Maritime spatial planning

Many people are amazed when they discover that the sea is anything but an empty space. Marine space is shaped by different uses. The steadily growing utilisation of marine space, mainly due to economic interests such as the expansion of wind energy, is creating a high pressure. Maritime spatial planning plays a decisive role to balance the competing interests of business, science and the environment. It is a forward-looking planning instrument that coordinates user interests and nature protection.

Overview map of maritime spatial plans for the German EEZ Maritime spatial plans for the German EEZ

News on the revision of the maritime spatial plans

On 11 June 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Home Affairs (BMI), with the support of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH), started the revision and updating process of the maritime spatial plans. The existing plans have been in force since 2009 and are expected to be revised and updated until 2021.

More information on the revision procedures

Task of maritime spatial planning

For a long time, the sea was not a space for industrial use on a large scale. The sea was mostly regarded as a predominantly open and untouched space, especially in comparison to the mainland. However, taking a closer look, one will soon notice that the German territorial sea, which extends up to 12 nm off the coast, as well as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which adjoins the territorial sea up to 200 nm, are under high pressure of utilisation.

More information on task

Traditional uses such as shipping and fishing have been shaping the maritime space for decades. Many other uses such as sand and gravel mining, gas extraction, laying of undersea pipelines and cables, research and military exercises as well as the very rapidly growing wind energy at sea have been added over the years, and are generating a constantly growing pressure. The diverse economic uses can lead to conflicts among each other as well as with the goals of environmental protection and nature conservation. The North Sea and Baltic Sea represent an important habitat for important mammal, fish and bird species as well as for a large number of terrestrial organisms, which require protection.

In order to balance the interests between business, science and the environment, maritime spatial planning acts as a forward-looking planning instrument that regulates the ever-increasing intensity of uses and coordinates user interests and protection claims.

As high-level planning, it aims at recording all (planned) human activities at sea, minimising existing conflicts and preventing future problems. Furthermore, it serves to protect the marine environment and nature by placing restrictions on human activities. When defining areas, it ensures, for example, that safety distances are maintained in order to avoid accidents with consequences for people and nature. Last but not least, maritime spatial planning serves to implement political goals. This includes, amongst others, the statutory expansion of renewable energies in support of the national transformation of the energy production.

A special feature of maritime spatial planning, in contrast to land-based spatial planning, is the consideration of the planning space in its three dimensions. The different levels, such as sea surface, water column, seabed or airspace each have special use and protection requirements. On the one hand, this leads to a wider range of area regulations, on the other hand it increases the potential that specific uses are mutually incompatible.

Maritime spatial plans for the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)


The BSH carries out the task of maritime spatial planning of the EEZ in the North Sea and Baltic Sea on behalf of the responsible Federal Ministry.

Legal basis

The legal basis for the establishment of maritime spatial plans in the German EEZ is the Federal Regional Planning Act, which was extended to the EEZ in 2004, and last amended in 2017 to implement the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning. In contrast to the territorial sea, the EEZ does not belong to the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany. Maritime spatial planning must therefore respect the freedoms of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, such as the freedoms of navigation, overflight and to lay cables and pipelines. It is therefore a matter of "limited spatial planning".

The legal regulations for spatial planning in the German EEZ apply to

• economic and scientific usage,
• ensuring the safety and ease of maritime navigation, and
• the protection of the marine environment.

Preparation procedure

The maritime spatial plans were established in a broad-based consultation process, in which submissions of authorities, associations and private individuals were obtained and evaluated at various stages of the planning process. In 2009, the plans entered into force as ordinances.