Establishing the basis for Marine Spatial Planning in the Azores through a participatory process

Mario Caña
Published: 25 January 2021
Last edited: 22 February 2021
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In the middle of the North Atlantic is the Azores, an archipelago of nine islands. Despite their small size, the surrounding maritime space of the islands accounts for almost 1 million square kilometres. Under the European Union (EU) and Portugal legal frameworks for Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP), the autonomous region of the Azores, led by Regional Directorate for Sea Affairs (DRAM), is required to develop its Situation Plan. This is the main MSP policy instrument in Portugal. The Macaronesian Maritime Spatial Planning (MarSP) project came into being to support the development of the maritime spatial plans in the archipelagos of the Macaronesia region (Azores, Canary Islands and Madeira). This pilot project built capacities and tools to implement MSP in these EU outermost regions from 2018 to 2019. The team in the Azores developed innovative methodologies to approach the initial steps of the planning process, where the participation of stakeholders and citizens had a central role.


West and South Europe
Scale of implementation
Deep sea
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Seamount / Ocean ridge
Coastal and marine spatial management
Fisheries and aquaculture
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Not listed
Traditional knowledge
Increasing temperatures
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Tropical cyclones / Typhoons
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Inefficient management of financial resources
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Lack of infrastructure
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge




  • The 9 islands of the archipelago are scattered along an area of approximately 600 kilometers. This means there is a vast maritime space of almost 1 million to be planned, managed and surveyed.
  • The remote location of the Azores archipelago, in the middle of the North Atlantic, determines its geographical isolation. This, together with the small size of the islands, increase its dependency on the sea and maritime activities, which lead to conflicts among the sectors, particularly in coastal areas.
  • Limited human and financial resources to develop an inclusive process of stakeholders’ engagement across the nine islands.
  • Ensuring the participation and representativeness of stakeholders within each maritime sector.
  • Striking the balance between meeting the needs of the MSP policy framework and the requirements of the EU project (e.g. reporting in Portuguese versus English).


The Regional Government of the Azores, who is the competent authority to coordinate the development of the MSP plan. Stakeholders and maritime sectors that had the opportunity to contribute to the plan with their opinions, values and information.

How do the building blocks interact?

The building block 1 (BB1) interacts with all the other blocks. The stakeholder engagement process was crucial to validate the different steps and outputs of the project but also to collect new data and information. After the validation of the vision and objectives (building block 2 - BB2), the outcomes were used to build the development Scenarios for the Azores (building block 3 - BB3). Building block 4 (BB4), which includes the analysis of maritime sectors, was fed with the results of the participatory process and literature review. Building block 5 (BB5) integrates geospacialized data collected and validated along the participatory process (both stakeholder workshops and individual interviews).


  1. Increased knowledge and awareness on maritime spatial planning among stakeholders, which built capacities on this field. 
  2. Increased trust amongst the stakeholders, contributing to greater willingness of stakeholders to participate and to support the implementation of the maritime spatial plan to come.
  3. Filled knowledge gaps on several aspects relevant to the planning process, including the spatial distribution of certain maritime sectors.
  4. Stakeholders were able to influence the plan throuhout their participation in the process.
  5. Provided the initial framework for the competent authority to finalise and implement the regional maritime spatial plan of the Azores.

It is expected that existing conflicts among maritime sectors will decrease once the plan is implemented. 



From Corvo, the most occidental island of the Azores, with the smallest population (~400 habitants) and size (~17, Tânia Pipa, tells her perspective and impressions of the participatory process. For her, the engagement process in the region was very participative. She very much enjoyed being a part of it and felt proud to have had the chance, together with other stakeholders from different backgrounds and points of view, to contribute to the regional MSP and the discussion promoted by the project.


As a Biologist working in the conservation of seabirds, Tânia said the process gave her the opportunity to learn, share experiences and better understand the perspectives from other sectors (e.g. tourism, maritime transportation, etc.). She also highlighted that the outcomes of the discussions, built by various maritime users, support the development of measures targeting economic growth being mindful of conservation of the ocean. She ended by saying that she truly believes that the participatory approach carried out through the MarSP project should always be in place for future MSP as the way to validate the process.

Contributed by's picture

Helena Calado University of the Azores, MARE - Centro de Ciências do Mar e do Ambiente

Other contributors

University of the Azores (UAc)/Regional Fund for Science and Technology (FRCT)
University of the Azores (UAc)
Research Centre for Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO)
University of the Azores (UAc)
Regional Fund for Science and Technology (FRCT)
Regional Fund for Science and Technology (FRCT)