Beyond Single-Use Zoning?: MSPRN Webinar on Multi-Use in Marine Spatial Planning

What is the future of marine spatial planning? Will marine plans continue to rely on zoning as a primary means for coordinating the spatial distribution of human activities at sea? Will marine protected areas continue to work with fixed and static boundaries? Multiple-use and co-location are increasingly viewed as core principles for the efficient use of marine space and actively supported both at European level and through multiple funded research and pilot projects . To take one example, the long-term vision of the 2019 Belgian marine spatial plan states that “in the future, the principle of multiple-use of space will be the norm for all use of space within the Belgian North Sea”.

At the same time, there are indications that dynamic management tools, utilising near real-time data may be most suited to the conservation of highly mobile species, and come to replace conventional protected areas in future. These questions and trends are of practical relevance, concerning as they do key aspects of MSP policy and practice. They are also of academic relevance. From a critical social science perspective, we can ask what a shift away from static, single-use zoning might mean for how we understand MSP. Do such developments represent a logical response to the dynamic, open character of sea space or do they risk a dilution of core planning principles? 

On 12th April, I chaired a webinar of the Marine Spatial Planning Research Network (MSPRN) exploring these issues. We had three presentations from experts on multi-use in MSP, coming from diverse geographical contexts, the Atlantic coast of Brazil, the Mediterranean Sean and the North Sea:

Daniel Depellegrin et al : Ocean Multi-Use as a pathway for sustainable transition in the Blue Economy (Mediterranean)

2) Sereno Diederichsen et al: Ocean multi-use strategy: Community-based tourism as an opportunity and challenges to promoting the local blue economy in the Global South (Brazil)

3) Prince Owusu Bonsu et al: Co-location of fisheries and offshore wind development in the North Sea: Current practices and emerging challenges for marine spatial planning (North Sea)

Each presentation provided key insights into current practices and challenges of multi-use. It is evident that the terms multi-use and co-location can apply to a wide range of diverse institutional and socioeconomic contexts from community-based fisheries, to the sharing of marine space between fisheries and offshore wind to the repurposing of existing industrial infrastructure as tourism attractions. In each case there is a deliberate attempt to firstly understand how diverse uses can be combined rather than viewed in isolation and secondly, to devise creative solutions to their management. Multi-use requires cross-sectoral integration and close engagement with diverse stakeholders. The webinar brought together MSP and blue economy researchers and practitioners from across the world with participants from China and New Zealand as well as Europe and the Americas.

A key question relates to the role of the state and public sector in the facilitation and/or support of multi-use. This can vary from a passive regulatory role to that of an active initiator or promoter of multi-use. Indeed, we cannot assume that the state acts as a unitary coherent actor in each national context. Contradictions or tensions between sectoral policy objectives may also occur.

From a planning perspective, it is important to reflect on the role of MSP in the governance of multi-use and both risks and opportunities this may pose. To date, academic and applied debates of multi-use have arguably paid too little attention to the history of single- and multi-use zoning on land. Single use zoning has been decried as the antithesis of urbanism, fostering separation and exclusion rather than allowing for synergies and cities to embrace their tendencies towards collective self-organisation and grow in an organic manner. Do these concerns apply at sea also? Does multi-use at sea foster synergies, creative interaction and self-organised complexity? How does multi-use work in a space characterised by increasing privatisation with a poorly developed sense of the public realm? Can public space be produced through marine spatial planning? Where is multi-use appropriate and where should a sharp division of uses and claims on sea space be maintained? To my mind, these and related questions deserve attention (both empirically and conceptually) from a critical social science perspective.

We hope to make the slides of each presentation available on the MSPRN website. We hope that this will be the first in a series of MSPN webinars. Do watch out for the MSPRN mailing list and newsletter for more information and get in touch with us if you would like to join the network.

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