Two years before the deadline, with 625.000 square kilometres – 10.8% – of EU marine and coastal waters protected, the European Union meets the target of setting aside 10% of all its waters as marine protected areas by 2020. This could bring EUR 3.2 billion of potential annual benefits. Nevertheless, more efforts are required to have a coherent and effective network of marine protected areas in Europe that can deliver significant ecological and socio-economic benefits.
Today at Our Ocean conference in Bali, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, announced that the EU has already achieved its Aichi target and the target of Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the designation of marine protected areas (MPAs), in terms of area coverage. Between 2012 and 2017, the EU moved from conserving 6% to 10.8% of its waters, thanks primarily to Natura 2000 – the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, which presently covers 9.2% of European seas. MPA coverage has improved in nine out of ten European regional seas. However, efforts are ongoing to fill gaps in some regions like the Mediterranean Sea or deep-sea areas.
Speaking at the conference, Karmenu Vella said: "In Our Ocean 2015, we announced that we would conserve 10% of all EU waters by 2020. We have reached this goal ahead of deadline. I am proud to say that we are on the right track in maintaining the health of our seas. Marine protected areas can deliver both conservation and economic benefits. But they need adequate funding, effective management and robust enforcement if we want those benefits to last."
While many European marine protected areas are implementing their management plans, challenges remain: sufficient and adequate marine protected areas still need to be designated to protect marine life and biodiversity from the major pressures; management plans and the conservation measures need to be created and strengthened, and ecological coherence and effectiveness of MPA networks in each sea basin needs to be ensured.
Many marine species across Europe´s seas are experiencing a decrease in population size and loss of habitat. Protected areas seek to reverse this trend by safeguarding ecosystems and species and rebuilding fish stocks, as well as ensuring the delivery of important ecosystem services such as coastal protection, flood management and tourism. Well governed and effectively managed MPAs can boost species richness and density, and the body size and biomass of animals.
The EU has specific legislation in place that calls for MPA designation and management. The major driver is the EU Natura 2000 network, the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, based on the Habitats and Birds Directives. Presently, it accounts for 9.2 % of EU waters and requires targeted conservation action to tackle threats to protected habitats and species.
This is complemented by MPAs designated nationally, under the regional seas’ conventions or international conventions. Under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Member States are putting in practice hundreds of measures to tackle the main pressures on the marine environment and to reach good environmental status; some of those measures are MPAs.
European Environment Agency briefing ‘Europe's marine protected areas'
29 October 2018