Welcome from the Executive Secretary of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

In 2006 UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) held the first international workshop on marine spatial planning (MSP) that started a growing international ocean management community thinking about planning marine waters in a systematic and integrated way. While a number of countries had already undertaken MSP, an important recommendation of the IOC workshop was to develop a guide to marine spatial planning. The resulting guide, Marine Spatial Planning: a Step-by-Step Approach toward Ecosystem-based Management, published by UNESCO in 2009, has become an internationally recognized standard, now published in seven languages including Russian, Chinese, and Spanish.

MSP, originally developed in high-income countries in Western Europe, North America, and Australia, is rapidly developing in mid- and low-income countries such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, and Island countries of the Caribbean and Coral Triangle.

The IOC promotes development of management procedures and policies leading to the sustainability of marine environments, as well as the capacity building necessary for the maintenance of healthy ocean ecosystems.

We hope this report helps countries continue to foster the technical capacity building and institutional capacities to reduce biodiversity loss and manage their marine ecosystems sustainably

Wendy Watson-Wright, Ph.D.
Assistant Director General and Executive Secretary
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

Video: Wendy Watson-Wright on the new online guide

  • UNESCO held first international workshop on MSP in 2006
  • UNESCO guide laying out a step-by-step approach to MSP published in 2009
  • It has been translated into 7 languages and widely used
  • New UNESCO guide to evaluating marine spatial plans published in 2014


While the marine community has often talked about the importance of “marine governance” or “marine ecosystem-based management”, it is only during the past 10-12 years that these concepts have been turned into operational activities some of which have become known as “marine spatial planning” or MSP. Pioneered in Western Europe through the efforts of the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, MSP activities have spread to about 30 countries throughout the world. Nine countries now have government-approved marine spatial plans covering their exclusive economic zones or territorial seas, and several of these are in their second- or third generation of plan development and implementation.

But how do we know if these plans are “successful”? And what does “success” mean? How do we measure it? Are the plans achieving their goals and objectives? Do the plans have political and public support? Have they achieved real results?

While the idea of MSP is still in its early life stage—it’s only 10-12 years old—and many tangible results could take 5-15 years to be realized, it’s not too early to think about evaluating the results of MSP.

This new online guide from IOC’s Marine Spatial Planning Initiative, in cooperation with OpenChannels and Green Fire Productions, is an attempt to advance thinking within the international MSP community about undertaking this important step toward monitoring and evaluating the performance of marine spatial plans.

Charles N. Ehler, Consultant on Marine Spatial Planning
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

Video: Charles Ehler on the new monitoring and evaluation guide

  • MSP can balance different objectives—environmental, economic, social
  • By monitoring and evaluation of what works and what does not, marine management can be improved based on experience
  • Successful MSP focusses on the outcomes of plans—not the plans themselves
  • Over 40 countries have initiated MSP and some have already implemented and revised their plans
  • We should be looking at these experiences for lessons about how monitoring and evaluation can improve marine planning
  • Monitoring and evaluation should be considered at the beginning of MSP, not as an afterthought—if at all

Go back to Guide Homepage or continue reading Eight Steps to Evaluating Marine Spatial Plans