Marine Spatial Planning

Marine spatial planning has become a core focus of my work over the last number of years. I am particularly interested in better understanding marine planning processes at international, national and subnational levels and critically assessing the implementation of ecosystem-based approaches.

Whitelee Windfarm, UK (c) Jim McDougall, creative commons license


With EU Member States required to complete their marine spatial plans by March 2021, under the EU MSP directive, it is currently a time of intensive activity concerning spatial planning at sea. At a broad policy level, multiple interests and priorities from wind energy and the ‘blue economy’ to shipping and oil and gas pipelines, marine biodiversity and climate change adaptation are weighed against each other and sustainable solutions are sought after. Although often perceived as far away and removed from the daily lives of most people, there is much at stake in MSP!

For some, the marine constitutes a ‘new frontier’, an almost empty space with an, as yet unrealised, economic potential. Yet activities at sea are intimately connected with those on land and the sea and coast are also places of cultural identity, meaning and value to local communities, visitors and recreational users. Against this background, my research work has focussed on the following topical issues:

– Assessing the alignment of marine spatial plans with EU environmental objectives

– analysing the current disconnect between spatial planning on land and at sea

– Assessing the potential for integrative approaches to strategic spatial planning across the land-sea interface, drawing on good practice examples

– Fostering dialogue between the land-based and MSP research and practitioner communities

Current and Recent Activities

Preparation of draft guidelines for cetacean-friendly marine spatial planning in northern and western Europe, commissioned by ASCOBANS.

Preparation of a position paper for Ireland’s Northern and Western Regional Assembly advising on governance arrangements, options and priorities for subnational MSP.

Assessment of the alignment of Baltic and North Sea marine spatial plans (Belgium, Germany, Latvia, Sweden) with EU environmental objectives. This study is commissioned by BirdLife International.

Review of Ireland’s National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) for the SWAN (Sustainable Water Network) network of environmental NGOs.

Together with Franziska Sielker (Cambridge University), Glen Smith (University College Cork) and Jenny Crawford (Queen’s University Belfast) I guest-edited a double special issue of the journal Planning, Practice and Research: Planning for Sea Spaces.

In 2021 I authored a desk-based study of Maritime Spatial Planning focussing on case studies of best / good practice where conflicts between offshore wind, fisheries and nature conservation interests have been resolved or ameliorated through MSP and related practices. Existing good practices can point the way towards more inclusive and integrated forms of MSP where conflicts are resolved, mitigated and/or ameliorated through open dialogue, strategic planning and regulations sensitive to the particularities of individual places and their communities. The study was commissioned by the The Greens / EFA in the European Parliament via the offices of Grace O’ Sullivan, MEP for Ireland South. It benefitted from expert input from MSPRN and MarSocSci colleagues across NW Europe.

I successfully organised and led a conference on marine spatial planning at Hamburg University in September 2019. The conference took place under the umbrella of the Marine Spatial Planning Research Network (MSPRN) and AESOP Thematic Group on Transboundary Spaces, Policy Diffusion and Planning Cultures. The conference report is available here.

Dr. Walsh is am member of the Steering Group of the Marine Spatial Planning Research Network

Related Publications

  1. Walsh, C., Sielker, F., Smith, G. & Crawford, J. (eds.) (2022) Planning for Sea Spaces I: Processes, Practices and Future Perspectives, Planning Practice and Research 
  2. Crawford, J., Walsh, C., Sielker, F., & Smith, G. (eds.) (2022) Planning for Sea Spaces II: Towards an Agenda for Research, Planning Practice and Research, DOI: 10.1080/02697459.2022.2071190.
  3. Birdlife International (2022a) Are EU Member State’s Maritime Spatial Plans Fit for Nature and Climate?: Technical Report – Approach and Main Findings, Birdlife International, prepared by Walsh, C. & Loch, M.
  4. Birdlife International (2022b) Assessment of the Maritime Spatial Plan of Germany: Alignment of Germany’s Maritime Spatial Plan with EU Environmental Objectives. Birdife International.
  5. Birdlife International (2022c) Assessment of the Maritime Spatial Plan of Belgium: Alignment of Belgium’s Maritime Spatial Plan with EU Environmental Objectives. Birdife International.
  6. Birdlife International (2022d) Assessment of the Maritime Spatial Plan of Sweden: Alignment of Sweden’s Maritime Spatial Plan with EU Environmental Objectives. Birdife International.
  7. Birdlife International (2022e) Assessment of the Maritime Spatial Plan of Latvia: Alignment of Latvia’s Maritime Spatial Plan with EU Environmental Objectives. Birdife International.
  8. Walsh, C. (2022) An Evaluation of Ireland’s Marine Spatial Plan – The National Marine Planning Framework, Sustainable Water Network, download here.
  9. Walsh, C. (2021). Transcending Land-Sea Dichotomies through Strategic Spatial Planning. Regional Studies, 55(5), 818-830.
  10. Walsh, C. (2021) Best Practice in Maritime Spatial Planning: Towards Mutually Beneficial Outcomes for Fishers, Renewable Energy Production and Marine Conservation, commissioned by Grace O’ Sullivan MEP / Greens / EFA in the European Parliament, download here.
  11. Walsh, C. (2020) Conference Report: Spatial Strategies at the Land-Sea Interface: Rethinking Maritime Spatial Planning – University of Hamburg, 11-13th September 2019, Town Planning Review 91, (3), 343-348,
  12. Walsh, C. & Kannen, A. (2019) Spatial Planning at Sea: Shifting Planning Practices at the North Sea Coast of Germany, Raumforschung und Raumordnung: Spatial Research and Planning, 77, (2) 147-164,
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