98% of offshore waters remain unprotected under Natura 2000, Europe’s key conservation network

Environmental NGOs Oceana, Seas At Risk, and WWF urge the European Commission to be rigorous in its assessment of EU Member States’ performance on protecting their oceans, and on Member States to fulfil their obligations to protect those areas that are home to Europe’s most threatened marine life. This call comes ahead of this week’s EU meeting to identify gaps that legally must be filled in the Natura 2000 network of marine protected areas in Atlantic, Macaronesian, and Mediterranean waters, the first such meeting in six years.

The Natura 2000 network, established by the EU Nature Directives, is the primary tool for species and habitat protection across Europe. Yet 24 years after it was first established, Natura 2000 Marine Protected Areas only cover 4% of EU marine waters, far below the 30% target internationally considered by scientists as necessary to sustain long-term ocean health. To this day, significant gaps in the network still remain. For example, a disproportionate number of Marine Protected Areas are located close to shore, with large gaps in protection of offshore waters, beyond 12 nautical miles. In total, only 1.7% of offshore EU waters have been designated as Natura 2000 sites, leaving a wide array of deeper ecosystems and species without protection.

The completion of the marine Natura 2000 network is long overdue, to ensure biodiversity is protected for future generations and threatened species and habitats can recover from increasing pressures such as overfishing and climate change. In the North-East Atlantic Ocean, countries have protected a mere 2% of their offshore areas. Far worse is the situation in the Mediterranean, where 99.9% of offshore waters remain unprotected,” stated Lasse Gustavsson, executive director for Oceana in Europe.

The meeting will focus specifically on those Member States which are not sufficiently protecting threatened species, such as bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead turtles, and threatened habitats, such as reefs and sandbanks. Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain are among the Member States that are furthest behind in their protection efforts.

Slow progress by some Member States in addressing the remaining gaps in protection undermines the effectiveness of the entire network of Marine Protected Areas, and compromises the meaningful efforts already taken by other Member States. With a wealth of new data available, there are no reasons to delay the protection that is necessary to help major threatened habitats and species recover” said Alice Belin, marine policy officer at Seas at Risk.

A 2015 report from the European Environment Agency showed that most marine life protected under the Natura 2000 network remains in poor or unknown condition, with only 7% of marine species and 9% of habitats considered to be in good conservation status.

2020 is a crucial deadline for European marine conservation, the year by which our seas should have good environmental status and our fisheries managed sustainably. Establishing a complete and well-managed network of Marine Protected Areas is a vital for achieving both of those aims,” added Stephan Lutter, WWF Policy Advisor on MPAs.

Marta Madina, Oceana Communications Director, +34 687 598 531, E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Stephan Lutter, WWF, +49 151 18854925, E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sara Tironi, Seas at Risk Communication Officer, +32 2 893 0970, E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation. We run science-based campaigns and seek to win policy victories that can restore ocean biodiversity and ensure that the oceans are abundant and can feed hundreds of millions of people. Oceana victories have already helped to create policies that could increase fish populations in its countries by as much as 40 percent and that have protected more than 2.5 million km2 of ocean. We have campaign offices in the countries that control close to 25 percent of the world’s wild fish catch, including in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe.

Seas At Risk is an umbrella organisation of environmental NGOs from across Europe that promotes ambitious policies for marine protection at European and international level. SAR has 34 member organisations in 17 different European countries, who provide influence, support and expertise on the national level.

WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.