Ensuring Good Environmental Status of EU marine waters through efficient national monitoring programmes

Monday 29 May 2017

In May 2017, the EU Commission adopted new legislative instruments to help Member States assess the environmental status of their marine waters, as requested by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). 

Achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) of EU marine waters by 2020 is the main objective of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive[1]. The Directive defines GES as: “The environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive”. To help Member States interpret what GES means in practice, the Directive sets out eleven qualitative descriptors outlining what the environment will look like when GES has been achieved.

In order to achieve GES by 2020, each Member State is required by the Directive to develop a strategy for its marine waters, including the establishment of a monitoring programme for the ongoing assessment and the regular update of targets.

In January 2017, the EU Commission adopted a report[2] assessing these Member States' monitoring programmes.

The EU Commission's report finds that, despite considerable efforts, additional action is needed to ensure that monitoring is made operational as soon as possible and covers all aspects of GES. Indeed, the report underlines that the current approach is not always adequate to ensure the effective monitoring of the status of the EU’s marine waters, towards achieving GES and the associated targets, set by Member States. This is particularly the case for non-indigenous species, marine litter, underwater noise and biodiversity descriptors not covered by the existing legislation.

The EU Commission also pushed in its report for further coordination among Member States, particularly through action at regional and sub-regional level, to deliver consistent and comparable data and to improve the spatial scope of monitoring programmes.

The report was accompanied by a Staff Working Document[3] containing a detailed analysis of each Member State’s monitoring programme in light of the eleven qualitative descriptors listed in the MSFD, as well as providing specific guidance to each Member State.

- “We all need to do far more to keep our oceans litter- and pollution-free.” Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries-

In line with this report, the EU Commission adopted in May two new tools to help the Member States better evaluate the environment status of the marine water. An EU Commission Decision[4] provides clearer criteria and methodologies as to what should be looked at when assessing the state of EU's seas and oceans. This provides Member States with the flexibility to focus on problem areas and pushes for more cooperation among Member States sharing the same marine region. An EU Commission Directive[5] clearly maps the pressures that the sea is subjected to and ecosystem elements with the criteria to be considered when determining GES.

Only a few Member States had operational monitoring programmes in place in 2014, while many are expected to be fully in place by 2018 or even 2020. Therefore, as the report of the EU Commission states in its conclusions: “urgent progress on monitoring is needed to meet the requirements of the MSFD including the 2018 updates of the initial assessment of their marine waters and good environmental status, and importantly the achievement of good environmental status by 2020”.

[1] Marine Strategy Framework Directive

[2] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM:2017:3:FIN

[3] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=SWD:2017:1:FIN

[4] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1495097018132&uri=CELEX:32017D0848

[5] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/marine/good-environmental-status/descriptor-10/pdf/good_environmental_status_commission_directive.pdf

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