Towards Ecosystem-Based Protection of Marine Environments - Investigating the scope for marine reserves in Northern Europe under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
Abstract: European oceans are in a poor state – only 10% of marine habitats and 2% of marine species show favourable conservation status. This is largely attributed to an intense pressure from industrial human activities at sea. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) from 2008 is an attempt to better protect marine environments in the European Union (EU) by enforcing an Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) approach of marine activities. It has been called a governance challenge unprecedented in the history of EU environmental policy making. The Directive for example obliges coastal member states to adopt spatial protection measures to pursue the ambitious targets. Marine reserves are the strictest type of marine spatial protection and an acknowledged EBM tool. This paper investigates how the on-going implementation of the MSFD is influencing marine spatial protection in Northern Europe, and the scope for marine reserves as a policy instrument for achieving the EBM objectives. By providing case studies from Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, the research finds that the Directive is used as a legal imperative for meeting other commitments, such as to the Convention on Biological Diversity, but delivers little advancement toward marine spatial protection. The case studies confirm that the main challenges are regulatory vagueness and overlap, and a lack of scientific knowledge about marine ecosystems. Marine reserves are found to have continued negligible application due to low political acceptability, especially at governmental level, and an uncertainty about their environmental relevance. The research raises concerns about the EBM credentials of existing marine Natura 2000 areas and the need to better incorporate the high values accredited to marine environments into the balancing between exploitation and conservation. The MSFD is a step in the right direction. However, a firm focus on ‘Blue’ economic growth at both national and EU-level makes achieving the ambitious environmental targets of the MSFD unlikely. It seems that this great governance challenge is simply too great.
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