Conclusions and recommendations

There should be no juxtaposition of the environment, society and the economy in the context of the marine areas. The general nature of the Maritime Spatial Plan does not make it possible to direct various activities exclusively to the most suitable areas in terms of the sustainability of the marine environment. The societal question of how activities which cause loading can be located in the sea remains unresolved. While diffuse loading is the largest single source of loading, the means of intervening in it are limited. Finland could gain up to half a billion euros a year as indirect benefits from nutrient recycling and the resulting improvement in the environmental status and creation of new business.[1]

 Sources of localised loading are usually either business operators or support activities of society, including wastewater treatment. While their operation is regulated through environmental permits, their share in the total load is small. The question of fair effort sharing and maximising societal benefits is justified, and Finland is only now considering its national policy on the flexibility mechanisms under the Water Framework Directive. On land, efforts are made to concentrate activities which create loading to industrial areas, for example by means of land use planning, whereas in marine areas the current system may direct new activities to areas with a good status. 

It is necessary to compare and discuss different perspectives, and this is where maritime spatial planning creates concrete benefits. If the impacts of a planned activity were only assessed from one perspective or from the viewpoint of a single sector, the risk of sub-optimisation would increase. The greatest value produced by maritime spatial planning lies in creating cooperation. It also provides a knowledge base for assessing the impacts of an individual project. At the very least, the plan will be able to serve an actor who is planning operations at sea and uses the plan to gain an understanding of what impacts their project could have.

When the overall impacts and effectiveness of the Maritime Spatial Plan are understood, opportunities for sustainable growth in the marine sectors can also be identified. The overall benefits can be achieved by understanding and coordinating the needs of different sectors. Many interdependencies and cross-media impacts are also at play in the marine sectors which can both restrict and enhance a sector’s operating prerequisites. 

The focus of this assessment was the Maritime Spatial Plan. In the course of the assessment work, the experienced importance of the impacts created by the actual planning process came to light. A large group of experts in different fields participated in the preparation of the plan produced as the outcome of this process. The planning process brought together actors from different fields and also produced knowledge and understanding that was not documented in the plan itself. As part of the assessment, it can thus be concluded that the planning process produced significant benefits by increasing the understanding between different sectors. As the values produced by the plan can thus be identified information (= the plan) and cooperation (= the preparation process). In terms of the positive impacts, the way in which this cooperation will continue is in key role.

Enhancing positive impacts

The maritime spatial planning process has provided tools for understanding interdependencies between sectors. On the second round of the planning process, possibilities for increasing the mutual understanding between the sectors should be examined. The Maritime Spatial Plan could actively enable measures that support the achievement of a good status of the marine environment and livelihoods in the planning areas. 

To gain additional benefits from the Maritime Spatial Plan, the ways in which maritime spatial planning can catalyse positive development through cooperation and the role a cooperation network, for instance, could play in this should be considered. The Maritime Spatial Plan could support smart specialisation of the areas. Synergies between sectors can be supported and exploited – for example, combining projects related to tourism with nature conservation, or food production with blue bioeconomy projects. At its best, the Maritime Spatial Plan will restrict and question solutions that would have negative overall impacts through sub-optimisation. On the other hand, the Maritime Spatial Plan supports operators by creating an understanding of other sectors and providing information on the relevant sector’s specific significance (e.g. through statements).

The interdependence between the measures and a good status of the marine environment is in key role. A water resource management plan based on the Act on Water Resources Management has been drawn up in Finland, which lists the measures needed to achieve a good environmental status of waters. The measures under the water management plans define emission reduction targets for the marine areas, and the majority of these measures focus on emissions from the catchment area. The loading on the marine area consists of run-off carried by rivers, which includes both diffuse loading caused by activities not requiring an environmental permit[2]   and activities subject to the environmental permit system.[3]   Direct loading on water systems comes from wastewater treatment plants, fish farms, atmospheric deposition and internal loading.[4] 

Many maritime sectors have negative impacts on the good status of the marine environment. While the marginal condition for implementing the plan is a good environmental status of the marine area, the environmental administration is yet to provide a clear definition of which factors undermine the possibilities of achieving this good status, for example, or how the sensitivity of a water system is defined.[5]  For instance, the Maritime Spatial Plan designates large areas for tourism, and the long-term objective is to significantly increase the tourist numbers. Unless the sector manages the sustainability shift, the overall impact will be negative. Even if the impact of the planned activities on the environmental status of the sea may be slightly negative (e.g. -2%), this does not necessarily jeopardise the achievement of a good environmental status if the water resource management plan manages to attain a significant improvement in the status of the marine environment (e.g. + 20%). Moreover, no environmental permit is required for a large share of maritime activities, which means that there are no legal means for banning activities at sea. Planners should understand the diversity of the factors which affect the environmental status of the sea, however.


To conclude, a summary of key recommendations concerning the maritime spatial planning process are given, which support the achievement of sustainable blue growth objectives.

1. The value of maritime spatial planning lies in producing information and increasing cooperation. These are the aspects in which it creates concrete benefits, and they should be kept at the centre in future activities.

2. The information to be produced must be of a high quality, reliable and as openly accessible as possible to facilitate planning. Different actors should be aware of the information, which is why communication and marketing are needed. The importance and added value of its utilisation can be made visible with concrete examples.

3. Cooperation is a live process that requires continuity. The continuity of different networks and encounters between the sectors should be secured once the plan has been completed, even if the development projects are concluded. Cooperation is needed in the planning areas, between them and at the national level.

4. The Regional Councils’ role in preparing the plan will promote its practical implementation. Further effectiveness can be achieved through a close link to the Regional Councils’ other tasks and specialisations. Adequate funding is a precondition for the continuity of maritime spatial planning by the coastal Regional Councils.

5. Each sector covered by the Maritime Spatial Plan should improve the overall sustainability of its activities in order to promote economic competitiveness and a good status of the marine environment. In practice, the Maritime Spatial Plan should in the future be visible as a backdrop to sectoral strategies and support societal debate on the future of each sector in the marine environment. 

6. Among other things, the Maritime Spatial Plan should have clearer links to national and international environmental objectives, maritime policy, Baltic Sea strategies and regional development policies, and it should produce more information on the relationship between the maritime sectors and climate impacts as well as the nutrient cycle. 

7. When planning the activities, it should be noted that the status of the sea in many areas is already poor, or it has deteriorated in recent years. A large part of the underwater ecological values, especially those close to the coast, have been impaired, and the eutrophication trend and climate change will drive a further deterioration in the status of the environment. When planning new activities, the starting point should be preserving the remaining ecological values and bringing the status of water bodies up to a good level. This objective is also essential for the future of many marine sectors; if it is not achieved, the continued use of the sea as a source of food and recreation will be at risk.

8. Interdependencies between sectors must be understood more clearly, enabling maritime spatial planning to promote positive development through cooperation. 

9. Cross-administrative activities and continuity can be promoted through maritime spatial planning. Optimal targeting of resources from the perspective of the whole must be possible; in practice, this means intervening in diffuse loading, in particular. 

10. The overall effectiveness of the Maritime Spatial Plan should be monitored continuously. A precondition for a high level of overall effectiveness is understanding the status of the marine environment and thus also the role of non-maritime sectors (among other things, the impacts of agriculture). The overall effectiveness sets the marginal conditions for developing the maritime sectors and promoting blue growth. To understand the effectiveness and justify development needs, data based on indicators will be required.


[1] Aho et al. (2015) The economic value and opportunities of nutrient cycling for Finland. Available at:

[2] Diffuse loading is caused by agriculture, sparsely populated areas and transport, in particular.

[3] Local sources of loading include industrial plants and large livestock farms.