On 25th July 2023, the car-carrying cargo ship MV Fremantle Highway caught fire off the coast of the Dutch island of Ameland. The ship was en route from Bremerhaven to Port Said (Egypt) with Singapore as its final destination. It was carrying approximately 3,000 vehicles, presumably destined for sale in Asia. As fuel, the ship was reportedly carrying 1,600 tons of heavy fuel oil and 200 tons of marine diesel oil. Should the ship have sunk or lost structural integrity, long-term environmental damage would have been caused to the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. The heavy oil would have sunk to the bottom of the sea and would have taken decades to degrade. The marine diesel would have remained for longer on the surface and impacted severely on seabird populations, as well as harbour porpoises and seals (NABU). By way of comparison, the wrecking of the Pallas freight ship in October 1998 with 756 tonnes of oil on board, close to the island of Amrum at the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein, led to a 20-km long oil spill and the deaths of approximately 16,000 seabirds.
The damaged MV Freemantle Highway en route to the port of Eemshaven, photographed from the coast of Borkum, photo: S. Engler-Walsh.
Last week, the FREIIA (Facilitating Resilience Enhancing Islands Innovation Approaches) project team met on the Koster islands in Sweden for two days of intensive meetings and excursions. The Interreg North Sea Programme funded FREIIA project includes researchers and practitioners from a diverse range of organisations in Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Germany, with a common focus on the development of better governance for small offshore islands. The Koster islands and Koster National Park are located off the southwest coast of Sweden, close to the border with Norway. They cover an area of approximately 12 square kilometres with a resident population of c. 300 people.
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”.
As part of my teaching at Leuphana University Lüneburg, I gave a seminar in Winter Semester 22/23 on ‘Spatial Planning in Practice’ with a particular focus on ecosystem-based marine spatial planning. The seminar formed part of the minor programme in Spatial Science. The interdisciplinary group of undergraduate students brought their own perspectives and skills to the complex task of preparing an ecosystem-based transboundary marine spatial plan for the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea. The students initially worked in small groups focussed on thematic issues of relevance to the case study area, including offshore wind, shipping, fishing, marine mammals and birds.
Students discussing planning options for the Dogger Bank, bringing together diverse stakeholder perspectives.
Mapping fishing grounds at the Dogger Bank
The groups identified objectives for their area of focus for both 2030 and 2060 as well as potential planning measures targeted at achieving those objectives. In a subsequent step, the students exchanged information between the groups and engaged in negotiation with the aim of achieving common objectives, balancing the expansion of offshore renewable energy with protection of the marine environment and against the background of existing uses of marine space.
Following a successful tender application, I have been commissioned by BirdLife International to conduct an evaluation of national level Marine Spatial Plans (MSPs). Over the next few months, I will develop a methodology for the assessment of MSPs based on a screening of relevant EU environmental directives. This methodology will initially be applied to four countries located within the Baltic and North Sea Regions: Belgium, Germany, Lithuania and Sweden and subsequently made available to practitioners and stakeholders for the evaluation of MSPs across Europe.