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Natura 2000 in the Marine Environment

The EU has established a robust and ambitious policy framework to address the multiple challenges facing its marine environment and to ensure a more sustainable ecosystem-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) and the Ocean Governance agenda.

Designation of marine Natura 2000 sites

The total coverage of EU seas covered by marine protected areas has more than doubled in the last six years, primarily due to the expansion of the Natura 2000 network – the largest coordinated network of conservation areas in the world. 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 (end 2018), more than 3150 marine Natura 2000 sites have been designated, which cover almost 10% of the total EU marine area (over 550,000 km2).

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Managing marine Natura 2000 sites

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. The second marine biogeographical seminar took place in Mallorca, Spain in November 2018, further strengthening the cooperation and exchange of experience between all stakeholders in the framework of different marine biogeographical regions.

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 Natura 2000 sites PDF was developed to be used as a 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.

An overview of the potential interactions and impacts of commercial fishing methods on marine habitats and species protected under the EU Habitats Directive PDF was prepared in 2014. It aims toidentify fishing activities that could have “a priori” significant negative impacts on features for which Natura 2000 sites have been selected.

Concerning the impact of bycatch on protected species, a risk assessment of bycatch of protected species in fishing activities PDF for the North-Eastern Atlantic was prepared in 2020.

A review of fisheries management measures in Natura 2000 sites PDF with some illustrative examples, was prepared in 2018.

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". The Commission has issued a Staff Working Document (SWD(2018) 288 final) providing guidance on the establishment of conservation measures for Natura 2000 sites and MSFD-relevant measures under Article 11 of the CFP Regulation, in order to facilitate the preparation and adoption of fishery measures for those areas, in particular through joint recommendations.

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.

In order to facilitate the identification of the main activities (apart from fishing) and associated pressures as well as the potential interactions and impacts of these pressures on protected habitats and species, a technical document was prepared in 2017.

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 study on the socio economic benefits of EU marine protected areas PDF 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.

A study on the economic benefits of MPAs and other spatial protection measures for blue economy sectors was published in 2018. It identifies the role and best practices of measures taken to ensure that these benefits are maximised and compatible with MPA conservation objectives.

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

LIFE projects have established and proposed management measures for more than 150 Natura 2000 sites. LIFE projects have also greatly improved knowledge of marine offshore habitats, such as reefs, and improved the conservation status of numerous species, especially seabirds (73% of projects), cetaceans (17%) and sea turtles (9%).

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) also offers the possibility to finance specific measures in support of biodiversity, in particular related 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.

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