Legislation: the Marine Directive
The aim of the European Union's ambitious Marine Strategy Framework Directive is to protect more effectively the marine environment across Europe.
The Marine Directive was adopted on 17 June 2008, after several years of preparation and extensive consultation of all the relevant actors and the public, and came into force on 15 June 2008. It was due to be transposed into national legislation by 15 July 2010.
The Commission also produced in 2010 a set of detailed criteria and indicators to help Member States implement the Marine Directive. More information on this Commission Decision on the page on Good Environmental Status.
Concretely, what is the aim of the Marine Directive and how does it work?
The Marine Directive aims to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) of the EU's marine waters by 2020 and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. It is the first EU legislative instrument related to the protection of marine biodiversity, as it contains the explicit regulatory objective that "biodiversity is maintained by 2020", as the cornerstone for achieving GES.
The Directive enshrines in a legislative framework the ecosystem approach to the management of human activities having an impact on the marine environment, integrating the concepts of environmental protection and sustainable use.
In order to achieve its goal, the Directive establishes European marine regions and sub-regions on the basis of geographical and environmental criteria. The Directive lists four European marine regions – the Baltic Sea, the North-east Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea – located within the geographical boundaries of the existing Regional Sea Conventions. Cooperation between the Member States of one marine region and with neighbouring countries which share the same marine waters, is already taking place through these Regional Sea Conventions.
In order to achieve GES by 2020, each Member State is required to develop a strategy for its marine waters (or Marine Strategy). In addition, because the Directive follows an adaptive management approach, the Marine Strategies must be kept up-to-date and reviewed every 6 years.
What does a Marine Strategy include?
- The initial assessment of the current environmental status of national marine waters and the environmental impact and socio-economic analysis of human activities in these waters (by 15 July 2012)
- The determination of what GES means for national marine waters (by 15 July 2012)
- The establishment of environmental targets and associated indicators to achieve GES by 2020 (by 15 July 2012)
- The establishment of a monitoring programme for the ongoing assessment and the regular update of targets (by 15 July 2014)
- The development of a programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain GES by 2020 (by 2015)
- The review and preparation of the second cycle (2018 – 2021)
What about climate change?
Climate change is already affecting the marine environment and will continue to trigger changes in biological, chemical and physical processes. Such changes can reduce the ‘ecosystem resilience’ (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to persist despite disruption and change) to other man-induced pressures, leaving ecosystems increasingly sensitive to disruption. Impacts include rising sea levels, increased sea temperatures, precipitation changes, and ocean acidification.
Although some of the likely impacts of climate change in marine and coastal regions can be anticipated, the extent and location of these impacts is more difficult to predict with any certainty. Little is known for example about the effect of ocean acidification on carbon sequestration and consequential effects on marine foodweb and ecosystems.
Marine strategies in some coastal areas will need to identify ways of adapting to the effects of global warming and to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems to climate change effects.