Narrowing the gap between marine spatial planning aspirations and realities


Many coastal nations have embraced marine spatial planning (MSP) as a solution to maintaining ecological integrity of marine environments, while ensuring continued provisioning of economic, social, and cultural benefits. However, evidence supporting the idea that plans achieve—or are likely to achieve—these goals is limited. One gap in our understanding stems from questions surrounding the metrics against which MSP success is measured. Evaluation can be based on explicitly stated objectives, or might include metrics corresponding to broad social–ecological goals. This paper compares aspirational MSP goals gleaned from a literature review to the objectives extracted from 50+ finalized and implemented plans to better understand: (1) how well these two groupings align, and (2) in what ways any misalignment may shape MSP evaluation. Findings show that plans prioritize the environment, economy, and governance, while often excluding objectives related to cultural heritage, human well-being, Indigenous rights, human safety, and climate change. Social and cultural objectives have become more prevalent over time, yet overall stated objectives remain distinct from theorized MSP goals. As international efforts aim to expand MSP, narrowing the gap between how it is perceived and how its outcomes are evaluated is critical to better understanding what it is likely to achieve.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Rafael A Magris
Wesley Flannery
ICES Journal of Marine Science