EU failing 2020 commitments for marine biodiversity protection

Posted on September, 10 2019

19 of 23 marine EU Member States are falling behind on developing management plans for their Marine Protected Areas
A new report from WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue shows European seas remain in a poor state and significantly lack appropriate biodiversity protection, with 19 of 23 marine EU Member States falling behind on developing management plans for their Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The finding comes just a year before the 2020 deadline of international agreements to effectively protect 10% of the ocean (Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi target 11 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14). 

Marine Protected Areas are tools designed to protect specific species or habitats in marine ecosystems, but in order to provide effective protection for biodiversity, they must be properly managed. The report finds that only 1.8% of the EU marine area is covered by MPAs with management plans, despite 12.4% being designated for protection. This effectively makes them Paper Parks.

According to the research carried out by WWF, eleven EU Member States have not reported any management plans for their MPAs and eight have management plans for less than 10% of their marine area

Janica Borg, Marine Protection and Spatial Planning Policy Coordinator at the WWF European Policy Office and lead author of the report explained: “Achieving real protection of European marine areas requires significantly more than marking areas on a map. MPAs must have comprehensive management plans that address all cumulative human pressures affecting biodiversity. Without urgent action to implement effective plans for nature conservation or restoration, with proper restrictions against extractive activities, nearly all EU MPAs will fail to support our ocean’s resilience in the climate emergency.”

In addition, WWF’s assessment shows that the overall design of marine protection in Europe’s regional seas fails to deliver a network of MPAs which function together for improved protection. MPA networks of the Baltic Sea, Northeast Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea do not sufficiently represent the local habitats, nor are the MPAs close enough to each other for species to successfully move between them. 

Janica Borg continued: “A well designed and ecologically coherent MPA network can protect biodiversity beyond the MPA borders, enhancing the resilience of the entire regional sea. However, this can only happen when MPAs are placed where they are ecologically meaningful, not where they are least in the way of development for marine sectors. Good design of MPA networks provides wide-scale and long-term protection for our ecosystems, which is fundamental if we are to secure a sustainable blue economy in the EU.”  

Ocean warming and acidification, coupled with continued unsustainable exploitation of resources means that even effective protection of 10% of the EU marine area would be insufficient to secure truly resilient marine ecosystems. In line with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommendations, WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue are calling for at least 30% effective protection of the world’s oceans by 2030, an objective the EU must also achieve to safeguard the unique biodiversity of its seas. 

As a first step, WWF implores the EU and its Member States to urgently develop robust management plans and implement them as concrete activities for biodiversity protection within all existing MPAs. 

About WWF & Sky Ocean Rescue:
Sky Ocean Rescue and WWF are working together to help protect and restore our amazing ocean. With climate change, pollution and growing demand for resources such as food and energy, our ocean and marine wildlife are reaching a crisis point. Together, we are working to improve the management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This will enable marine wildlife to thrive and to improve the health of our waters, which play an essential role in securing food, jobs, energy and the oxygen we breathe.

Larissa Milo-Dale
Marine Communications Officer
+32 483 26 20 86
Protecting our ocean: Europe's challenges to meet the 2020 deadlines
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