Environmental NGOs Oceana, Seas At Risk and WWF have urged the European Commission to be rigorous in its assessment of member states’ performance on protecting their oceans, and on member states to fulfil their obligations to protect those areas that are home to Europe’s most threatened marine life. The call comes ahead of this week’s EU meeting to identify gaps that legally must be filled in the Natura 2000 network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Atlantic, Macaronesian, and Mediterranean waters, the first such meeting in six years.
The Natura 2000 network, established by the EU Nature Directives, is the primary tool for species and habitat protection across Europe. Yet 24 years after it was first established, Natura 2000 MPAs only cover 4% of EU marine waters, far below the 30% target internationally considered by scientists as necessary to sustain long-term ocean health. To this day, significant gaps in the network still remain. For example, a disproportionate number of MPAs are located close to shore, with large gaps in protection of offshore waters, beyond 12 nautical miles. In total, only 1.7% of offshore EU waters have been designated as Natura 2000 sites, leaving a wide array of deeper ecosystems and species without protection. “The completion of the marine Natura 2000 network is long overdue, to ensure biodiversity is protected for future generations and threatened species and habitats can recover from increasing pressures such as overfishing and climate change. In the North-East Atlantic Ocean, countries have protected a mere 2% of their offshore areas. Far worse is the situation in the Mediterranean, where 99.9% of offshore waters remain unprotected,” stated Lasse Gustavsson, executive director for Oceana in Europe.
The meeting will focus specifically on those member states which are not sufficiently protecting threatened species, such as bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead turtles, and threatened habitats, such as reefs and sandbanks. Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain are among the member states that are furthest behind in their protection efforts. “Slow progress by some member states in addressing the remaining gaps in protection undermines the effectiveness of the entire network of MPAs, and compromises the meaningful efforts already taken by other member states. With a wealth of new data available, there are no reasons to delay the protection that is necessary to help major threatened habitats and species recover” said Alice Belin, marine policy officer at Seas at Risk.
A 2015 report from the European Environment Agency showed that most marine life protected under the Natura 2000 network remains in poor or unknown condition, with only 7% of marine species and 9% of habitats considered to be in good conservation status.
“2020 is a crucial deadline for European marine conservation, the year by which our seas should have good environmental status and our fisheries managed sustainably. Establishing a complete and well-managed network of MPAs is a vital for achieving both of those aims,” added WWF Policy Advisor on MPAs Stephan Lutter.