European Environment Agency (EEA)

Marine protected areas in Europe`s seas - An overview and perspectives for the future


1. The EU and marine protected areas

Europe's seas are under pressure. Marine protected areas (MPAs) can act as a key conservation measure to safeguard marine ecosystems and biodiversity as well as the services these ecosystems provide.

Aim, structure and supporting data of this report

This document reports on progress made to date in establishing MPAs and MPA networks in Europe's seas (Table 1.1), specifically MPAs reported by European Union (EU) Member States up to and including 2012. It also discusses how best to assess the effectiveness of these MPAs and determine their effectiveness in protecting biodiversity across Europe's seas. This document supports the European Commission's progress report on MPAs to the European Parliament and to the Council under Article 21 of Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy — the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) (EC, 2008). For this reason, it does not include information on European Environment Agency (EEA) collaborating countries that are not EU Member States. Likewise, it has not been possible to evaluate the relevance of efforts under the Agreement of the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS), nor in the Emerald Network, the Ramsar sites (i.e. of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat) and the Biosphere Reserves for European MPAs.

The fundamental features of MPAs and the importance of networks of MPAs are discussed in Chapter 2, followed by an introduction, in Chapter 3, to the policy framework used to establish MPAs. Chapter 4 provides an overview of MPAs designated under Natura 2000, while Chapter 5 focuses on another type of MPAs, designated under multilateral international agreements known as the Regional Sea Conventions (RSCs). The subject of Chapter 6 is those MPAs designated by national governments without the need for international agreement. In Chapters 4, 5 and 6, the effectiveness of the MPAs and MPA networks is analysed as far as practical. In Chapter 6, a broader outlook assesses the three different types of MPAs on their conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Chapter 7 brings the report to a close by looking to the future: examining how the next 20 years of EU MPA policy implementation can be informed by lessons learned from the previous 20 years. As such, the report presents a general view of some of the key MPA drivers in the EU.

Results presented in this report are based on 2012 data reporting by EEA countries to the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA) and on 2012 data reporting by EU Member States under the EU nature directives (i.e. the Habitats Directive (EU, 1992) and the Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds; (EU, 2009)). Information is also included from the RSC covering each of the four marine regions in Europe. The methodology for the spatial assessments and detailed results are presented in the 2015 EEA Technical report Spatial analysis of marine protected area networks in Europe's seas (EEA, 2015b). It should be noted that there are significant ongoing discussions on MPAs in the RSCs (the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North‑East Atlantic (named OSPAR because of the original Oslo and Paris Conventions)), and likewise on MPAs in the high seas (in areas beyond national jurisdiction) and the extended continental shelf. Similarly, MPAs are also being designated in the overseas territories of some EU Member States. None of these subjects are considered in this report.

MPA networks: a key conservation measure for halting biodiversity loss

The regional seas surrounding Europe include vast, open oceans as well as almost entirely landlocked seas (Table 1.1; Map 1.1). These seas are home to a diverse range of habitats that sustain thousands of species of plants and animals, a biodiversity which is the foundation for marine ecosystems and their capacity to deliver the services from which we benefit. In addition, more than 5 million Europeans depend on the sea, its ecosystem services and its resources to support their daily livelihood. And millions more rely on the sea for leisure activities such as fishing, swimming and sailing.

In spite of the sea's key role, human activities in the marine environment are jeopardising the state of marine ecosystems. Moreover, land-based activities are also impacting the sea. Scientists — both globally, and within Europe — have observed an accelerated rate of biodiversity loss through (ecological) extinctions and extirpations of marine species. Biodiversity loss is caused by multiple human activities burdening ecosystems with different pressures: damage and loss of habitats, extraction of resources, introduction of non-indigenous species, pollution and the effects of climatic change. The cumulative effect of these pressures is damaging the state of marine ecosystems (EEA, 2015c).

MPAs are a key policy measure and management tool for addressing these increasingly complex threats to marine ecosystems. MPAs — and networks of MPAs — are a key mechanism to safeguard biodiversity and increase the resilience of ecosystems to unwanted change.

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