Marine biodiversity is under threat from damaging human activities at sea, such as fisheries, shipping, oil and gas exploitation, and pollution from land-based activities. To protect marine animals and habitats, certain areas are designated as Marine Protected Areas. These are often created in important zones where species reproduce or feed themselves. Marine Protected Areas can have different levels of protection: in some areas, human activities are allowed to take place as long as they are sustainable. In others, like marine reserves, human activities are kept to a minimum or even banned entirely. 

Marine Protected Areas can be created under national, regional, European or international legislation. Under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives, Member States are responsible for designating a Natura 2000 network of protected areas and for putting in place management measures to ensure that species and habitats are kept in a favourable status. Also the Marine Directive requires Member States to allocate coherent and representative networks of Marine Protected Areas, which should aim to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem functions at a regional level.

Marine Protected Areas currently cover only 6% of EU marine waters, which is not enough to ensure protection to all European threatened marine species and ecosystems. The Convention on Biological Diversity requires countries to conserve at least 10% of their coastal and marine areas by 2020, but scientists recommend that at least 30% of the world’s oceans and seas should be considered as so-called ‘no-take’ zones, where fishing activities are completely banned, to ensure genuine marine sustainability.

Management measures are key to provide effective protection of habitats and species. The types of measures put in place in Marine Protected Areas across Europe are diverse. They range from ‘no-take zones’ to ‘multiple-use’ marine protected areas, where different activities are permitted, under certain conditions. In reality, Marine Protected Areas are often mere ‘paper parks’, lacking concrete enforcement measures to reduce impacts from damaging human activities.   

Seas At Risk works with its members to increase the number and size of Marine Protected Areas in Europe and improve their effectiveness by putting in place ambitious conservation objectives and management measures. This would allow protection for an increasing number of vulnerable species and habitats and contribute to Seas At Risk’s ultimate goal: making our seas a place of rich marine ecosystems that function well and are capable of adapting to a changing environment.

More information

Toolkit for challenging the management of fishing in Natura 2000 marine sites

Site integrity briefings (for reefs, sandbanks, seagrass and estuaries, shallow inlets & bays)

Webinar on "Fisheries measures in offshore Marine Protected Areas (Article 11 of the Common Fisheries Policy)" (video recording)