Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

A spatial typology for the sea

Marine spatial planning (MSP) has a need for spatial delimitation and for the identification of spatial classes. Maritime regionalism has a long tradition and is part of many policy documents but with confusion and a lack of accuracy. This is a weakness in the implementation of marine spatial planning which has a strong need for the delimitation of spaces in various ways. MSP needs not only defined spaces where administrative processes can be handled efficiently, it has a need also for meaningful delimitations of planning areas based on spatial characteristics, spatial connectivity and on relations between areas. In land based planning spatial typologies are often key building blocks in developing plans and policies. Not only do the aims and visions but partly also the tools and mechanisms of spatial planning differ depending on the character of the area worked with. MSP has yet no commonly recognised categories such as these.


The results show that the idea of a spatial typology is applicable and has a value for Marine Spatial Planning.

It was considered that the typology should draw together as comprehensively as possible information related to the spatial distribution of anthropogenic uses and claims on the sea itself, environmental impacts associated with human activity and indicators of land based pressures on the marine environment such as population and maritime employment. Spatial planning on land often works with different sets of planning visions and goals depending on the type of space which is being worked with. Linked to this is often the definition of threshold values for each spatial category, e.g. for the type of activity within a certain space and for its intensity. In principle this concept could also be applied to marine space using the approach shown in this study. Ideally this would entail the development of a spatial typology on a larger scale based on more detailed spatial data. For the Baltic, such data is partly available at a local and regional level but not at a sea-wide level so both the scale and the quality of data used here lead to fuzziness regarding the categories of spatial boundaries. Small sub-spaces might be hidden due to generalisation. However, this issue is not unique to the sea, and indicates the case for typology development appropriate to different spatial scales of planning and management activity.

Although this study focuses on the Baltic Sea, the approach used here to identify a spatial typology could be used elsewhere for seas worldwide.


Seven different spatial classes have been identified.

The results of this study show that different spatial categories exist in the Baltic Sea on a macro-regional level. These categories can be defined by the type of anthropogenic activities on and in the sea, by the intensity of these activities, by environmental impacts on the marine environment as well as by the spatial connectivity of sub-spaces with other spaces. For the Baltic Sea the analysed data sets indicate the existence of seven spatial categories from barely used wilderness to an intensively used regional hub. Further spatial categories identified in this study are rural areas, transport corridors, local hubs, and transition zone. Interestingly, virtually all the identified spatial categories are transnational in character with local hubs being the only exception. From a managerial point of view this supports the call for cross-border Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) as formulated in the EU framework directive on Maritime Spatial Planning.

Continuous spaces with consistent features ask for joint planning and management approaches beyond administrative borders. In addition, the identified spatial typology suggests the existence of a macro-regional system of sub-spaces on a pan-Baltic level. This spatial system is finely graduated and covers a large range from nearly untouched areas via rural space and transport corridors to hubs of macro-regional importance. Most spatial categories extend over more than two EEZ borders and provide services for several countries. Such a system calls for joint approaches of all riparian countries.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • Integrated European Maritime Policy (IMP)
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Lead Author:

Holger Janßen
Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research (IOW)
Date of research: February 2013

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Develop risk assessments leading to best practice

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.