How the sea is missing from the development of territorial strategies

Two thirds of the Earth are covered with water. For a long time the sea has been a major stake in geopolitics and geo-strategic, and its importance for international trade does not to be proved anymore. Fishing is important in how people perceive the sea. 30% of oil and gas is extracted from the sea, most of the world communications passes through submarine cables, off-shore wind farms are growing in the North Sea…

However, the sea still holds a minor position in territorial strategies. It is always hard to reach, even for coastal territories, which have difficulties valorising it and extending their plans and projects towards it. Land territories (especially coastal lines) garner a lot of attention, are the subject of projects, plans, strategies, and policies but the coastal space and the marine capital – despite being supposedly shared and common – are often only tackled by marine stakeholders. Policies are usually limited to a regulatory framework for private activities.

Intervention Radio Algérie – 2017

Listen to our intervention about Blue Economy in Impact – a weekly recorded broadcast about environment on Radio-Algeria

Blue economy : a new vision of the sea

The concept of “blue economy” which appeared a few years ago shows the “land-dwelling” stakeholders’ and decision-makers’ growing awareness concerning the importance the sea may have in the future global economy. Mankind discovers or re-discovers what the sea can bring: new biological, mineral, and energy capital as well as new spaces – now reachable thanks to the huge improvements of the off-shore industry in the last few decades. It is now possible to develop mariculture, marine biotechnologies, material and mineral extractions, desalination, wind power, hydraulic power and thermal energy on a large scale. Capital, raw material, space as well as financial stakes and jobs related to these constitute the major issues to be considered by the blue economy.

Blue Economy in a nutshell :

  • Marine resources (biological, mineral and energy)
  • Maritime space, from coastal space to off-shore space
  • Science, knowledge and skills
  • Maritime culture, heritage and traditions
  • Cooperation
  • Infrastructures and related services
  • Financial capital

What about coastal territories ?

The Blue Economy affects professional users of the sea, but also territories which host their activities. Nowadays, coastal territories take too few advantages from the coastal and marine activities they host and to which they supply many services (harbours, resources, space, network, training, knowledge…) with often only limited or unbalanced returns (seasonal or unskilled employments, negative or non-existent return on investment, conflicts between seasonal tenants and inhabitants…).

The maritime territorial strategies must allow territories to attract the value of the blue economy and to control its impact.

Territories can organise themselves at all scales (local, regional and national) to make better use of their maritime capital, to get more out of the value of maritime activities and to provide better protection to their heritage which can be threatened by maritime and land-based activities. The aim is to create or revive a maritime territorial dynamic.

THE MARITIME AND COASTAL CAPITAL, the heart of territorial strategies

Each territory has a more or less important maritime and coastal capital, and territories are rarely aware of its existence.

It is this capital which is used by marine and coastal activities. Territories must seize and develop this capital in order to receive the fair benefit of their use.

Natural capital

* Natural heritage (ecosystems and related services) which must be preserved

* Marine natural capital which are exploitable and renewable at least in principle (biologic and energetic) or exhaustible (minerals).

* Maritime and coastal space

Human capital

* Maritime culture and heritage

* Knowledge and skills

* Governance

Technical and financial capital

* Coastal and maritime infrastructures (harbours, networks…) and services (communication, weather forecasting…)

* Financial capital controlled by the territory and related services

This capital is used by maritime and coastal activities which valorise them but can also threaten them (overexploitation, destruction, pollution…); their aim is not necessarily to create as many returns possible for the territory… Here are some examples.

  • Massive cruise shipping, which needs public infrastructures that are rarely used brings few benefits to stopover cities and regions. This is a logical conclusion given that this sector gives advantage to all-inclusive and on-board consumerism. These cities and regions are regularly overwhelmed by waves of tourists who will disembark only to see some specific places. However there is a wide range of cruise types. Some of these types make better use of the territory assets and bring it more returns (eg. employment and added value)
  • Sailing requires huge investments (often financed by territories) and coastal spaces which are scarce and filled (almost permanently) with ships built elsewhere and which sails only a few days a year;
  • Full-time jobs related to fishing are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Fishing contributes to the maritime image of a territory but needs infrastructures and support while most of the added value of this activity is often caught outside the coastal territory.
  • The space is (im)mobilized by holiday homes which demand oversized infrastructures (network, water treatment plants…) while not being in use most of the year. Holiday homes also have  low local returns (seasonal jobs).

However this situation does not need be so. Territories can take their maritime fate into their own hands rather than letting external stakeholders doing so. This asks for a complete and objective diagnosis.

On a coastal territory, the blue economy is not only related to market activities. It is a set comprising :

  • Maritime and coastal capital
  • Maintained and valorized by non-market coastal and maritime activities (preservation, control, infrastructures building, support services…) which create an increasing number of local jobs;
  • And exploited by market activities (goods and services product).

Rather than the classical view of developing market activities, the aim is to tackle the specific stakes of a territory including:

  • Preserving, developing and valorising capital
  • Attracting as much value and jobs related to maritime activities as possible on a given territory.
  • Maritime and coastal territorial strategies : our approach

    A tough methodology to assess the maritime and coastal potential and to develop strategies to valorize it on the territory

This stage aims to identify the strategic elements of the capital, the legacy elements (which have to be preserved), and what can be valorised.

This step takes into account the space close to the coastline (territorial waters) but also the whole maritime space which the territory can benefit from in terms of resources, knowledge and skills, technical abilities and infrastructures (such as distant fishing areas for the ships based on the territory).

Used data is secondary data (synthesis, studies, and scientific articles); if needs be, specific studies can be undertaken (eg. use of the maritime space by activities…).

The analysis looks at issues from the the viewpoint of a territory rather than the classical viewpoint of activities and economic stakeholders. Rather than looking at the global value generated by those activities, we take a specific interest in the added value that is sent back to the territory (return on investment, assessment of the direct and indirect supports, location of the created jobs, part of the value chain caught by the territory, indirect returns which are rarely quantified accurately).

The analysis focuses on the territorial components of the value chain and particularly on the control taken by the territory of the sharing of the value, for example from the maritime capital (such as harbor facilities, supports, control of the financial capital…).

The maritime activities value-chains and their links to the territory : use of resources and space, impact on facilities, use of knowledge and facilities; use of the territory financial capital; product of goods and services, creation of jobs and added-value…

In some cases the activity makes use of resources and space generating impact but no value. For example the international maritime transport uses space while the ships are in transit, impacts the environment, freely uses the services (weather, safety, mapping…) but this activity does not have any returns on the territory.

  • Maritime and coastal activities
    • The analysis takes their maturity into account (emerging, mature, declining…), and their potential in the future (resources, space and skills and knowledge available). Recommendations specifically aims to maximise economic returns (jobs and value) or non-economic returns (representation, knowledge…) for the territory and to develop synergies between activities (clusters…) and innovation.

In the synthesis (presented as a SWOT scheme) recommendations and strategic directions are proposed. They specifically have to do with:

  • The maritime and coastal capital
    • Natural heritage, space and resources : preservation, management and exploitation
    • Human capital : knowledge, education, maritime knowledge, maritime governance
    • Technical capital : infrastructures, related services and financial capital

Making use of the results of the study

The strategic diagnosis identifies a territory’s major stakes and which will help identify action points. All maritime and coastal strategy is based on this. Results can bring :

  • The elaboration of Maritime spatial planning (MSP) for example at a maritime coastline or at a ultramarine maritime basin scale.
  • The elaboration of strategies and management plans (Marine Nature Parks…)
  • Elaboration of the maritime sections of planning documents
  • Regional or district-scaled strategies
  • National strategies : “blue economy”

Our experience

SML has been implementing this innovating approach since 2014 in a broad spectrum of cases in France and in foreign countries for public stakeholders who wish to develop their territory attractiveness or a strategic vision of their maritime and coastal development such as:

  • Intercommunality (Maritime section of planning documents)
  • County and region (territorial strategy, maritime section of planning documents)
  • States (southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea) in the frame of the European cooperation
  • Regional seas (Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea) in the frame of the European regional cooperation.

To succeed in these delicate studies, SML relies on a thorough knowledge of maritime and coastal activities, on maritime and coastal policies at all scales, on existing planning and regulating tools and on an international network of experts.


Assistance: preparation for the elaboration of the maritime and coastal strategy of the Brittany region. Results are available here.

Assistance: Strategic diagnosis for the sea and coastal Challenge in Loire-Atlantique. Results are available here.