WWF Assessment Report: Maritime Spatial Planning in the Baltic

WWF has released their assessment of nine Maritime Spatial Plans (MSPs) produced by eight EU Baltic Sea countries — Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden — and the autonomous region of Åland. This assessment analysed to what extent these MSPs are developed with an Ecosystem-Based Approach (EBA).

WWF has released their assessment of nine maritime spatial plans (MSPs) produced by eight EU Baltic Sea countries — Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and Finland — and the autonomous region of Åland. The purpose of this assessment is to determine to what extent these MSPs are developed with an Ecosystem-based approach (EBA). This assessment follows WWF’s work translating the requirements of the EU’s MSP Directive into a set of 33 measurable indicators. A national maritime spatial plan is considered to be successfully delivering an ecosystem-based approach to MSP once all indicators are achieved.

WWF believes that MSPs based on EBA are essential for the sustainable management of marine environments. By looking at the implementation of EBA in these national MSPs, they concluded that integration of EBA is currently uneven despite some partial success. The assessment was completed using 33 indicators across four categories: a) inclusion of nature; b) socio-economic considerations; c) good ocean governance; d) comprehensiveness of the complete MSP process.

Summary of Results


Image: WWF ©

Category: inclusion of nature

  • Estonia, Latvia, and Sweden scored well, while Åland, Finland, Germany, Poland scored mediocre and Denmark and Lithuania low.
  • The inclusion of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in MSPs scored low for all assessed countries (41% on average).
  • No Baltic MSP has yet fulfilled the EU Biodiversity strategy goal of protecting 30% of land areas and designating 10% as strictly protected areas by 2030.
  • No MSP included areas for restoration activities and only two countries have partially addressed temporal and spatial uncertainties in the era of climate change.
  • MPAs have been designated as multi-use zones including bottom trawling and MPAs in Germany and Lithuania are not based on sound sensitive area mapping. 

Category: socio-economic considerations

  • Estonia (79%), Latvia (93%) and Sweden (86%) scored well, while Åland (50%), Lithuania (50%), Germany (43%) scored mediocre and Denmark, Finland, Poland scored low (29% on average).
  • Most countries scored high in offshore renewable energy development.
  • Although most countries received higher scores for this category, there are serious shortcomings and lack of inclusion of nature protection targets.

Category: good ocean governance

  • Latvia (89%), Estonia (67%), Germany and Sweden (56%) scored above the Baltic-wide average score. Denmark and Poland (39%), Åland and Finland (28%), and Lithuania (22%) all came in under the average Baltic-wide score.
  • On the positive side, all countries have mechanisms and agencies in place with the mandate and at least reasonable capacities to handle the complex issue of MSP.
  • MSPs are only binding or enforceable in Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. 
  • Denmark has declared its plan as binding when in reality most of the decisions that can be made are shifted to the follow-up decision-making period on the project application level, and the current uses are also guaranteed for this future planning period.

Category: Comprehensiveness of the complete MSP process

  • Results were generally mixed. The highest scoring countries are Latvia (88%), Germany (69%), and Sweden (69%). Medium scoring countries are Estonia (56%) and Poland (44%). Meanwhile, Åland (25%), Lithuania (31%), Finland (38%) and Denmark (38%) had the lowest category scores overall.
  • Many countries have designated large “general use zones” which can be translated as “multi-use,” when, in fact, they just allow current uses to continue unrestricted.
  • This was the first MSP planning cycle for many countries, so they do not have yet experience with monitoring and assessment (only Germany has included those in their plan).


Latvia, Sweden, and Estonia all scored high on this assessment, but all countries’ plans need to be more closely aligned with current EU legislation for marine biodiversity and habitat protection. Sea use designations need to give more priority to marine ecosystem protection and restoration. Currently, many activities (such as fishing or oil exploration) are prioritised without fact-based justification and instead justified because of status quo arguments. However, most Baltic member states have the structures and capacities needed to plan and manage the sea areas and there is now a stronger willingness to make planning decision that are aligned with EBA.

Download the Full Assessment Here

Download the Summary for Policymakers Here


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