Marine Strategy Framework Directive

EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive

The European Union (EU) is the world’s largest maritime territory and marine resources make a significant contribution to each Member State’s economic prosperity and social well-being. The European marine environment must therefore be protected to ensure that it is healthy, productive and safeguarded for the use of future generations.

Many of the threats to Europe’s marine resources require cooperation and collective action to be tackled effectively. It is within this context that the Integrated European Maritime Policy, which aims to provide a coherent framework for joined up governance of the marine environment, has been developed.

The environmental pillar for this integrated policy is Directive 2008/56/EC on establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy – known as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD); it was formally adopted by the European Union in July 2008.

The MSFD outlines a transparent, legislative framework for an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities which supports the sustainable use of marine goods and services. The overarching goal of the Directive is to achieve ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) by 2020 across Europe’s marine environment.

In order to achieve GES in a coherent and strategic manner, the MSFD established four European Marine Regions, based on geographical and environmental criteria. The North East Atlantic Marine Region is divided into four subregions, with UK waters lying in two of these (the Greater North Sea and the Celtic Seas). Each Member State is required to develop a marine strategy for their waters, in coordination with other countries within the same marine region or subregion. This coordination is being achieved through the Regional Seas Conventions, which for the UK is the OSPAR Convention.

Marine strategies are being implemented to protect and conserve the marine environment, prevent its deterioration, and, where practicable, restore marine ecosystems in areas where they have been adversely affected.

The marine strategies, developed by each Member State, contain:

  • An initial assessment of the current environmental status of that Member State’s marine waters;
  • A determination of what Good Environmental Status means for those waters;
  • Targets and indicators designed to show whether a Member State is achieving GES;
  • A monitoring programme to measure progress towards GES;
  • A programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain GES.

In 2012, the UK produced Part One of the Marine Strategy, containing information on the first three elements of the MSFD. In 2014, Part Two which focuses on a co-ordinated monitoring programme for the ongoing assessment of GES, was published. Part Three outlines a programme of measures that will contribute to the achievement and maintenance of GES, and was published in 2015. The MSFD does not state a specific programme of measures that Member States should adopt to achieve GES, except for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The MSFD does however outline 11 high level descriptors of GES in Annex I of the Directive. With respect to the UK, key requirements of the Directive and associated timeframes are clearly set out.

The MSFD will be complementary to, and provide the overarching framework for, a number of other key Directives and legislation at the European and UK level. Examples include the EC Habitats Directive, the EC Birds Directive, the EU Water Framework Directive, the Common Fisheries Policy and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act. It will also help fulfil international commitments undertaken at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the OSPAR Convention.

European Marine Directive

In October 2005 the European Commission released its proposals for a new Marine Strategy Directive, which will complement the existing Water Framework Directive and seek to address three key issues:

  • Increasing pressures on the marine environment (for example, land-based pollution, over fishing, oil spills, shipping, oil and gas exploration) and threats to marine ecosystems (biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, and the capacity of our seas to provide food).
  • Knowledge gaps, as assessment and monitoring programmes are not integrated or complete, and there are weak links between research needs and policy priorities.
  • Governance systems which lack co-ordination across Europe. The many regional and global strategies and environmental agreements, institutions and policies affecting the marine environment (for example, Common Fisheries Policy, Marine Transport Policy, Common Agricultural Policy,Water Policy) are poorly integrated and often not specifically designed to protect the marine environment.

The Strategy’s vision is that “we and future generations can enjoy and benefit from biologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas that are safe, clean, healthy and productive”. The proposed Directive aims to translate this vision into a legal objective to achieve good environmental status of the EU’s marine waters by 2021. It is expected that the detailed application and implementation of the Directive will be through the regional sea conventions including the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment for the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR). It is expected to have the following elements:

Description and assessment of current environmental status including the environmental impact of human activities.
Determination of good environmental status.
Establishment of environmental targets.
A monitoring programme.
A programme of measures towards good environmental status.

Implications of European Directives for Nirex’s PGRC. The Water Framework Directive a+ proposed Marine Framework Directive

The implications of the European Water Framework Directive and the proposed European Marine Framework Directive for Nirex’s Phased Geological Repository Concept finds that several of the Water Framework’s Directive’s requirements could have implications for Nirex’s Phased Geological Repository Concept. Article 11(3)(j) prohibits direct discharges of pollutants to groundwater and it is recommended that this issue is explored further with the relevant administration and environment agencies. For the proposed Marine Framework Directive, with respect to Nirex’s Phased Geological Repository Concept, it may not only be necessary to show that resulting concentrations of hazardous or radioactive substances in the marine environment would not compromise the objectives of the Directive, it may also be necessary to consider the cumulative effects of all similar facilities within Europe on the marine environment.


There are many examples of dividing the seas into regions; one of the most notable early examples is the shipping forecast regions originally created to reflect the identification of an area by sea users.

There are a range of EU/international and national regionalisation schemes established for a variety of purposes.

Fisheries management areas

The EU, through the Common Fisheries Policy, manages marine fish stocks on the basis of marine areas. These marine areas have been developed using, as their basis, groupings of rectangles established by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea ( ICES) for the recording of fisheries statistics). For example, the North Sea is usually defined as Areas IVa, IVb and IVc. The Areas are further sub-divided into EU fisheries statistics areas.

OSPAR Regions

The OSPAR Convention is the international mechanism by which Governments of the western coasts and catchments of Europe, together with the EU, cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic.

To assist in this task, OSPAR has defined five regions broadly on environmental grounds e.g. Region I covers Arctic waters, and Region V the deep Atlantic areas.

The OSPAR Regions extend well beyond the 200 nm limit. The EU will use them as the geographical units in the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

However, it is clear that neither the ICES squares nor the OSPAR regions are at the appropriate scale, or provide the necessary discrimination of area that is needed for SMRs.

Joint Nature Conservation Committee Marine Nature Conservation Review

The Marine Nature Conservation Review (MNCR) was initiated to provide a comprehensive baseline of information on marine habitats and species, to aid coastal zone and sea-use management and to contribute to the identification of areas of marine natural heritage importance throughout Great Britain.

In developing the framework for the MNCR, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) recognised the links between coastal units with particular physical characteristics and the associated ecological units. Physical units provided the non-living variables for the creation of recognisable ecological (ecosystem) units.

Water Framework Directive

Responding to the EU Water Framework Directive led to the creation of the River Basin Management Planning Area Advisory Groups (AAGs). The Water Framework Directive extends out to 3nm from baseline and therefore quite a significant portion of coastal and marine areas are included.

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