Marine protected areas in Europe's seas
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
The designation of marine protected areas (MPAs) is a key spatial measure for the conservation of marine ecosystems and their constituent biodiversity components. It is the only concrete measure defined within the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and is a key component of the EU nature directives (Habitats Directive and Birds Directive). Well-managed MPAs have visible positive effects on marine biodiversity, influencing both average size, abundance and species numbers. It is therefore relevant to have indicators able to describe the current status of EU the MPA network.
This indicator shows the proportion of Europe’s marine environment protected by a range of different types of established marine protected sites with respect to an already internationally accepted target. The sites considered include those reported under the nature directives, those national sites reported to the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA) and those reported under the Regional Sea Conventions for areas within 200 nautical miles.
The target considered is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi target 11, which foresees that area-based protection measures, including MPA coverage, reach at least 10 % of marine areas by 2020 (CBD, 2010). This target has been endorsed at regional sea convention level and, as such, is considered an appropriate indicator to measure protection efforts across Europe’s seas (EEA, 2015a). Considering the absence of a formal EU definition and respective database for “area-based protection measures” other than MPAs, this indicator focuses solely upon MPAs.
The indicator demonstrates a high level of flexibility because it can be applied at different scales. Furthermore, spatial MPA data is currently available for all countries based on the existing EEA programme and EU obligations regarding MPA reporting.
This indicator measures the percentage of the marine protected area network coverage obtained by combining the distribution of marine sites established by EC Member States as reported under Natura 2000 (N2K), the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA) and Regional Sea Convention databases in order to indicate the overall network distance to the 10 % coverage target.
The combined percentage covered is calculated with respect to the MPA assessment area of Europe's regional seas as reported by each EU Member State in the MSFD reporting process. The distance from the network coverage to the coverage target is also reported with respect to three different distance buffer zones: 0-1 NM, 1-12 NM and 12 NM - END of national waters (NM = nautical miles, END = outer limit of MPA assessment area).
% cover of MPA network in European regional seas and per distance buffer zone.
Policy context and targets
The Convention on Biological Diversity has defined a Strategic Plan for the period 2011-2020. This plan consists of five strategic goals, including twenty Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Among the latter, Aichi target 11 foresees that by 2020, at least 10 % of coastal and marine areas are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.
Article 21 of the MSFD requires a progress report on protected areas to be sent to the European Council and Parliament by the Commission. This indicator can provide concrete input to such a process.
The Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11 states: By 2020, at least [...] 10 % of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.
Related policy documents
CBD COP7 Decision 28 Protected Areas
Decision 28 on Protected Areas from the 7th Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC
Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive)
Key policy question
What is the coverage of Marine Protected Area networks in Europe´s seas?
Methodology for indicator calculation
The MPA network coverage evaluation was conducted using those marine sites identified in the spatial statistics on MPA distribution presented in the EEA Technical Report (2015,b), which is based on data reported by Member States at the end of 2012. The statistical MPA analysis identified Natura 2000 marine sites, based on a combination of a tabular query for marine features (i.e. Habitats Directive habitats and species, marine percentage cover, presence of marine generic habitats), whose output was subsequently overlaid against the EEA coastline so as to obtain the spatial selection of marine Natura 2000 sites lying within each MSFD reported subregion. CDDA marine sites were instead selected spatially from sites falling seaward of the coastline and whose marine surface area extension represented more than 5 % of the total surface area declared for the site. Further methodological details, both for the marine site identification and for the assessment areas definition, can be found in the EEA technical report (EEA, 2015b).
The indicator refers to the coverage of the entire MPA network present in Europe’s seas, as inferred from the data stored in the following databases: Natura 2000 network, the nationally designated sites recorded in the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA) and Regional Sea Convention (RSC) areas encompassing EU waters. Datasets were considered altogether and coverage computation refers to all overlapping protected surfaces. Spatial protected area coverage was merged by sub-region and buffer belt. The resulting MPA surface coverage by sub-region and buffer belt was then related to the respective sub-region surface and buffer belt.
Methodology for gap filling
Updates of the indicator will be based on information reported to the CDDA and Natura 2000 databases. No further gap filling is envisioned.
- Spatial analysis of Marine Protected Area Networks in Europe´s seas EEA, 2015. EEA Technical report, no 17/2015
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
Data sources in latest figures
The selection of marine sites for databases containing both terrestrial and marine protected areas (Natura 2000 and CDDA) was carried out using different approaches because of the absence of information on marine features in the CDDA tabular database.
Data sets uncertainty
The spatial/tabular datasets used are affected by some inconsistencies:
- The quality of national coastlines provided by EU Member States is often poor and different to the MPA ‘coast to sea' boundary. This generates a number of spatial 'slivers' that may strongly affect the resulting MPA surface area estimation.
- The estimation error also occurs where there is a shift from the declared coast-line and the real coastline position. This type of problem can also occur where there is a geographical shift of the MPA polygon.
- The compilation of the fields in the CDDA tabular datasets (until 2012) was rather limited and did not allow verification, via tabular cross-check, of the likelihood of a site having marine characteristics. The future database will include the fields indicating if a site is marine, terrestrial or mixed. Efficient compilation of these fields will allow a finer network estimation.
- The availability of a more detailed spatial dataset, together with the tabular data fields described above, will make the indicator outcome more reliable in future iterations.
No uncertainty has been specified.
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoJohnny Reker
Frequency of updates
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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