Demand for outputs (goods and services such as food and energy) usually exceeds the capacity of marine areas to meet all of the demands simultaneously. Marine resources are “common property resources” with open or free access to users. Free access often, if not always, leads to excessive use of marine resources, e.g., over-fishing, and eventual exhaustion of the resources.
Because not all of the outputs from marine areas, especially ecosystem services such as wildlife habitat and nutrient cycling, can be expressed in monetary terms, markets cannot perform the allocation tasks. Some public process must be used to decide what mix of outputs from the marine area will be produced over time and space. That process is marine spatial planning.
Marine spatial planning is not a substitute for single-sector planning and management. Strategic and operational plans for fisheries, transportation, energy, recreation, and conservation, for example, will continue even when integrated MSP is put into practice. Integrated MSP can provide a guide to single-sector management that should increase compatibilities and reduce conflicts across sectors, balance development and conservation interests, increase management effectiveness and efficiency, and address the cumulative effects of multiple human uses of the same marine space..
Marine spatial planning is not only conservation planning. While a network of marine protected areas might be one outcome of MSP, it seeks to balance economic development and environmental conservation, and not focus on only on the goals of conservation or protection.
Marine spatial planning is not ocean zoning. Marine space has been zoned for individual human uses for decades, if not longer. Fisheries have been opened or closed in particular areas or zones. Marine transportation has been managed within designated lanes or zones especially in intensively-used areas. Rights to explore or exploit energy or mineral resources have been leased on an area basis. Marine protected areas have been designated in many places in the world. However, these zones and others have usually been planned on a single-sector basis without comprehensive, integrated planning. Zoning is one way to implement the goals of a marine plan.
MSP does not lead to a one-time plan It is a continuing, iterative process that learns and adapts over time (see diagram below). The development and implementation of MSP involves a number of steps that are outlined in this website (see MSP Good Practices).
These 10 steps are not simply a linear process that moves sequentially from one step to the next. Many feedback loops should be built into the MSP process. For example, goals and objectives identified early in the process are likely to be modified as the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of different management actions are identified later in the planning process. Analyses of existing and future conditions will change as new information is identified and incorporated in the MSP process. Stakeholder participation will change the MSP process as it develops over time. Planning is a dynamic process and planners have to be open to accommodating changes as the process evolves over time.