Marine spatial planning

The resources available to managers on marine spatial planning are extensive and cover information on using it as a tool for marine protected areas as well as for managing multiple uses of marine areas. Below is a selection of resources for managers that outline how marine spatial planning can be used, tools for implementation including step-by-step guidance, as well as case studies from the Caribbean, Western Indian Ocean and other tropical regions. These resources provide managers with background information, guidance and access to online tools and data to marine spatial planning efforts. In addition, there are links to online training sites that can provide more structured learning for those managers needing additional support.


  • The UNESCO online tool for operationalizing marine spatial planning provides a step-by-step guide for managers, an analysis of good practices, literature that provides background and enhances understanding, and case studies from around the world. The site is focused on taking marine spatial planning beyond the conceptual and provides a comprehensive set of information and tools for building capacity and training for marine spatial planning: 
  • NOAA has a Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning site that outlines the USA policy approach to marine spatial planning and provides access to data and tools that can inform a planning process. Some of the available data includes: navigational charts, bathymetry, human uses, and essential fish habitats and provides useful spatial data when it covers the appropriate location of interest. The website provides good background about marine spatial planning that is broadly applicable, with implementation data and tools primarily focused in the USA and associated regions: For locations not covered by the data available through the NOAA site, see the UNESCO site above. 
  • UNEP has a focus site for The Caribbean Environment Program that provides an overview of conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal ecosystems in the Caribbean: The site highlights current UNEP projects in the region focusing on managing and conserving reef and fish biodiversity including those employing marine spatial planning. The Pedro Bank, Jamaica marine protected area pilot project provides a helpful case study:
  • The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has a 32-page Best Practices for Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) publication: TNC’s Global Marine Team convened a workshop in June 2009 to develop advice on best practices for MSP. Twenty managers with marine spatial planning experience in more than 20 regions of the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela participated in the workshop. This report includes sections on: defining boundaries, geographic scale, data collection and management and interactive decision support systems. Due to the user-friendly format and thorough detail, it is an excellent resource for Caribbean reef managers wishing to establish or refine their MSP to improve management effectiveness.
  • A comprehensive toolkit for managing marine protected areas is provided for the Western Indian Ocean: This site provides some introductory background information, guidance for using the toolkit, developing marine spatial planning goals and objectives, theme sheets, additional resources and links to related initiatives. Available as an online tool or publication, this is an excellent step-by-step guide that could guide marine spatial planning in tropical regions around the world.
  • A website that provides information on the theory of marine spatial planning and ongoing research development is the ABP marine environmental research site: This site highlights research into marine planning practice and learning, including decision-making frameworks, boundaries, the plan-making process, implementation, planning tools and example case studies. Although mostly theoretical, this website provides useful background information and good examples of marine spatial planning processes and practices.
  • The World Wide Fund for Nature has released a number of briefing papers that outline marine spatial planning tools for marine protected areas and closed areas:  This link  summarizes the definitions and objectives of marine protected area designations:  These links provide background information for managers focused on marine protected areas rather than managing multiple uses, and provide a useful commentary on some of the different tools available.
  • An online tool that facilitates the design and evaluation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is MarineMap: This web-based tool for open and participatory spatial planning in the marine environment simplifies complicated spatial concepts and science-based MPA design guidelines, quickly delivering critical information that allows users to view different MPA scenarios quickly and easily. This tool has been developed specifically for marine environments in California, but also provides relevant insights and lessons for marine spatial planning in the Caribbean.
  • Another online tool designed for conservation planning and natural resource management is Marxan: hosted by the University of Queensland. Designed for the Australian context, Marxan can and has been applied to conservation planning around the world. A flexible tool, Marxan can be applied to a wide range of spatial planning problems like reserve design and provides a number of options for natural resource management planning in terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems. The website provides some background information on the program’s utility, free software downloads, a number of case studies where Marxan has been used as well as a list of relevant publications. Using the software requires training and this can be done as an online tutorial. There are also some useful ‘getting started’ tips for first-time users.
  • Online data are also available to inform spatial planning processes, such as global maps of human impacts on marine ecosystems:  This tool uses Google Earth to interactively display cumulative human impacts on marine locations of interest for 17 different activities (e.g., fishing, climate change and pollution). Another freely available online dataset is through Marine Geospatial Ecology Tools: Here users can download and convert oceanographic data, identify ecologically relevant features in remote sensing images, map statistical models of species habitats, and model habitat connectivity. Both these sites provide useful data and information to inform marine spatial planning processes and require only a basic knowledge of GIS and modeling.
  • Advanced training in coastal marine spatial planning is available from Battelle Memorial Institute: This advanced training is for managers and coastal decision-makers in the USA and adjacent regions, and a tailored course for the Caribbean was run in April 2013. The curriculum includes practice at developing marine spatial plans, regional networking, collaborative and interactive problem solving, and practical field assessments where possible. Although formal advanced training such as this may not suit all managers, the site also offers a comprehensive bibliography of marine spatial planning references, key questions to consider during spatial planning processes and online help videos.

Key Publications

Coming to the table: Early stakeholder engagement in marine spatial planning. Marine Policy, 36(5): 1139-1149 (2012). Gopnik M, Fieseler C, Cantral L, McClellan K, Pendleton L and Crowder L 

Marine protected areas in the context of marine spatial planning—discussing the links. A report for WWF-UK. (2004) Gubbay S.

ZoningLessons from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Ocean and Coastal Management, 45: 139–156. (2002) Day JC