Overall impacts of the plan

The maritime spatial planning process was initiated in 2017. The planning process started with the existing plans and functions related to the use of the marine areas. Various sectors as well as the central government had prepared their own plans and strategies even before 2017. During the planning process, maritime spatial planning brought these background actors together and introduced a systematic approach to the use of seas.

For example, offshore wind power production in Finnish marine areas has been planned for a long time. The Maritime Spatial Plan compiled the pre-existing plans and examined potential new suitable areas. The end result is an overview of the potential for and impacts of offshore wind farms. Maritime spatial planning supports the development of offshore wind power production in the same way as it supports the other sectors described in the plan. The plan serves the development of offshore wind power generation by producing information on the overall potential that is interesting even in the international context and, on the other hand, information on the impacts (including loading on the marine environment) that increasing offshore wind power production would create. In any sector, however, each investment project progresses following its existing processes, for example by examining the sites that are technically and economically the most feasible. As the activities develop in the future, new areas designated in the plan may be used. The Maritime Spatial Plan has acquired, collected, augmented and made visible the plans of all the different sectors in a compilation document. Without maritime spatial planning, the sectors would mainly progress separately, and from the perspective of overall impacts, it is beneficial for the sectors to be aware of each other’s plans and impacts.  

The Maritime Spatial Plan is a strategic document, and maritime spatial planning is a cooperative process, the aim of which is to maintain and produce information on the use of the marine area as a whole and to promote dialogue between the marine sectors. Among other things, this information will be used in regional land use plans and development programmes and it can, for example, be utilised when making choices about the use of marine areas or defining priority areas of activities. The users of the information may include parties issuing statements or development actors. 

This Chapter highlights the indirect overall impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plan on the environment, the economy and society. The assessment of the plan’s overall impacts has drawn on the sectoral impact pathways discussed in Chapter 4 and the sectoral roadmaps. 
It is essential to understand the level on which the potential indirect impacts of maritime spatial planning will manifest themselves. The status of the marine areas is put under pressure both by direct human action and by indirect impacts, such as global climate change. The Maritime Spatial Plan itself will not bring about changes or initiate construction projects, and neither is it an instrument for establishing protected areas. Rather than a pristine or unchanged sea, the alternative to producing a Maritime Spatial Plan is different developments going ahead without exchange of information and mutual understanding. Maritime spatial planning may minimise the harms caused by development and increase its benefits for society and the environment by improving interaction and the knowledge base.  
This is why the impacts of the different sectors, rather than being direct impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plan, are used to describe the potential consequences for the sea of different projects being implemented. The impacts of maritime spatial planning can be derived from these consequences.

When considering the environmental impacts of a change affecting the sea, the first level is local impacts on the status of the marine environment (e.g. dredging of a fairway or construction of an offshore wind farm). The next level is indirect impacts on the marine environment (e.g. impacts on birds or fish). When we examine environmental impacts as a whole, however, for instance through a life-cycle review of a project, the overall impacts of the activities on the environment may be significantly positive (e.g. reduced carbon dioxide emissions, improved efficiency of operations, reduced environmental loading outside Finland). In addition, various activities have a handprint, which refers to their impacts within the relevant value chain (e.g. products manufactured using carbon-neutral electricity or processed products made from farmed fish instead of imported fish). When assessing the environmental impacts of maritime spatial planning, the role of direct impacts on the marine environment has been emphasised. However, activities at sea that produce local loading may be in line with general environmental and climate objectives, and as such, they should be promoted.

The overall indirect impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plan on the environment have been examined from three perspectives: production of ecosystem services, carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea, and planetary boundaries. These perspectives complement each other and help to perceive the combined impacts of the plan and the marine sectors.

The impact of the Maritime Spatial Plan can be examined in terms of ecosystem service production (how it influences the marine environment and the capacity of its processes to produce ecosystem services) and the accessibility of services (how people can benefit from the produced ecosystem services). Of these perspectives, preservation of ecosystem services is examined in this section, whereas accessibility is discussed in the section on societal impacts, as it has direct and indirect impacts on human well-being.

The carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea refers to the sea’s ability to withstand activities located in the sea without disruption to its natural processes. For example, internal loading is a sign showing that the carrying capacity of nutrients has been exceeded; the alkalinity buffer protects the sea from the consequences of acidification; and an adequate network of protected areas safeguards the survival of species. The carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea will improve if the loading on the sea is reduced, the coverage of key ecosystems expands, and the oxygen situation in the seabed improves. The carrying capacity of the sea will be impaired if the loading increases, valuable ecosystems are destroyed, and extreme phenomena become more frequent, for example as a result of climate change.

The concept of planetary boundaries is based on the notion that human activity drives significant environmental changes on our planet. As a starting point, a boundary has been identified for nine life-supporting processes: human activities are safe as long as they stay within these boundaries. In the context of the Maritime Spatial Plan, the assessment focused on whether the plan itself or the development outlined in the sectoral roadmaps will have an impact on staying within or breaching the planetary boundaries.

For an illustration of the Maritime Spatial Plan’s impacts from the perspective of preserving ecosystem services, see Figure 9. The inner circle describes the preservation of ecosystem services in a situation where the development of sectors is based on ‘business as usual’. The outer circle describes the preservation of ecosystem services in a situation where the marginal conditions set by the plan are taken into account in the processes through which the plan is implemented. The areas in which the Maritime Spatial Plan is expected to have the strongest impacts on promoting positive development are the regulation of climate and air quality, production of food and other tangible goods, and landscape and recreational values. In particular, offshore wind power is considered a significant form of renewable energy which, if the projects go ahead, would reduce Finland’s carbon footprint. When carried out in a sustainable manner, supporting and developing domestic tourism, aquaculture and fishing as well as facilitating technological development can similarly promote the building of a low-carbon society. Developing fishing and aquaculture and drawing attention to valuable areas of the marine environment can contribute to the production of sea-based commodities. Fishing and fish farming also respond to the growing demand for fish for human consumption and support a diet consisting of domestic produce that is better for the climate. Further, identifying significant cultural sites and tourism areas with potential for development helps to maintain landscape and recreational services.

The impacts of the Maritime Spatial Plan on the preservation of ecosystem services were assessed to reinforce positive development for the part of the regulation of nutrient recycling and biodiversity. The objective of the Maritime Spatial Plan is to identify and coordinate the needs of the marine sectors and to guide their location and development in a manner that is sustainable from the viewpoint of the marine environment and nature conservation. In this respect, the Maritime Spatial Plan is assessed to have succeeded, making visible the growth potential of sectors as well as the economic and societal benefits of sustainable sectoral development and conservation. It is likely that the Maritime Spatial Plan has improved the sectors’ possibilities of taking into account the impacts of their growth on the marine environment. One of the key objectives of the Maritime Spatial Plan was managing and promoting growth in the sectors, and their development and growth was assessed to be the most visible impact of the plan.

Figure.9 The Maritime Spatial Plan’s impact on the preservation of ecosystem services in a situation where the plan has been realised and in a situation where there is no plan.

The growth and expansion of activities will inevitably result in increased loading on and disturbance of the marine environment, even though the locations of the new activities have been considered carefully in the Maritime Spatial Plan. In proportion to the overall loading on the Baltic Sea, the impacts are small in many sectors; however, disturbances such as those caused by work on the seabed can be of local significance. The extensive coordination and stakeholder cooperation within the framework of maritime spatial planning in sectors considered to be contentious from the perspective of the marine environment (e.g. offshore wind power production and aquaculture) improve these sectors’ opportunities for growth. Growth will also reinforce the negative impacts on the marine environment, even though efforts have been made to minimise them. It should also be noted that both sectors have a positive impact in terms of the climate strategy.

Figure 10. The impact of the marine sectors on the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity in a situation where the Maritime Spatial Plan has been realised and in a situation where there is no plan.

From the perspective of the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity (Figure 10), the examination started with the impacts of ‘business as usual’ in different sectors on Baltic Sea ecosystems and the preservation of biodiversity in the marine environment. The impact of the sectors on the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity was then examined in a situation where the Maritime Spatial Plan has been realised. Based on the Maritime Spatial Plan as well as the sector-specific roadmaps and visions, maritime transport, the marine industries, tourism and recreation as well as the energy sector have a negative impact on the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity. The impact of blue biotechnology and mining is currently neutral, as no areas have been designated for these activities. Fishing, aquaculture, cultural heritage, nature conservation and ecological management improve the carrying capacity.

In the context of the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity, it should be noted that the environmental status of the sea has been assessed to be poor extensively and in many respects, especially due to historical loading. HELCOM produces assessments of the status of the Baltic Sea broken down into three key categories: eutrophication, hazardous substances and biodiversity. According to HELCOM’s estimate, 96% of the Baltic Sea is below target in terms of eutrophication. Regarding hazardous substances, the concentrations of many chemical groups have already reached a good level, but the levels of especially mercury as well as PBDE[1]  and TBT compounds[2]  are too high, and the entire Baltic Sea is still classified as being below target regarding hazardous substances. In terms of biodiversity, 33% of the assessed habitats on the seabed and 20% in the open sea had a good status, and 50% of the assessed fish populations and the majority of the assessed aquatic bird and grey seal populations had a good status.[3]  In the assessment of endangered habitats completed in 2018, one third of Finland’s marine habitats were classified as endangered or near threatened and, for example, bladder wrack as a significant key species was classified as near threatened due to impairment of populations and the harm caused to the species by climate change.[4]

Due to historical reasons and many of the Baltic Sea’s characteristics (low-saline brackish water, closed water circulation, low medium depth), the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity was low to begin with. Long-term marine conservation work, which the Maritime Spatial Plan will support, has succeeded in reducing loading on the sea and improving practices in many sectors. However, during the third period of environmental status classification of surface waters in Finland, the draft report on which was completed in autumn 2019, coastal waters which previously had a good status had declined to a satisfactory status.[5]  Some of the underlying factors are an increase in natural run-off caused by climate change as well as eutrophication driven by warming. Due to this deterioration in the status of the sea, the development and growth of sectors must take place in a sustainable manner and address the status and special characteristics of the marine environment, ensuring that the increasing use will not impair the carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea.

Human activity in the entire catchment area of the Baltic Sea and the sea itself have extensive impacts on the status of the marine environment The Maritime Spatial Plan has little influence over land activities – for example, agriculture is currently the most significant source of nutrient loading in the Baltic Sea. In addition, the eutrophication cycle is perpetuated by the nutrient reserves within the Baltic Sea. Waste and toxins from land also end up in the marine environment. Global warming causes not only eutrophication but also changes in and homogenisation of plant and animal species.[6]

As the status of the marine environment is poor to start off with, there is a risk that an increase in economic activities (e.g. maritime transport, aquaculture) which load the marine area will have a detrimental impact on the marine environment. This is why particular attention should be paid to the location and implementation methods of new projects that expand activities. In the tourism sector, for example, the creation of more sustainable tourism practices referred to in the roadmap will have a major effect on the overall impacts of growth in this sector. Emerging sectors may also offer a platform for a shift towards improved sustainability, including the development of different circular economy solutions, in which case their impact on the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity will be neutral or possibly even positive.

As maritime activities expand, they should be developed in a direction that causes less loading on the marine environment, otherwise the overall impacts on the Baltic Sea’s carrying capacity will be negative. This impact can be reduced through coordination of activities, which has already taken place in the collaborative maritime spatial planning process.

Figure 11. The impact of maritime sectors on planetary boundaries in a situation where the Maritime Spatial Plan has been realised and in a situation where there is no plan.

The third perspective from which the Maritime Spatial Plan’s overall impact on the environment has been examined is the perspective of planetary boundaries. In Figure 11, the inner circle contains an assessment of how the sectors covered by maritime spatial planning would affect planetary boundaries in a situation where the plan did not exist. The outer circle illustrates the assessment results concerning the Maritime Spatial Plan’s impacts on the planetary boundaries if it were realised. If implemented, the plan is expected to have a positive impact on climate change mitigation and ameliorating the acidification of seas. The generation of CO2-free offshore wind power would help Finland to stay within the boundaries regarding climate change and the acidification of the seas, which are strongly interlinked.

With regard to nitrogen and phosphorus cycling, the purpose of the plan is to facilitate a transition that would improve the sustainability of fish farming. If realised, the plan will support the objective of remaining within the planetary boundaries.

The impacts on biodiversity loss are conflicting. Dredging and disposal of spoils associated with maritime transport, tourism and recreation as well as emissions into the sea would drive biodiversity loss in the marine environment. On the other hand, the dredging and disposal plan prepared as part of the maritime spatial planning process will facilitate the exploitation of disposal sites which are the least harmful for the environment and thus mitigate the adverse impacts on the marine environment. The identification of significant underwater ecological values in itself also contributes to their preservation. The impacts of fishing improve biodiversity, and the energy sector could also promote biodiversity by building artificial reefs in connection with offshore wind power plants.

In terms of land use changes, chemical pollution and fine atmospheric particles, the Maritime Spatial Plan poses a challenge to remaining within the planetary boundaries as it enables the growth of sectors with adverse impacts on these aspects. Potential growth in tourism and recreational use will inevitably bring about changes in land use. Any seabed interventions related to the construction of the projected tunnel from Helsinki to Tallinn and offshore wind farms will also have adverse effects. Boating and shipping related to tourism and recreational activities will cause chemical and fine particulate matter emissions into the sea and the atmosphere. It should be noted, however, that the Maritime Spatial Plan aims to indirectly guide maritime activities into a more sustainable direction by making the objective of improving the status of the marine environment visible and bringing it up for joint discussion as part of the process.

The marine sectors have no identifiable impacts on ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere or the use of fresh water.

The aim of maritime spatial planning is to enable sustainable blue growth by coordinating the needs of maritime sectors. The overall economic impacts of the plan have been assessed by illustrating the planning sectors’ development in Figure 12 in a situation where there is no plan and in a situation where the plan has been realised. The overall economic impacts of the plan are significant, and the plan is expected to support the growth potential of the marine sectors. If realised, the Maritime Spatial Plan will have indirect economic impacts on the following sectors covered by maritime spatial planning:

– The energy sector; significant potential has been identified for enabling offshore wind power production on a large scale in Finnish marine areas and for using the waste heat potential.

– Maritime logistics; the plan ensures the maintenance of effective shipping connections and identifies the most important functional connections and their development needs.

– Aquaculture; the plan designates areas suitable for fish farming in all planning areas.

The plan will have indirect economic impacts on the following sectors:

– The marine industries; the notations concerning the marine industries and ports reflect the societal and regional significance of these activities, and the plan thus also contributes to safeguarding the future operating conditions of the industries. Realisation of the offshore wind power potential would create significant business opportunities for maritime industry companies and ports.

– Tourism and recreational use; the plan designates areas with potential for tourism and recreation, supported by identification of ecological and cultural values. If realised, the plan will support the accessibility and vitality of the areas as well as local entrepreneurs.

– Fishing; the plan identifies important areas for professional fishing, contributing to the development of the industry. In addition, the identification of significant migratory fish routes and underwater ecological values, including nurseries and spawning grounds of fish, makes it possible to take them into account in the planning of marine activities and thus helps to ensure that the preconditions for fishing will also exist in the future.


The Maritime Spatial Planning process as a whole has a significant social impact. The treatment of the Finnish coastal and sea areas and the marine operations as a whole draws attention to the use of the coastal and sea area, its potentials, the status and significance of the marine environment as part of Finland. The MSP will increase knowledge and awareness of the status of the marine environment and the use of coastal and sea areas by highlighting nature conservation and sustainable development objectives in the planning principles, taking into account regional and zoning specificities in location of activities, and by bringing the Finnish ecologically significant marine underwater areas (EMMA) and ecological links to the map references of the MSP. In addition, the MSP highlights possible conflicts between different sectors, but also synergies in the (political) debate. The immediate impact of the plan can also be the encounter of different marine operations during the planning process. In addition, the plan brings long-term planning perspective to marine operations and the economy.

The plan is strategic in nature. The plan and its information content can be relied upon in land use planning and regional development processes. Authorities can rely on the MSP, for example, in their authoritative statements on permitting processes. As a strategic document, the MSP can also be used, for example, in the allocation of regional development funds – allocating regional projects in accordance with the MSP would support the effectiveness of marine operations and regional development measures. 

The social impacts of the MSP have been assessed from the perspective of the accessibility of ecosystem services (Figure 13). The inner circle describes the accessibility of ecosystem services in a situation where the development of marine operations is progressing business as usual. The outer perimeter describes the accessibility of ecosystem services in a situation where the processes implementing the plan take into account the boundary conditions set by the plan. In this respect, the plan is estimated to have a strong positive impact on the accessibility of landscape and recreational values, food and other tangible assets, and biodiversity and habitat services. The development of infrastructure and connections, as well as increasing information and visibility, will make these services more accessible. The MSP is estimated to ensure the sustainable use and development of these values compared to the situation where there is no MSP, but the use of the sea is increasing in line with the current trend.

The development of tourism and recreational use, as well as cultural heritage, contributes to the accessibility of landscape and recreational values by raising awareness of these sites, developing infrastructure and, when organizing activities, also taking care of the maintenance and promotion of the values. The organization and targeting of recreation and tourism on suitable areas also develops the accessibility of habitat and biodiversity services, for example by developing opportunities for recreational and tourist fishing, bird watching, nature photography, swimming and hiking in general. Fisheries, aquaculture and, as it develops, the blue bioeconomy enable large-scale exploitation of food and other tangible assets from the Baltic Sea. The MSP is not seen to have a direct impact on the accessibility of climate and air quality or the regulation of the circulation of substances. Indirectly, the MSP can play a role in achieving the goal of a carbon-neutral society by participating in the societal debate.

The central aim of the plan is to emphasize sustainability and the minimization of environmental impact in all activities, and to highlight the importance of a prosperous sea for the economy and society. During the process, solutions have also been created that support the achievement of good status of the marine environment. Such are e.g. reconciliation of different maritime activities by taking into account nature values. As part of the Maritime Spatial Planning, a preliminary study was also prepared, in which the dredging needs of merchant shipping routes were mapped and the most suitable disposal sites were identified.

During the Maritime Spatial Planning process, the effects on the marine environment have been examined for each marine operation. Potential areas have been identified for areas with the lowest pressures on the marine environment. In addition, these requirements for the protection of the marine environment and nature have been raised in stakeholder meetings, workshops and thematic meetings. During the process, an understanding of the importance of marine nature for different operations has been produced. The MSP also brings valuable habitats to the plan and supports their preservation when planning potential areas for marine operations.