European Environment Agency (EEA)

Spatial analysis of Marine Protected Area networks in Europe`s seas


1.1 Aims and scope of the report

This European Environment Agency (EEA) technical report presents an overview of the 2012 spatial distribution of the networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) established in the waters of EU), excluding overseas territories.

The report contains a detailed explanation of the methodology and data sets used and the reasoning behind the spatial statistical analysis outlining the distribution of marine MPAs established by EU Member States in the regional seas surrounding Europe. In so doing, the report also covers aspects concerning data-handling issues experienced during the analysis process, explanations of problem resolutions, and suggestions for improvement of future iterations of the same analysis.

The networks of MPAs taken into account in the analysis are those established under the framework of:

  1. the EU nature directives, i.e. the Habitats and Birds Directives (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora; and Directive 2009/147/EC of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds), recorded in the respective Natura 2000 (N2K) databases;
  2. national designation, i.e. the nationally designated sites (NDSs) recorded in the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA);
  3. the Regional Sea Conventions (RSCs) encompassing Europe's regional seas and containing EU waters.

In this respect, it is important to note that the RSCs encompassing EU waters are the:

  • Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area (Helsinki Convention);
  • Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-east Atlantic (OSPAR Convention);
  • Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean Sea (Barcelona Convention);
  • Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution (Bucharest Convention).

The conservation of species and habitats through the establishment of MPAs is set out in the mandates and targets of all four conventions. But at present, only the first three conventions listed above have in place a specific mechanism for establishing, recognising and reporting MPAs; this is why only the networks of MPAs established under these first three conventions are considered.

It should also be noted that the method used in this report presents numbers and areas of MPAs that may differ from those available in national databases of EU Member States. The explanation for such discrepancies varies from case to case

  • Additional sites might have been designated after the cut-off date for using the databases.
  • Some countries might not yet have reported all available information.
  • It is a requirement of the analysis that the marine species or habitats for which the MPA (N2K sites) is designated be listed in the tabular data reported for each site. The tabular data are used as a quality assurance (QA) parameter. If no marine species or habitats have been listed for a site, then the site is not recognised as an MPA through the method used for QA of the analysis (see detailed explanation in Section 2.6).
  • Sites close to the shore or parts thereof might be cut off due to differences in the resolution of the coastline available for all EU Member States. As EU Member States have not reported a harmonized coastline a coarser EU coastline was applied.

A prerequisite for setting up a spatial assessment is the delineation of assessment areas. The EEA has chosen to delineate marine areas using a 200 nautical mile (NM) limit from the coast or one of equidistance to non-EU countries, except for Greece where a 6 NM limit has been used. MPAs do exist beyond these boundaries, but they have not been included in the analysis.

Boundaries between assessment areas have been harmonised with existing boundaries established under the Regional Sea Conventions, the biogeographic boundaries established under the Habitats Directive and the boundaries reported by EU Member States under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) (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). These boundaries are being further aligned with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) ecoregions.

Please note that neither the European Commission, the EEA nor its European Topic Centre on Inland, Coastal and Marine waters (ETC/ICM) are the competent authorities in the geographical demarcation of EU Member States borders. This is also the case in establishing the limits of the continental shelf of EU Member States, where international law applies. According to Article 76 (8) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), only the coastal State is the competent authority in establishing the outer limits of its continental shelf. It is to act in line with the recommendations of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

The figures and tables used to illustrate the evaluation of the available data sets are not intended to influence or otherwise have a bearing on any ongoing negotiations in UNCLOS or jurisdictional contexts regarding maritime boundaries of EU Member States or third countries located in Europe's seas. Neither the European Commission, the EEA nor its ETC/ICM is responsible for the use that may be made of information provided in the tables and maps of this report. Moreover, all maps carry a disclaimer: the maps serve for information purposes only, and may not and shall not be construed as official maps representing maritime borders in accordance with international law.

The assessment and its timeline was presented to the Marine Expert Group (MEG) established under the Habitats and Marine Strategy Directives in November 2012 by the EEA. The EEA presented its work on databases containing information on MPAs, and following discussion with MEG experts, the Commission defined a work programme involving use of already existing data-reporting flows, in order to collect necessary information for the Commission report on MPAs, as defined by Article 21 of the MSFD. This Commission working document was published in March 2013 (EEA, 2013a).

The ETC/ICM activities on MPA-related matters have therefore focused on elaborating baseline information for establishment of networks of MPAs, work directly underpinning the EEA's supporting role to the Commission on progress reporting on the establishment of MPAs. In this context, ETC/ICM work in 2013 first focused on generating base reference layers for the MPA query process, defining the appropriate methodology for the extraction of true marine sites from existing EEA and RSC databases on MPAs, and generating preliminary statistics on MPA network coverage (i.e. values on network distribution, overlap, size, minimum distances amongst sites, etc.). In 2014, given the availability of reported national marine waters, ETC work concentrated on defining methodological approaches to resolving spatial boundary issues, and elaborating country profiles of marine N2K sites.

1.2 Organisation of work for the report
The work was conducted by Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale (ISPRA) in 2013, partially under its ETC/BD-related consortium activities, and through a specific consultancy agreement commissioned through the ETC/ICM in 2013, and entirely through ETC/ICM activities in 2014. ISPRA was responsible for developing the methodology required for the spatial analysis, elaborating the general statistics (size and distance values of the different MPA networks, distribution according to marine regions/subregions and buffer distance belts), elaborating the N2K country profiles, double checking for possible errors, and writing the report.

TC Vode, ETC/ICM's partner, created and generated the base shapefiles necessary for running the general statistics and country profiles on N2K (i.e. correction of specific errors in the EEA coastline, creation of buffer distance belts, and filtering of marine N2K sites and related tabular data).

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