Impact assessment

Need for the assessment

Under section 3 of the Act on Environmental Impact Assessment Procedure of Authorities’ Plans and Programmes (200/2005), the authority responsible for a plan or programme shall ensure that its environmental impacts are adequately examined and assessed during the preparation process if the implementation of the plan or programme may have significant environmental impacts. While the Maritime Spatial Plans are plans referred to in section 3 of this Act, they are not plans or programmes referred to in section 4, subsection1, paragraph 1 or section 5 of the Act; as plans without legal effect, they do not provide a framework for decisions to approve or issue permits to projects. This report was prepared as a response to the obligation to investigate and assess impacts referred to in section 3 of the Act.

Requirement to produce a Natura assessment for Maritime Spatial Plans

On the grounds discussed in Appendix 1, preparing an assessment referred to in section 65, subsection 1 of the Nature Conservation Act in connection with the preparation and approval process of the Marine Spatial Plan is not necessary. The key legal questions in this matter are, first of all, whether the Marine Spatial Plan is a project or a plan referred to in section 65, subsection 1 of the Nature Conservation Act. Secondly, it should be examined if it will have an adverse effect on the ecological values because of which the sites affected by the plan have been included in the Natura 2000 network.

The Maritime Spatial Plan covers Finland’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone in full, also comprising numerous Natura 2000 sites. The Maritime Spatial Plan identifies potential for existing and new activities which, if they went ahead, could have an adverse effect on the ecological values because of which the sites were included in the Natura 2000 network. 

Assessments referred to in the Nature Conservation Act only need to be prepared in connection with projects and plans that have an adverse effect on the ecological values because of which the sites were included in the Natura 2000 network, including planning and permit procedures.

Objectives of the assessment

The objective of the assessment was to assess the impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plans which are about to be completed, taking into account ecological, economic, societal and cultural aspects. The assessment encompasses (1) an impact assessment in the context of examining national and regional needs as part of maritime spatial planning; and (2) the significant direct and indirect impacts of the forthcoming Maritime Spatial Plans generated through the sectors taken into consideration in maritime spatial planning. Three planning areas were examined: 1) the Gulf of Finland, 2) the Archipelago Sea and the southern Bothnian Sea, and 3) the northern Bothnian Sea, Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay. The maritime spatial planning process of the Åland Islands is carried out separately and does not fall within the scope of this assessment. 

The following uses and sectors are taken into account in maritime spatial planning: protection and management of the marine environment, offshore wind power, maritime logistics, tourism and recreation, fishing and aquaculture, marine industries, blue biotechnology, mining, cultural heritage and national defence. 

The materials gathered on the current activities and future trends in the maritime sectors in the vision stage were used in the assessment. The goal of the impact assessment is to provide feedback which will support the maritime spatial planning process and be helpful in the finalisation of the plans. 

In addition to the actual plans, the assessment has links to other projects and studies on the topic  which have been prepared as part of the planning process and which provide input information for the impact assessment. The assessment was guided by the general objective of maritime spatial planning, which is to interlink a good status of the marine environment and the development of livelihoods, ensuring that both industries and ecosystems can improve simultaneously and in the same physical locations. The impact assessment made use of the ecosystem approach based on HELCOM guidelines and the Finnish Environment Institute’s view of the national application of these guidelines.

In addition to blue growth, the ecosystem approach creates a clear assessment framework; the interactions and interdependencies between the themes are crucial for the success of the impact assessment.

Implementation of the assessment

By identifying the impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plans, the changes caused by and the consequences of the plans can be examined and anticipated from the following perspectives:

● impacts on human living conditions and living environment 

● soil and bedrock, water, air and climate 

● plant and animal species, biodiversity and natural resources 

● regional and urban structure, urban and energy economy, and transport 

● cityscapes, landscapes, cultural heritage and the built environment 

● development of effective competition in business life.

To identify the impacts, the definition of an impact pathway has been used. It consists of the following elements:

● initial factor/cause of the impact

● intensity, extent or duration of the cause (for example, intensity of a change);

● impact mechanism

● object of the impact (for example, the natural environment, individual species, or local residents) and the object’s sensitivity (low/moderate/high) 

● the object’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances

Based on this information, a description of the impact was prepared: how the impact will change the object, will this change be positive (beneficial) or negative (harmful), and how significant the impact will be. 

In addition, the combined impacts of the different sectors and all three marine areas in relation to ecosystems were assessed from the perspective of planetary boundaries and the carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea. The overall impacts were also assessed from the perspective of economic and socio-cultural impacts, taking the combined impacts of activities on land and at sea into account. While working on the vision for maritime spatial planning, a common intent was formulated for each marine area for 2030. This common intent describes the development that will have been achieved in line with the Maritime Spatial Plan over the next ten years. The impacts were also assessed in relation to this development. 

The sectoral impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plan are described using sectoral impact pathways, to which detail has been added in cooperation with representatives and experts of each sector. The impact pathways describe the indirect impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plan. While the Maritime Spatial Plan is not legally binding, it can be relied on as a strategic document in the planning and implementation of projects. The impact pathways contain a concise description of the key contents of the Maritime Spatial Plan for each sector and a description of the possible triggering processes and their impacts. Three different colours are used to describe the potential impacts: red = a negative impact, yellow = a neutral impact, green = a positive impact. Finally, an opinion on the Maritime Spatial Plan’s impact on the sector is given.

As a starting point for the impact assessment, the change caused by the Maritime Spatial Plan’s realisation is examined compared to a situation where the plan would not exist. The assessment does not take a stand on the timeframe within which the plan can be realised.

The Maritime Spatial Plan is strategic and general in nature, and its guiding effects are indirect. The plan identifies potential and significant areas for maritime industries. Some of these notations describe future potential (for example, areas designated for offshore wind farms and fish farming), while others denote existing maritime activities (maritime transport routes, ports, the archipelago, etc.). To carry out the work, a decision had to be made on how notations on existing activities on the one hand, and notations indicating future potential on the other, should be taken into account in the impact assessment. As a rule, the impacts of existing maritime activities have been described on the basis that the plan will enable the continued existence of these sectors. The impact of notations indicating future potential were assessed at a more detailed level as, if realised, they would often have significant indirect impacts on the marine environment, the economy or society. 

Limitations of the assessment

For schedule-related reasons, the work on the assessment was carried out while the finishing touches were still being put on the draft Maritime Spatial Plans and the notation cards. The maps, notation cards and zoning cards were still in the drafting phase and undergoing continuous editing. On-going changes in key documents influenced the possibilities of adopting the systematic approach that the nature of the assessment would have required. The assessment also faced challenges related to the schedule as the documents and the assessment were finalised simultaneously.

In addition, work on the vision and roadmaps for maritime spatial planning was underway alongside the assessment. Taking into account development in line with the maritime sectors’ common intent, which was formulated as part of the vision work, in the assessment was challenging. From the perspective of the assessment, it was difficult to determine the extent to which the Maritime Spatial Plan itself will affect the realisation of the sectors’ common intent and, on the other hand, what role other societal and economic development will play in the coming years.


[1] Including regional development plans and regional land use plans with their background documents; the central government’s sector-specific objectives for maritime spatial planning; Starting points for maritime spatial planning. Ministry of the Environment Report 15/2017; Situation picture of the blue economy as a starting point for maritime spatial planning 2018; Reports on the special characteristics of the planning areas 2019; Status of Finland’s marine environment report, 2018; Scenarios for maritime areas 2050; Preliminary study on sustainable disposal options for dredging spoils in Finnish sea areas; Vision for sustainable use of the Finnish maritime area 2050, and the objectives and roadmaps of the planning areas 2030

[2] The sensitivity of the object is determined on the basis of the following factors: its ability to withstand harmful changes (tolerance or resilience); its ability to recover from changes; its societal significance, including in terms of well-being or nature conservation