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Intervention Area: Managing Sea-Uses

This Intervention Area addresses the need for innovative tools and approaches to the sustainable planning and management of sea-uses, interlinking maritime spatial planning (MSP), the marine strategy framework directive (MSFD), common fishery policy (CFP), and the marine protected areas (MPAs) with a focus on the regional dimension.  



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Background and rationale 

Planning and managing sea-uses are essential for sustainable resource management, conservation of marine ecosystems, conflict resolution, disaster risk reduction, economic development, and addressing climate change challenges. By adopting an integrated and holistic approach to planning and management, societies can ensure the long-term health, productivity, and resilience of the oceans, seas, and coastal areas.  

The boundaries and operational objectives for sustainable development and Good Environmental Status are defined under the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Within this framework ecosystem-based management (EBM) of human uses and Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) plays an important role in achieving Europe’s objectives of decarbonisation and biodiversity protection by supporting more efficient use of marine space, while reducing conflicting uses and inefficiencies in transport and related facilities (EC COM (2021)240 final). MSP plays a crucial role in defining suitable space for Blue Economy sectors to operate, while assessing and mitigating their cumulative impacts and promoting coexistence with other sea uses. 

The overarching goal of this Intervention Area is to support science-based decision making that takes stock of environmental status, the legacy of human impacts, climate change trends, and future scenarios, considering multitude of pressures from uses of marine space and marine resources. The Intervention Area focuses on R&I needs related to Ecosystems-based management and Maritime Spatial Planning, aiming to support cross-border cooperation and management of marine protected areas, innovative tools for decision making that combine data from various sectors, as well as knowledge generation on areas such as Good Environmental Status (GES), the valuation of ecosystem services, and the carbon sequestration capacity of coastal restoration programs. The Intervention Area also encompasses reconstructions of seafloor changes in 4D in areas of significant natural dynamic and/or heavy human impact, R&I needs within maritime surveillance, as well as more inclusive processes for development of decision support-systems. Co-design, co-development, and co-use with MSP competent authorities at national and regional level will be essential to ensure direct capitalization of results and to widen the information basis available to relevant authorities, particularly by including socio economic data sources. 

Key thematic areas 

1. Fostering the full use of scientific knowledge for effective management and conservation   

Assessments of ecosystem health is a prerequisite for effective environmental management and conservation. Innovative research on this topic will provide essential data for the identification of suitable areas for diverse uses, minimizing conflicts and maximizing sustainable development. Ecosystem based management, including MSP, requires high resolution mapping of marine underwater morphology, and marine uses and quantification of indicators describing ecosystem distribution, health and pressures caused by human uses and of ecosystem services which will provide essential tools for ecosystem health assessment, spatial management of the marine domain, and implementation of restoration measures. The temporal evolution of the monitored variables, either abiotic (seafloor morphology, sediment dynamics, etc.) or biotic (community structure and function) are relevant for MSP, and other marine policies, notably the MSFD. Activities should address the following aspects: 

  • Research to improve understanding of the harm caused by all diverse types of litter (assessment of marine litter). 

  • Further development (and validation) of frameworks for assessment of sound impacts on populations and the ecosystem, including relation between direct responses and population consequences, spatial risk‐assessment approaches, and population modelling, considering the MSFD assessment of the distribution of reported impulsive sounds. 

  • Development of suitable population dynamics models to support the setting of absolute abundance assessment values for sensitive fish species (assessment of the Recovery in the Population Abundance of Sensitive Fish Species). 

  • Research to better implement integrated economical, ecological, and social ocean health indicators into marine ecosystem management tools. 

  • Provision of essential data for enhanced understanding of marine ecosystems and geology and effective environmental management and conservation and supporting the identification of suitable areas for different uses, minimizing conflicts, and maximizing sustainable development.  


2. Development of innovative Decision Support Tools (DSTs)  

MSP is recognized today as an essential tool to prevent conflict between policy priorities and to reconcile nature conservation with economic development (EC COM (2021) 240 final). Its complexity requires sophisticated tools to analyse and visualise data, assess potential conflicts, and identify optimal solutions. DSTs can significantly enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of MSP processes. By integrating multiple data sources and modelling techniques, DST will allow decision-makers to evaluate different scenarios and provide for a better-informed decision-making by considering the broader impacts and interdependencies among different sea-uses. Activities should address the following aspects: 

  • New methodologies for integrating and operationalising socio-economic and socio-ecological aspects in MSP to quantitatively estimate environmental, social, and economic benefits of MSP in present and future scenarios. 

  • Filling knowledge gaps on pressures, states, and ecosystem functioning, as well as re-use potential of relevant data from existing repositories and broader sources. 

  • Explore transboundary scenarios and multi-lateral solutions (e.g., international protected areas; protection of highly mobile species and shared stocks and resources; environmental disasters; preparedness to marine hazards). 

  • Identifying environmental and socio-economic trends and drivers and building scenarios at sea basin and sub-sea basin scale for informed adaptive planning and management.  

  • advanced models for integrating multiple disciplines to create digital intelligent supporting tools (including Artificial Intelligence based) able to consider environmental processes, anthropogenic activities (coastal and sea uses), socio-economic and socio-ecological aspects. case studies and demonstrators of the concrete added value of the developed DSTs for specific sector planning demands, with a focus on coastal areas and land-sea interactions (e.g., offshore renewable energies, aquaculture, fisheries, maritime transport, coastal and maritime tourism and multi-use of marine space).  

  • Overcoming technical and non-technical barriers in co-using advanced DSTs in institutional MSP processes. 

  • Potential application of DSTs in non-EU countries across sea basins and environmental / sectoral policy domains other than MSP. 


3. Enhanced Marine and Maritime Surveillance 

Maritime Surveillance includes the protection of marine resources from illegal activities (fishery control, oil spill detection, environmental degradation monitoring etc.), food security, transport safety and the monitoring of critical marine infrastructures (e.g., renewable energy and aquaculture offshore platforms), key issues for a sustainable blue economy. Different observation systems for data acquisition (satellite and stratospheric-platform, including ship-borne observations), sharing and management are the fundamental tools of Maritime Surveillance.  

Activities should explore obstacles and opportunities for:  

  • integrating platforms and services for maritime surveillance through data sharing between the existing EU and national platforms. 

  • implementing platforms allowing the integration of marine and maritime data analytics with socio-economic data.  

  • Data from maritime surveillance to inform the implementation of monitoring processes. 

  • Embedding maritime surveillance into MSP, through dedicated zoning and management measures. 


4. The seafloor in 4D 

The uses of the coastal regions are often defined without taking in full account the sea-floor morphology and its dynamic evolution. This additional 'temporal' aspect adds a crucial fourth dimension (hence 4D) to seafloor sampling and surveying. Innovative strategies of repeated bathymetric surveys should be adopted in dynamic coastal and nearshore areas characterized by consistent sediment transport and consequent modification of the sea floor morphology. Such 4D information, and related big data, presented via accessible tools and formats is highly relevant for MSP, from the assessment to the planning and adapting phases, including awareness raising and proper engagement of stakeholders. Activities should address the following aspects: 

  • Performing intelligent seafloor sampling surveys  

  • Assessing seafloor ecosystem health, damage/degradation of marine habitat and effectiveness of restoration measures.  

  • Representations of the sea floor, including of human impacts, through augmented reality with emphasis on public dissemination and stakeholder engagement. 


Implementation, enablers, and synergies  

Cash calls for R&I proposals are important to address knowledge gaps, develop solutions, and build R&I capacity within the area. There is good potential for engaging observing systems and RIs through additional activities (in-kind contributions), e.g., in relation to maritime surveillance and seafloor sampling and observation. 

Innovative governance and integration of SSH are key enablers to achieve the goals. Research and innovation efforts are needed to address the lack of data standards and challenges of combining data from a variety of sources.  

The Intervention Area will build on input from relevant projects under HE (Cluster 6 Destination 1 topics in particular). It will align with EU Missions ‘Restore our Ocean and Waters’ and 'Adaptation to Climate Change' and the DTO initiative. Among European Partnerships Biodiversa+; Artificial Intelligence (AI), data and robotics, Zero Emission Waterborne Transport, and FutureFoodS will be of relevance.  

Many organizations and initiatives at global and sea-basin scale are involved in promoting and implementing MSP, including from United Nations to the UNESCO/IOC to executing authorities of the Regional Sea Conventions to national governments implementing relevant European directives. 

Outcomes and Impacts 

  • Examples of outcomes from R&I investment in this area: enhanced capacity for R&I in support of MSP; co-designed AI-based DSTs for MSP; application of DSTs to case study areas/topics; framework conditions for a stronger ocean industry collaboration across sectors; identification of data-gaps; improved MSP plans, transferring DST results in the formal MSP processes & plans; tools for the implementation of relevant policies, strategies and directives; transdisciplinary and socio-ecological approaches for MSP processes at different scales; more coherent MSP in the same sea basin and overall; common tools and decisions and transfer of tools among stakeholders in the involved regions; several regions and MS involved in the process of MSP and development; more climate resilient and ecosystem-based MSP; improved co-design / co-planning, from strategic objectives to specific management measures; skills and education to enable use of digital support tools; 

  • Environmental impacts: avoidance of negative impacts on environment based on early identification. 

  • Social Impacts: improved public trust in the research-innovation-management chain; Improved public literacy regarding transformations of the seafloor and water mass 

  • Economic impacts: evidence-based decision making that greens the industry; decreased carbon footprint of blue economic drivers.