Global Survey of Tools Used for Marine Spatial Planning, Round 4: Geographies Represented, What Tools are Being Used For, and How Useful They Are

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By Sarah Carr

Survey respondents were asked to provide some identifying information about their MSP projects, and from this information, we can get an idea where a large number MSP projects (> 100) are occurring. (Note: These results do NOT mean that MSP projects are not occurring in other locations, and they may not be representative of the geographic distribution of MSP projects as a whole.) Since the vast majority of responses were associated with a specific country or countries, we grouped results by continent where the project countries are located with the exception of a project in the Southern Ocean.[i]

Roughly 70% of our respondents are/were conducting their MSP process in North America with the remainder split between Europe, Oceania, Asia, South America, Africa, and the Southern Ocean (see figure below). Roughly 75% of the North American MSP processes are/were being conducted in the United States with the remainder split between Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.[ii]

Respondents also provided information about what they are or were using the tools to do. Most of the responses revolved around marine protected area planning, but the diversity of responses show that tools are a vital part of almost all aspects of marine spatial planning, particularly bringing science and information and the public in decision making processes.

Some of the (definitely not mutually exclusive) uses for tools include:

  • Designing, optimizing, and selecting marine protected area sites and networks (e.g. defining potential MPAs, determining habitats encompassed by potential MPAs, determining potential impacts of MPA options on user groups such as local fishers)
  • Finding appropriate areas for offshore renewable energy infrastructure given environmental, industry, and financial constraints
  • Zoning marine areas (including marine protected areas) for diverse uses such as fishing, tourism, industry, and conservation
  • Discovering and collecting data (e.g. locations of natural resources, other planning organizations' areas of interest)
  • Mapping habitats and marine species distributions
  • Assessing areas of current and potential use conflict between diverse human uses and ecological function (e.g. distribution of marine mammals and shipping lanes)
  • Modeling sea level rise
  • Modeling ecosystem status and cumulative pressures on ecosystems
  • Modeling ecosystem service flows
  • Engaging stakeholders in providing information (e.g. identifying where human uses currently occur)
  • Helping to create and share alternative management scenarios, including helping stakeholders create their own scenarios
  • Helping stakeholders evaluate and select desired management options
  • Helping project personnel communicate the MSP process to stakeholders
  • Helping to track and communicate MSP project progress towards goals (e.g. creating report cards).

And finally, when asked if tools are helping or have helped their process, respondents were overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority responding that tools definitely or mostly helped their process.

[i] The fine print: Projects in U.S. Pacific territories were categorized as being in Oceania rather than North America. Respondents involved in multiple projects on the same continent were only counted once. Respondents working on multiple continents were counted for each continent. Respondents that provide data for MSP projects rather than work on a specific MSP project were not counted. Projects spanning continental boundaries were counted for both continents.

[ii] More fine print: Projects in U.S. Caribbean territories were categorized as being in the Caribbean rather than the United States. Respondents involved in multiple projects in the same region were only counted once. Respondents working in multiple regions were counted for each region.


I curious to be part of the Global Survey respondent as MSP is implemented since 2007 through the establishment of the law on coastal and small islands management.

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