Integrated sea use management

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Fishing boats in port
© Alle Tiders Læsö

Integrated Sea Use Management - a solution for a crowded sea

The Baltic Sea is one of the most studied sea areas on earth. Living around it are some the richest, most developed and most educated people in the world. Almost all of us believe that a clean and healthy marine environment is important and countless political decisions have been made to save the Baltic Sea. Still, it is one if the most polluted seas in the world. What are we doing wrong? Why can’t we save the Baltic Sea? There must be something fundamentally flawed in our approach to the sea and its resources.
We all need the sea and its ecosystem to produce various forms of goods and services. These include transport, fishing, aquaculture, mineral extraction and energy production. But the sea is also important for recreation and to meet our cultural and emotional needs and values. Our agricultural production needs water that sooner or later ends up in the sea. From year to year we can see how competition for the sea’s limited resources grows. We must stop looking at the sea as endless. We have reached a point where our actions are threatening the sea and its ecosystems to such an extent that the very processes that are maintaining them are at risk.

So, what’s wrong then? The solutions we have tried so far are all using a fragmented approach. We have tried to solve the problems one by one, sector by sector and department by department. The result is an inconsistent patchwork of rules and regulatory bodies in nine different countries, utterly powerless in dealing with the complex problems facing the Baltic Sea.

But there is another way of approaching the problem. On land we never question the need to use spatial planning to decide how to best use the land and how to resolve conflicts between competing interests. Well in advance, decisions are made on what part of the land will be used for housing, industry, transport, recreation or what parts should be set aside for nature conservation. There is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same thing with the sea.

By integrating planning and management of our use of the sea and its resources in a process where all stakeholders can participate, we can both save the environment and facilitate economic development. If we, for example, could plan which sea areas should be used for shipping, which should be reserved for wind farms and which should be set a side as marine reserves, we would make it easier for the shipping industry to plan for ports and other infrastructure, we would save prospecting money for the wind industry, and we could still protect those areas that are most important for biodiversity and for the survival and resilience of the ecosystem.

Such a model, often called “integrated sea use management” is now being tested in several parts of the world. Some countries have begun to move forward and have started implementing integrated sea use management and marine spatial planning in some of their sea areas. There has been an evolution from early spatial plans designed to establish and manage marine protected areas (Australia and the United States), to multiple-use marine spatial planning (Northwest Europe and China), to more recent, systematic efforts to integrate the design of multiple-use marine spatial management with an ecosystem approach (Australia, Canada, and to some extent, New Zealand).

Integrated Sea Use Management is still a young concept but we seem to have a unique window of opportunity in the Baltic Sea right now. The EU strongly encourages a more integrated approach to management of the seas in its future Maritime Policy. The recently adopted Marine Strategy Directive is the environmental ‘pillar’ of the EU’s future Maritime Policy. The directive “aims to achieve good environmental status of the EU’s marine waters by 2021 and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend”. The aim of the maritime policy is to encompass all aspects of the oceans and seas in a holistic approach. It has been proposed that the Baltic Sea be used as a pilot area for a more integrated approach to maritime affairs.

In addition, the European Council has invited the Commission to present an EU strategy for the Baltic Sea Region at the latest by June 2009. The strategy aims to make the region a model of marine environment best-practice within the EU. It will also address other regional challenges such as enhancing growth and competitiveness, and promoting deeper market integration.

WWF’s vision for integrated sea use management is one in which the use of resources is managed through a holistic ecosystem-based approach. In order to succeed, such a new approach must include:
• one integrated governance framework for the entire Baltic Sea covering all governance levels
• a holistic, integrated, cross-sectoral and ecosystem-based process that includes all countries, sectors and relevant stakeholders
• a clear implementation plan with concrete and concerted actions identified, with secured budgets and ongoing review mechanisms in place
• real leadership secured through political commitment at the highest possible level.

The Baltic Sea provides a fantastic opportunity to showcase a truly integrated approach to conservation and sustainable development. The need is great and the time to launch a new approach ripe. All the necessary pieces are in place to make this change. What is needed now is honest commitment to a new approach, strong leadership, and concrete actions.

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