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Protecting marine ecosystems
In 2010, the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including Aichi Target 11 to effectively protect and manage 10% of global coastal and marine areas, which was not achieved in the EU by the 2020 deadline. In 2020, the European Commission published the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which the European Parliament adopted in 2021. It seeks to address the global biodiversity crisis, which includes securing effective protection and management for at least 30% of EU seas, with a minimum 10% set aside as strictly protected by 2030. 

The percentage that is presently safeguarded as Marine Protected Areas in Europe is not effectively managed. This means that while areas are designated as protected, this protection is neither well enforced nor effectively monitored. Marine protection must be well implemented to ensure its success in preserving ocean health and resilience.

In this context, an ecosystem-based approach to managing human activities at sea and in coastal areas is of the utmost importance to prevent any negative effects on areas that contain particularly sensitive habitats, species and/or ecological processes. It also ensures that the sea space, a common resource, is shared equitably amongst the ever increasing numbers of sea uses and users. In 2014, the EU adopted the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, which provides goals and requirements for how to sustainaibly use and share European sea basins. 

Why it matters

WWF's vision is that marine activities in all European waters will be guided by ecosystem-based Maritime Spatial Plans (MSP) that are well integrated with other marine policies to bring together all relevant sectors for sustainable management of the marine environment. 

According to the MSP Directive, coastal EU Member States were due to publish their Maritime Spatial Plans, aligned with the Directive’s objectives, by 31 March 2021. As of July 2021, only 9 out of the 22 EU MSPs were published. European MSP discussions are also often lacking in holistic, integrated and nature-based approaches for effective marine management. This puts the objective of achieving a truly sustainable blue economy at risk. 

Important components of marine ecosystems must be safeguarded both inside and outside an ecologically coherent and well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The EU has so far failed in its commitments to marine protection, with less than 2% of the EU marine covered by MPAs with management plans in 2019, despite 12.4% being designated for protection.

European seas that are thriving and full of life are those guided by ecosystem-based MSPs and that contribute to a sustainable blue economy in which critical marine habitats are properly protected through MPA networks. Action is required from the EU institutions to deliver across the spectrum, from national MSPs that are ecosystem-based, down to co-management of local MPAs.

What WWF is doing

The EPO, with the support of WWF’s national and regional offices, is advocating and intervening at the EU level to hold both the European Commission and Member States accountable for promoting and coherently delivering on ecosystem-based marine and biodiversity policy targets, including minimum 30% effective marine protection by 2030, ecosystem-based Maritime Spatial Plans and a nature-compatible expansion of offshore renewable energy to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. This work involves sharing examples of best practice and lessons learned from high-performing national, European and global plans that already exist, while providing guidelines to improve where needed. 

WWF is part of a coalition on offshore renewables, which is calling on Member States to deliver ecosystem-based Maritime Spatial Plans that bring together offshore renewable energy industries and civil society to explore and discuss how to best develop the sector while protecting our seas from further degradation.