Today, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published its Marine Protected Areas in Europe’s Seas report, which shows that only 5.9% of the EU marine surface is protected, not even close to the 10% that governments have committed to protect. Oceana welcomes the release of this research, the first ever assessment of the entire EU network of marine protected areas (MPAs), and calls on Member States to address the major shortcomings that prevent this network from being effective: too few sites (particularly in offshore waters), which are too small, and are poorly managed.
An accompanying policy communication released by the European Commission further emphasises the insufficiency of the network and highlights critical areas where efforts are urgently needed: the Eastern Mediterranean basin and the Adriatic Sea, the Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast, and Macaronesia.
“Nine out of ten Natura 2000 sites are smaller than the scientifically recommended minimum size of 100 km2 and many are ‘paper parks’ with no real protection. If EU Member States only half-heartedly invest in marine conservation, they will fail to deliver the ecological and economic benefits a well-designed and well-managed network of MPAs can provide,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe. “Only healthy and resilient ecosystems can help us cope with threats like climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Alarming lack of cohesion
The EEA’s report shows that the EU network severely lacks coherency. For example, most MPAs are nearshore or coastal, while protection of offshore areas is noticeably lacking, leaving a wide array of deepwater habitats and species without protection, and compromising environmental interconnections between inshore and offshore areas. For example, in the Baltic Sea and North East Atlantic Ocean, countries have protected over 15% of their coastal waters, but less than 4% of offshore areas.
Many European MPAs are just ‘paper parks’
Oceana deeply regrets the failure to consider MPA management within the EEA assessment, which seriously limits the reliability of any conclusions about the effectiveness of the network. Information about management measures in MPAs is notoriously scarce, largely because such measures are often lacking, particularly in relation to fishing inside MPA boundaries. Many EU MPAs are therefore mere ‘paper parks’, which do not provide real protection against potentially harmful human activities.
“The European Commission must stop its head-in-the-sand policy on marine site management, and begin to seriously tackle the pervasive, ongoing lack of management of European MPAs. Member States that do not comply with requirements for meaningful protection should be held legally accountable for their negligence,” adds Gustavsson.