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Marine Spatial Planning

COINAtlantic works to bring together stakeholders across sectors in Atlantic Canada to integrate knowledge in support of collaborative and transparent planning and decision-making for our coasts and oceans.


Whether through Integrated Coastal and Ocean Management (ICOM) or Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), COINAtlantic is committed to transforming the way we manage coastal and ocean environments for present and future use. 

Collaborative Planning & Management of Coastal & Ocean Spaces

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a multi-sector process to achieve multiple ecological, social, and economic objectives by assessing how the spatial (space) and temporal (time) distributions of human activities like shipping, fishing, and energy development, interact with other human uses, ecological processes like species and habitat features and patterns, and various management systems in an area.

​MSP processes allow for more effective, efficient and equitable ocean and coastal planning and management, reducing user-environment and user-user conflicts in marine spaces. (source: marinespecies.orgTuda et al. 2014)

Effective MSP is:


  • ecosystem-based, balancing ecological, economic, and social goals and objectives toward sustainable development

  • integrated across sectors and stakeholders, and among levels of government

  • place-based

  • adaptive, learning from past experience

  • strategic and proactive, focused on the long-term

  • collaborative and participatory, with stakeholders actively involved throughout the process

(source: Ehler and Douvere 2009) ​​

MSP in Canada

Canada’s Oceans Act is driving Fisheries and Oceans Canada to “lead and facilitate the development and implementation of plans for the integrated management of all activities and measures in or affecting marine waters”, and is an enabling factor for MSP in Canada. (source:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is leading a Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) process in Canada that brings together relevant authorities, stakeholders, and Indigenous rightsholders to better coordinate how we use and manage marine spaces to achieve multiple ecological, economic and social objectives.

Planning processes are underway in five marine areas, or bioregions, across Canada:

  • Pacific North Coast

  • Salish Sea

  • Newfoundland-Labrador Shelves

  • Gulf of St. Lawrence

  • Scotian Shelf / Bay of Fundy

Bioregional Map.png

The three bioregions in Atlantic Canada where MSP processes are underway.  

Key elements to the MSP in Canada process include:


  • Governance through establishment of Indigenous/federal/provincial mechanisms

  • Interactive marine atlas/ data portal provide data tools to guide decisions around the use of marine space

  • Decision-support tools that integrate relevant federal initiatives and application of tools for multiple use planning and decision making

  • Bioregional marine spatial plans that set out the long-term direction and guidance for spatial objectives and shared accountabilities for implementation

Marine Spatial Planning will provide a forum for advancing cross-sector planning of Canada’s ocean regions.

Globally, 70 countries in 2018 had prepared or were preparing 140 MSP plans at national, regional, and local levels. (source:

Data Sharing for MSP

MSP requires consistent data that can be comparable, is regularly updated where applicable, and is easily accessible. Access to regular monitoring data is necessary to assess multiple impacts of different ecological and social uses of the marine environment, and adaptively manage a marine spatial plan on a regular basis. (source:

In March, 2020, in collaboration with DFO Maritimes Region, COINAtlantic organized and facilitated a workshop titled "Data Sharing for an Atlantic Canada Marine Atlas" with planners and data experts from across sectors and around Eastern Canada to discuss the development of a web-based, publicly accessible atlas with interactive maps that present data and information on ocean ecosystems, human uses, and management areas.

Learn more about COINAtlantic's MSP Data Sharing Workshop


Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and Calf 

MSP and Conservation - The North Atlantic Right Whale

The critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) are so important to the ecosystem. Researchers have found that one whale indirectly does the work of about 1,000 trees in taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and preventing or reducing our climate disaster. (source: Ryan 2020)


Yet, the two greatest threats to North Atlantic Right Whales are entanglements in fishing gear and ship collisions (source:

MSP is a collaborative, multi-sector ocean planning and management process that requires data and information on the various social, economic, and ecological uses of the ocean spaces, including by the NARW.


The recovery strategy for the endangered NARW requires access to reliable, timely data and information such as observational sightings and vessel traffic, as well as NARW life history, migration, and critical habitat characteristics.  (source:

Information made available through MSP processes, such as Atlases and Data Portals, are key to identifying where the NARW and human activities overlap, preventing vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements, and allowing important population trends to be evaluated over time. (source: Petruny et al. 2014)

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