Impact assessment of the Finnish Maritime Spatial Plan

Summary of the final report

Introduction

This summary presents the results of the impact assessment of the Finnish Maritime Spatial Plan (MSP). The material for the assessment work was based on the draft of the MSP prepared for the Finnish coastal and sea areas, the associated reference and zoning cards, and the vision and road map work related to the planning process. The Maritime Spatial Planning Coordination Group prepared the draft plan in parallel with the progress of the assessment work.

Background and objectives of the assessment

In Maritime Spatial Planning, the use of Finnish territorial waters and the Finnish EEZ[1] as a whole, is planned for the first time in a coordinated manner. The aim of Maritime Spatial Planning is to promote the sustainable development and growth of the various uses of the coastal and sea areas, the sustainable use of the natural resources and the achievement of good status of the marine environment.

In Finland, the MSP is a non-binding strategic and general plan. The Plan does not regulate zoning or project licensing under different sectoral laws in a binding manner. Maritime Spatial Planning is not part of the land use planning system in accordance with the Land Use and Building Act and does not take precedence over other planning instruments. Maritime Spatial Planning seeks to reconcile the areal needs of different operations with the objectives of good environmental status in the marine environment.

The aim of the assessment was to assess the impact of the MSP, taking into account ecological, economic, social and cultural aspects. There were three planning areas to be considered: 1) the Gulf of Finland, 2) the Archipelago Sea and the southern part of the Bothnian Sea, and 3) the Northern Bothnian Sea, the Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay.

Maritime Spatial Planning takes into account the following marine operations: nature conservation and care, offshore wind power, maritime logistics, tourism and recreation, fisheries and aquaculture, marine industries, blue biotechnology, minerals, cultural heritage and national defense.

[1] Exclusive economic zone

Implementation of the assessment

The identification of the impacts of the MSP can be used to identify and anticipate the changes and consequences of the plans from the following perspectives:

– people’s living conditions and living environment

– soil and bedrock, water, air and climate

– plant and animal species, biodiversity and natural resources

– regional and community structure, community and energy economy, and transport

– cityscape, landscape, cultural heritage and the built environment,

– the development of effective competition in the business community.

The impact assessment has been based on the change caused by the implementation of the MSP compared to the situation without the plan. The assessment does not take a position on the time frame in which the plan can be implemented. The definition of the impact path has been used to identify impacts, which consists of the following elements:

– the cause of the impact

– the intensity, extent or duration of the cause

– the impact mechanism

– the impact subject and the sensitivity of the subject

– the adaptability of the subject to be assessed

The impacts of the MSP have been assessed for the marine operations covered under the Maritime Spatial Planning. Impacts have also been examined according to the planning areas. Finally, the combined effects of the different marine operations and all three planning areas in relation to ecosystems have been assessed from the perspective of planetary boundaries and the carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea, as well as the overall societal impacts and impacts on ecosystem services.

The MSP is a strategic-level document and the Maritime Spatial Planning co-operation process, the aim of which is to maintain and produce information on the use of the Finnish coastal and sea areas as a whole and to promote dialogue between marine operations. The information is implemented e.g. by provincial plans and programs and can be used, for example, to make choices about the use of Finnish coastal and sea areas or to set priorities for provincial activities. Users of the information can be, for example, regional authorities or development actors. Maritime Spatial Planning can minimize the disadvantages of development and increase the benefits to society and the environment by improving interaction and the knowledge base.

When assessing the impact of Maritime Spatial Planning on the environment, the share of direct impacts on the marine environment has been highlighted. However, activities located at sea may be in line with general environmental and climate objectives and as such be promoted.

Figure 1. Impact of the MSP on the preservation of ecosystem services

The impacts of the MSP from the perspective of the preservation of ecosystem services are illustrated in Figure 1. The inner circle describes the preservation of ecosystem services in a situation where the development of marine operations is progressing business as usual. The outer perimeter describes the preservation of ecosystem services in a situation where the boundary conditions set by the plan are taken into account in the processes implementing the plan. The MSP is generally considered to reinforce a positive development or to mitigate a weakening development compared to a situation where there is no MSP.

The MSP is expected to have a stronger positive impact on climate and air quality regulation, food and other tangible assets production, and landscape and recreational values. Offshore wind power in particular is considered to be a significant form of renewable energy, which, if implemented, would reduce Finland’s carbon footprint. Similarly, supporting and developing domestic tourism, aquaculture and fisheries, and supporting technological development can contribute to building a low-carbon society in a sustainable way. The development of fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the promotion of valuable Finnish coastal and sea areas, can contribute to the production of marine utilities. Fishing and fish farming also respond to the ever-increasing demand for table fish and enable a diet, which is both better for climate and domestically produced. The identification of further significant cultural areas and potential tourist areas will help to preserve landscape and recreational services. The impacts of the MSP on the preservation of ecosystem services were assessed as reinforcing positive developments in terms of the regulation of the circulation of substances and biodiversity.

The objective of the MSP is to identify and reconciliate the needs of marine operations, and to guide their location and development in a way that is sustainable for the marine environment and nature conservation. In this respect, the MSP is expected to be successful and thus highlight the potential for growth of the marine operations as well as the economic and social benefits of sustainable sectoral development and nature conservation. It can be considered likely that the MSP has improved the ability of marine operations to take into account the effects of their growth on the marine environment. Indeed, one of the key objectives of the MSP is to manage and promote the growth of the sectors, and the most visible impact of the MSP was assessed as the development and growth of the sectors.

Figure 2. The impact of marine operations on the carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea 

From the perspective of the carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea (Figure 2), the inner circle describes the impact of current activities of different marine operations, the so-called business as usual, on the ecosystems of the Baltic Sea and the conservation of the diverse marine environment in the absence of a MSP. The outer circle describes the impact of the operations on the carrying capacity of the Baltic Sea in the situation where the MSP has been implemented. The status of the marine environment is widely affected by human activities throughout the Baltic Sea basin and at sea. The MSP has little effect on land-based activities – agriculture, for example, is currently the most significant source of nutrient loads in the Baltic Sea. As the status of the marine environment is already weak in principle, there is a risk that the increase in such economic activity, which already is burdening the coastal and sea areas (e.g. maritime logistics, aquaculture), will have a detrimental effect on the status of the environment.

Figure 3. The impact of marine operations on planetary boundaries

Third, the overall impact of the MSP on the environment has been examined from the perspective of planetary boundaries. In figure 3, the inner circle of the graph presents an estimate of how marine operations affect planetary boundaries in a situation where there would be no plan. The outer circle illustrates the result of the impact assessment on how the MSP, if implemented, would affect the planetary boundaries. There are no identifiable effects on upper ozone depletion or freshwater use by marine operations.

Figure 4. Development of the viability of marine operations

The objective of Maritime Spatial Planning is to enable sustainable blue growth by reconciling the needs of marine operations. The overall economic impact of the plan has been illustrated in Figure 4 firstly by assessing the development of marine operations in a situation where there is no plan and then in a situation where the plan has been implemented. The overall economic impact of the plan is significant, and the plan is expected to support the growth potential of the marine operations.

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.

Figure 5. Impact of the MSP on the accessibility of ecosystem services

he social impacts of the MSP have been assessed from the perspective of the accessibility of ecosystem services (Figure 5). 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.

Conclusions

By understanding the overall impact and effectiveness of the MSP, opportunities for sustainable growth in the marine operations can be found. The overall benefits can be achieved by understanding the needs of different marine operations as well as of their reconciliation. There are many interdependencies and cross-cutting effects between marine operations, which can both hinder and strengthen the operating conditions.

The subject of this assessment work was the MSP. During the work, it has become clear how significant the planning process itself is perceived in terms of its effects. A wide range of experts in various fields have been involved in drawing up the plan resulting from the process. The planning process has brought together actors from different fields and the process has also produced information and understanding that is not documented in the plan itself. As part of the assessment, it can be said that, as part of the planning process, significant benefits have been generated by increased understanding between different sectors. The values produced by the plan can be stated as information (= plan) and cooperation (= process of preparation). In terms of positive impacts, the key is how cooperation continues.

The Maritime Spatial Planning process has provided the tools to understand the interdependencies between marine operations. The second round of the planning process should look at increasing mutual understanding between marine operations. The MSP could actively enable measures to support the achievement of good environmental status in the marine environment and the livelihoods of the regions.