New digital tools to solve spatial conflicts at sea

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) in the Baltic Sea and North Sea was the focus of the recent ConnectingSeas conference in Hamburg. Practitioners presented new digital tools that can foster multi-use and prevent conflicts.

On 13-14 February, I had the pleasure of attending the ConnectingSeas conference, organised by the North Sea Region Programme’s NorthSEE project and the BalticLINes project, which is funded by the Baltic Sea Region Programme. More than 200 participants from the MSP community around the North and Baltic Seas convened in Hamburg to exchange knowledge and discuss future trends. Participants also had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at new tools that facilitate MSP cooperation between countries.

“The seas can save the seas.” – Juan Ronco Zapatero of DG Mare stressed that marine natural resources such as wind energy can play a vital role in protecting marine ecosystems, when this is supported by maritime spatial planning.

Digital MSP tools

At the conference, a mix of stakeholders presented a wide array of digital MSP tools, such as the eye-catching simulation platform developed by MSP Challenge, which is supported by the two Interreg projects and was officially launched at the event. The platform uses game-based technology to promote collaborative learning by stakeholders and planners, which developers hope will support real MSP. The software contains hundreds of real data and planning layers that can be used to analyse conflicts and different scenarios at sea. The tool is easy to use and can therefore help raise awareness amongst stakeholders.

In 2018, MSP Challenge facilitated 14 sessions and demos to test and try out the simulation platform. Soon interested parties will be able to download the MSP Challenge software for free and use the tool. There are three editions – the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Clyde Marine Region (Scotland) – and the software will come with technical manuals, video tutorials and online support.

Conflicts and multi-use of marine space

Strong planning tools can be very useful in preventing conflicts between different sectors at sea and improving the application of multi-use solutions. Conflicts can arise between all sectors that are active at sea. In the North Sea, many conflicts are related to offshore wind farms, but there are also conflicts that are related to, for example, the combination of wave energy and aquaculture.

According to Angela Schultz-Zehden of consultancy s. Pro, MSP can prevent such conflicts by setting in place general zoning rules, e.g. priority/reservation areas. In this way, the marine space is allocated in an anticipatory and strategic manner, and conflicts are no longer dealt with on a case by case basis. Another way to prevent conflicts is to develop smart multi-use solutions. Multi-use of marine space is a radical change from the concept of exclusive rights to a certain area to sharing of the same area by two or more users.

Working together in two seas

The Baltic Sea area has a long tradition of transnational cooperation on MSP issues, supported by Baltic Sea Region Programme and seen in such projects as BalticLINes. In recent years, the attention on MSP has also grown in the North Sea region. The NorthSEE project, in particular, has taken the initiative to foster transnational MSP cooperation in this area, aiming for more coherent planning and improved sustainability within shipping, energy, and environmental protection. The project benefits from knowledge and experience developed in the Baltic Sea region, especially since the two projects share the same Lead Beneficiary, the Federal German Shipping Agency. The conference made very clear that such cooperation is productive.

In his concluding remarks at the conference, my colleague Axel Kristiansen observed that “there is a growing and strong competition on getting access to maritime space,” and stated that “the NorthSEE project is the first opportunity to cooperate transnationally and to respond to those challenges in the North Sea basin”. The conference certainly expressed the need for MSP to address future transnational challenges in maritime space management.

Project Advisor Axel Kristiansen delivers his concluding remarks during the Connecting Seas Conference.

Emerging Blue Growth opportunities

Another North Sea Region project relevant to MSP is PERISCOPE. This project is identifying Blue Growth opportunities, some of which relate to multi-use, to improve efficient and sustainable use of resources and prevent spatial conflicts at sea. Using this approach, this project will establish an innovation and business community that accelerates emerging Blue Growth opportunities. For example, PERISCOPE is exploring the possibilities of combining wind farms and aquaculture. Because wind farms are closed to shipping and fishing, they may form artificial reefs where seaweed can be cultivated and harvested to produce animal feed, biofuels and energy, and where fish can use the seaweed as a breeding ground.

About the author

In this picture, you can see Annemieke rowing in Amsterdam (second from the right).

Annemieke Feikens is a project advisor at the Joint Secretariat and first point of contact for several projects in Priority 1 and 4. Originally from the Netherlands, she worked for the PERISCOPE project before joining the Secretariat in 2018. In her free time, she loves to row.

1 thought on “New digital tools to solve spatial conflicts at sea”

  1. Very interesting Annemieke! Geeft een mooi inkijkje ook in de wereld waarin jij werkzaam bent.
    Groetjes, Ties

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