Member states have put in place over 200 marine monitoring programmes across the EU to measure the quality of the marine environment and to evaluate the effectiveness of the policy measures that they are taking to improve it. However, an evaluation by the European Commission shows that those data collection efforts fail to cover some key problems, such as marine litter and noise pollution.

The Marine Directive aims to restore Europe’s seas to good environmental status by 2020. To track progress, member states are obliged to put in place comprehensive monitoring programmes. So far, 20 coastal Member States have designed two hundred monitoring programmes, and more than a thousand sub-programmes. It seems an impressive effort, but the Commission’s evaluation of those programmes brought to light some worrying shortcomings, i.e.

-      The majority of the monitoring programmes will only be operational after 2018, meaning it will be impossible to assess progress to the 2020 objective or to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures that are currently being put in place. Also, in 2018, the countries have to start a second implementation cycle of the directive, which is intended to improve upon the first one. Without the necessary data, it will be impossible for countries to better target their future efforts.

-      The monitoring programmes are mostly a compilation of data collection systems already established under other policies. For instance, fish stocks monitoring done under the Common Fisheries Policy, or data collection on protected habitats and species done under the Habitats and Birds Directives. It is of course important to build on existing monitoring systems rather than duplicate efforts. The Marine Directive could however have provided much added value by establishing new monitoring on issues on which data are still scarce, such as marine litter, underwater noise and marine invasive species. The Commission’s assessment shows however that only a fraction of the monitoring programmes covers these topics.

This again shows how Member States are taking a business-as-usual approach to the implementation of this important directive, as was also the conclusion of our recent analysis of ten programmes of measures. It is time to start paving the way for a much stronger second cycle of the implementation, and to bolster strong commitment of Member States to the good environmental status of our seas and oceans. The Commission’s recommendations on what needs to be done are clear. Countries still have a window of opportunity to significantly improve the way they are measuring progress, and should do so by 2018 at the latest. 

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