Marine Spatial Planning


Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) emerged in 2006 in response to a need for implementing ecosystem-based management and incorporate values of the ocean that are not normally captured in a management plan or planning process for a common property resource such as ecosystem services.  MSP uses a public participatory process to address ecological, economic and social objectives and has changed the status quo of governance structures and decision-making frameworks to address the complexity of decisions confronting governments for existing and future activities and consider cumulative impacts. The goal of MSP is to be able to account for these other values in the ecosystem and fully account for these to safeguard long-term ecosystem health and the well-being of human communities.  Read more about marine spatial planning from IOC-UNESCO.

Historically, marine planners had limited tools to identify and incorporate ecosystem service models to inform marine plans.  More recently, ecosystem services have been in marine plans, a sign that these data are very helpful and tools are available to measure these services with respect to planning objectives. In fact, a recent study by Ruckelshaus et al. on “Lessons from the field” published in Ecological Economics (July 2015, Volume 115) found 22 locations around the world where ecosystem services information was used in decision-making. These encouraging examples point to a growing acceptance and applicability of ecosystem services in marine spatial planning.

TNC’s Mapping Ocean Wealth (MOW) datasets have been used to inform several MSP projects to date and there are proposals for further integration as projects evolve. See below for examples of geographies where MOW have, or will be, used.

Learn more about these, and other projects at

Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Project (CROP)

The Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Project (CROP) project will strengthen ocean governance in Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica  by: a) development of coastal and marine spatial plans and associated training; and b) development of national ocean strategies/policies for participating countries.  One objective of CROP is to improve ocean data access to decision-makers.  Expanding and enhancing the MOW platform to improve data coverage in the region and developing mobile applications for improved datasets and tools will improve coastal and ocean data access to decision-makers.  Read more about the project here.


Mapping Ocean Wealth team members in Micronesia are planning on using the coral reef fisheries model as an input to the marine spatial planning process in Chuuk, located in the Federated States of Micronesia.

While the coral reef fisheries dataset is informative at a regional scale, the team is planning on enhancing the data for improved accuracy and utility at finer scales. This involves correcting inaccuracies caused by data limitations, and adjusting the model so that it better predicts reef fish standing stock and recovery on lagoon reef habitats, rather than on reef slopes and fringing reefs, reflecting the predominant habitats in Chuuk.

Similar to the regional MOW model, an output from this model will be a spatial map indicating where maximum ecological benefits are likely to accrue as a result of improved fisheries management. This information can be used in spatial prioritization exercises, for example, to design a protected area network that would achieve Micronesia Challenge targets whilst prioritising reefs that will produce the greatest benefits in terms of increasing reef fish biomass.  Read more about the marine spatial planning efforts in Chuuk here.


The Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan Initiative is entering Phase 2 and over the next three years will be identifying new areas for marine protection in shallow and deep waters, less than and deeper than 200 meters, respectively.  The objectives of the Seychelles MSP is to expand marine protection from 0.04 % to 30% of Seychelles’ marine waters, address climate change adaptation and support the development of the Blue Economy.  Spatial data for all of the marine sectors are needed to inform the zoning design as well as to account for other values of the ecosystem, such as ecosystem services and socio-cultural values.  Several ideas are in development for using Mapping Ocean Wealth models to inform the planning including development of high resolution spatial data for the ecosystem services for the coral reefs surrounding the archipelago and to develop ecosystem services models to indicate maximum ecological benefits for use in spatially-explicit trade-off analyses, such as in this example from White et al. for siting of aquaculture and renewable energy. Read more about the marine spatial planning efforts here.

Top image:  © Jeff Yonover. Photo Credits in Text: © Marjo Aho, © Nick Hall, © The Ocean Agency