For the last decade, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO has been instrumental in implementing the concept of ecosystem based management through its Marine Spatial Planning approach. IOC is in a unique international position to assist countries move toward ecosystem-based management of the marine environment through MSP.
The IOC promotes development of management procedures and policies leading to the sustainability of marine environments, as well as the capacity-building necessary for maintenance of healthy ocean ecosystems. Starting in 2006, IOC/UNESCO convened the first International Workshop on the use of marine spatial planning as a tool to implement ecosystem-based, sea use management. About 50 participants from over 20 countries attended because of their practical experience in sea use management, marine spatial planning, and ocean zoning.
One key outcome of this workshop was the realization that an international effort was needed to articulate and harmonize the conceptual approach behind MSP, from establishing authority, through planning to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This led to the preparation and publication by IOC/UNESCO of the first international MSP guide ‘A Step by Step Approach” (IOC Manual and Guide No.53) which rapidly became an internationally recognized standard, now published in six languages including Russian, Chinese, and Spanish.
The last several years has seen an explosion of interest in MSP as a practical approach to manage both conflicts and compatibilities in the marine environment in the face of both increasing development pressures and increasing interest in the conservation of nature.
With a view to build the technical and institutional capacities of nations around the world, IOC integrated the MSP initiative as part of the its Integrated Coastal Area Management Strategy that was endorsed by the IOC Assembly in 2011. Since then IOC, with the financial support of the Moore Foundation, has continued to document the international practice of MSP around the world, synthesizing lessons learned, and updating technical guidance in various aspects of MSP design and implementation. Eleven years after the 1st MSP workshop in Paris, the IOC contribution in the MSP field will culminate with the organization of the Second International Conference on MSP in March 2017 at IOC/UNESCO, jointly with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG Mare). This key event will help consolidating the international network of MSP practitioners and will assess the contribution of MSP to sustainable blue growth and marine ecosystem conservation, as well as identify priorities for the future of MSP.
Within UNESCO, the IOC MSP initiative has also helped in fostering collaboration with other marine related programmes, such as the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme and the World Heritage Marine Programme. In both cases, the use of MSP tools has been demonstrated useful in developing marine conservation plans at the level of Biosphere Reserves or World Heritage Marine sites, that are integrated in a broader marine planning framework.
As the world moves toward the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal on Ocean (SDG#14), as part of the Agenda 2030, more than ever, MSP and generally ecosystem-based management provide an effective framework to guide sustainable development of the oceans and coasts. Science-based, integrated, adaptive, strategic and participatory are all core values that IOC promotes in the context of Marine Spatial Planning.