Updates in the framework of the N2000 biogeographical process – marine conservation
Last March 2nd, EUROPARC Federation attended the European Commission Sub-Expert Group On Marine Issues, known as Marine Expert Group – MEG, a sub-group under the Birds and Habitats Directives created in 2003 to support the implementation of the Directives in the marine environment.
The meeting was facilitated by Vedran Nikolic – Policy Coordinator, Nature Conservation, Directorate General for Environment, and attended by aprox. 75 participants and representatives from national authorities, public agencies, Marine Protected Areas management authorities, fisheries representatives and NGOs from all over Europe. The gathering aimed to provide an update on the latest developments regarding the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy in the marine environment and the recently published Marine Action Plan.
Like in previous occasions, the Commission collected comments from the participants in relation to these documents, possible considerations on its implementation arising at national, regional or local level and tackle any other business concerning the political framework for the conservation on the marine environment and its application.
Pledges on Conservation and Protected Area targets
After the release of the Biodiversity Strategy 2030, the European Commission called to Member States to prepare and report detailed plans, known as pledges, on the actions that will be implemented for the conservation and restoration of marine habitats and species at national level by the end of February 2023.
The pledges reporting was divided into two main components:
- Pledges for Conservation Status Improvement targets and;
- Pledges for Protected Area targets.
The structure and contents of the pledges was explained during the MEG meeting, and it includes:
- Protected Areas current extent per biogeographical region/ marine region and what is expected to be achieved by 2030 – including detailed explanations on the proceeding through which new Protected Areas have been proposed or designated and the inclusion of information regarding Natura 2000 that contribute to the 10% strict protection.
- Other Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) current extent per biogeographical region/ marine region and what is expected to be achieved by 2030 – despite of the existing criteria set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to design and clarify what OECMs are, these protection figures have proved to be quite controversary in previous discussions due to the uncertainties these definition and its implementation. However, in the meeting
it was highlighted that their contribution to the Biodiversity Strategy targets is very important and therefore must be included in the pledge reporting process.
- Explanation on the coherence of the network – detailed information on the criteria established for assessing the coherence of MPA networks was provided as follows:
- Representativity – ensuring that the range of marine habitats and species for which MPAs are considered appropriate are protected within MPAs;
- Replication – ensuring that enough occurrences of a given feature are protected within MPAs and ensuring replication reflects what is known about a given feature´s biogeographic range;
- Connectivity – ensuring individual MPAs are well connected in terms of facilitating the exchange of species and their propagules;
- Adequacy – ensuring individual MPAs are of a specific minimum size, especially in relation to pressure of human activities and the needs of specific habitats and species;
- Management – ensuring that effective management plans are put in place, with responsibility assigned for delivery.
Status of Pledges
A detailed revision of the reporting status of these pledges was also presented. As of March 2nd 2023, only Luxemburg and Spain have submitted their pledges on both Conservation Status and Protected Areas.
Among the remaining 25 countries, half of them is expected to be submitted in the following two months. The reasons for the delay in both pledges are mainly limited data available or capacity, length of governmental endorsement process, length of stakeholder engagement processes and obstacles in regards of the coordination between regions. All these reasons, especially the one concerning stakeholder engagement processes, were deemed by the commission as very challenging and that sufficient time should be taken to address them.
Some other difficulties found were concerning the lack of funds to carry out the necessary actions to design the necessary conservation and restoration actions and produce the pledges on time. Since the EU did not provide specific funding for the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy, these actions should often be articulated through projects that require also time and effort from the hand of the organisations to achieve the necessary results.
Pledges assessment process
After its submission, the pledges will be reviewed and assessed in order to measure progress towards the achievement of the numerical targets stated in the Biodiversity Strategy and provide initial feedback on network coherence.
The organisation in charge of receiving and managing the pledges is the European Environmental Agency, and during the meeting a representative from the EEA – Elena Osipova – presented a quick revision of the pledges assessment process and some considerations for its reporting.
On the one hand, it is noteworthy that Member States ‘commitments to the Biodiversity Strategy conservation objectives are voluntary and therefore the assessment of the pledges are not an evaluation of compliance. The aim of the assessment is to support Member States in designing and implementing their conservation strategies and to provide them with relevant topics of discussion at events and seminars organised in the framework of the biogeographical process.
On the other hand, as it was stressed during the meeting, the pledges reporting and assessment is a new process for everyone involved, and that “methodologies will develop as the picture unfolds”. Therefore, it is an open process that will be subject to revision and updates.
Additionally, the Commission reminded that the pledges assessment will be carried out during the Biogeographical Seminars that Member States are invited to organise, according to the following biogeographical regions:
- the Baltic Sea region
- Atlantic and Macaronesian regions
- Mediterranean and Black Sea regions
As of today, the call for events to be held during spring 2023 is already closed, but a second call for those events that will take place during the summer is open until April 17th. More information on the organisation of the events can be found here.
The challenges of designing coherent MPA networks
New Protected Areas will need to be designated based on smart and efficient Marine Spatial Planning in order to achieve a coherent network and based on the criteria explained above.
However, the existing species and habitats maps of Europe have proved to not to be sufficient for establishing a baseline with enough and detailed information upon which the planification of a coherent network of protected areas should be carried out. In example, some sub-habitats or habitat patches can be very important to protect but are not mapped due to their small size or distribution. Likewise, there is not enough information on habitats that sustain natural processes on which key species rely, such as reproduction and nursery areas.
For this reason, it is important to drive sufficient efforts into actions that allow us to get a better understanding of where key species, habitats and process are located in our seas in order to protected them. In this line of action, after the pledges status revision, an initiative that aims to contribute to the marine species and habitats mapping and MPAs network design was presented by Mark J. Costello – Nord University, Norway: the Horizon MPA Europe project.
This project, which will conclude in 2026, aims to carry out a wide assessment and mapping of areas that comprehend high biodiversity levels, not just species, and blue carbon storage areas in Europe, and create a model of potential MPAs. During the presentation, a model of the optimal MPA network at global scale that included 30% of the ocean, 70% of the species and 90% of biomes and habitats, was presented.
The new Marine Action Plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems
The MEG meeting concluded with an overview of the recently published Action Plan: Protecting and restoring marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries, which together with three other measures conforms the package that the European Union is putting in place to improve the sustainability and resilience of the EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sector.
This action plan builds over existing legislation and tries to fill some gaps between policies, mainly between the fisheries and environmental world, and to support the implementation of the CFP. The plan has 4 main lines of action:
- Improve gear selectivity and address bycatch of sensitive species;
- Protect the seabed;
- Facilitate knowledge exchange and transition;
- Improve Governance.
You can also access the whole Communication from the Commission: EU Action Plan: Protecting and restoring marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries at the EC’s website here.