Over the years the EU has established an increasingly robust policy framework to address the multiple challenges facing its marine environment and to ensure a more sustainable ecosystems-based approach to the use of its marine resources. The Habitats and Birds Directives, along with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, are the environmental pillar of the wider Integrated Maritime Policy. They are also at the heart of the EU’s contribution to international efforts, including the four Regional Seas Conventions (HELCOM, OSPAR, Barcelona, Black Sea).
The Habitats Directive lists nine marine habitat types and 16 species for which marine site designation is required, whilst the Birds Directive lists a further 60 bird species whose conservation requires marine site protection. To date (June 2016), more than 3000 marine Natura 2000 sites have been designated, which cover more than 5% of the total EU marine area (over 300,000 km2).
Relevant information sources:
The implementation of marine Natura 2000 is supported by the Marine Expert Group (MEG) set up by the Commission to promote the exchange of experience, information and best practices in site designation and management, including addressing pressures from fisheries and other activities, and to promote synergies with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Marine biogeographical seminars and follow up activities
The first marine biogeographical seminar on marine Natura 2000 management was held in St. Malo in France in May 2015 to identify ways to better share experience and management practices in conserving marine Natura 2000 sites and to enhance co-operation, at different territorial levels, between various public policies.
Further information on the management and conservation of marine Natura 2000 sites can be found on the marine page of the Natura 2000 communication platform.
Natura 2000 and fisheries
One of the six targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 is to improve the management of fished stocks and to eliminate adverse impacts of fisheries on fish stocks, species, habitats and ecosystems. The latest reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the related European Maritime and Fisheries Fund aim to put an end to the depletion of fish stocks and promote a more coherent ecosystem-based approach for all fisheries.
According to the State of Nature report, fishing and the harvesting of marine aquatic resources is identified as one of the most common and significant pressures facing marine ecosystems. Addressing these threats in Natura 2000 marine protected areas would require establishing the necessary fishery management measures in order to meet the conservation objectives of the areas.
To facilitate the tasks of Member States, a common methodology for assessing the impact of fishing activities on marine protected areas was developed which also gives the basis for the development of fisheries measures with a view to ensuring compliance with applicable provisions under the Habitats and Birds Directives and the CFP.
Further documentation was prepared in 2014, identifying fishing activities that could have “a priori” significant negative impacts on features for which Natura 2000 sites have been selected.
With the entry into force of Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Common Fisheries Policy (the CFP "basic regulation") new dedicated rules apply for the adoption of conservation measures necessary for compliance with Union environmental legislation. These rules are set out in Article 11, "Conservation measures necessary for compliance with obligations under Union environmental legislation" in conjunction with the general provisions of Article 18, "Regional cooperation on conservation measures".
Economic activities in the marine environment
The Commission has produced a number of sector specific guidance documents that are relevant for the implementation of the provisions of the Birds and Habitats directives in marine environment.
Socio-economic benefits of marine Natura 2000
European seas are amongst the most productive in the world, offering a wide range of ecosystem goods and services which support the livelihoods of over 5 million people within the EU and generate a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year.
Following a scoping document in 2015, a report was prepared in 2016 to help better understand the socio-economic benefits of the marine Natura 2000 network at EU level. This is accompanied by a number of case studies documenting benefits of MPAs across different marine regions.
Natura 2000 and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
The Habitats, Birds and Marine Strategy Framework Directives are inter-related as they are all concerned with aspects of marine biodiversity conservation, including a requirement to achieve good status for the elements of biodiversity covered by each directive. There are however also a number of important distinctions between them.
To assist in the understanding of the three directives, the Commission has produced a Frequently Asked Questions document which aims to identify and clarify interactions, synergies, differences and potential areas for greater coordination between these instruments concerning the conservation of marine biodiversity. It has no formal legal status.
Other relevant European marine projects and initiatives
The EU has committed over €70.5 million to more than 70 LIFE projects supporting marine projects, over half of which are operating in marine Natura 2000 sites.
European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) also offers the possibility to finance specific measures in support of biodiversity, in particular with regards to Natura 2000.
In July 2014, the European Parliament and the Council adopted legislation to create a common framework for maritime spatial planning in Europe. While each EU country will be free to plan its own maritime activities, local, regional and national planning in shared seas would be made more compatible through a set of minimum common requirements. Marine Spatial Planning is also an effective way to protect the marine environment through early identification of impact and opportunities for multiple use of space.