting the BONUS BASMATI project include seven partners located across the Baltic Sea Region: two Danish Universities, Aalborg University and Aarhus University; the Nordic research institute Nordregio; two Finnish partners, the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute and University of Turku; the Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology; and the Leibniz institute for Baltic Sea Research from Germany. During the project, which will run until 2020, new data will be produced and tested in assessments corresponding to policy goals to support the combined analysis of the four elements of the concept of ecosystem services described in Figure 1. The impact of the project will be facilitated and assessed in transnational case studies for which integrated solutions are required. At the local scale, this will include case study areas in the Fehmarn Belt and the Gulf of Finland, and a pan-Baltic case study will be performed across the region.