EU countries to protect 30% of their seas, including 10% in strictly protected marine reserves
Oceana welcomes the European Commission’s much expected new 10-year plan, presented today, to save biodiversity and its ambition to deliver urgent action to protect the environment – something that 90% of EU citizens support (Eurobarometer Survey). Restoring healthy, well-functioning and resilient natural ecosystems is also central to the European Green Deal and has become an even more relevant dimension of the EU policy response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic shows that governments and society have the capacity to act swiftly and decisively in the face of clear scientific evidence of serious threats to our well-being. Such determined action is also needed to safeguard our ocean and deliver more resilient seas,” said Vera Coelho, Senior Advocacy Director of Oceana in Europe. “Importantly we need to make sure our policy response to the pandemic avoids exacerbating the pre-existing climate and nature crises to ensure we ‘build back better’ as a society,” added Coelho.
On marine biodiversity, the EU commits to protecting 30% of its seas by 2030, including 10% under strict protection for areas of high biodiversity value. It represents an ambitious two-fold challenge for EU Member states: to further increase the coverage of their networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)*, and to ensure effective management within them. This Strategy also outlines the EU’s ambition ahead of the global negotiations on the post-2020 biodiversity framework at the next UN Biodiversity Convention COP15.
Currently 85% of EU MPAs do not have any management in place, for instance to restrict the most destructive activities such as bottom-trawling, oil drilling or sand-dredging. They are therefore no more than “paper parks”.
“We are delighted that the Strategy includes new binding MPA targets, and particularly for strictly protected areas. High protection means high benefits for nature, and no-take marine reserves are the most effective type of MPAs - but currently they only make up less than 1% of the EU network. Efforts should focus on these super-MPAs as a top priority,” stressed Nicolas Fournier, Campaign Director at Oceana in Europe.
A 2017 study1 showed that the biomass of whole ﬁsh assemblages in fully protected marine reserves is, on average, 670% greater than in adjacent unprotected areas and 343% greater than in partially-protected MPAs. Marine reserves also help restore the complexity of ecosystems through a chain of ecological effects called ‘trophic cascades’ once the abundance of large animals recovers sufﬁciently. To add to this, there is evidence that Highly Protected Marine Areas are more climate resilient than less protected areas.
The European Commission also announced an Action Plan by 2021 to protect marine ecosystems and fisheries resources, outlining the need to limit the use of fishing gear most harmful to biodiversity — with particular attention to bottom-trawling —, the imperative to maintain or reduce fishing mortality to or under Maximum Sustainable Yield levels, and the requirement to eliminate or reduce the bycatch of sensitive and threatened species.
Humanity and Nature are inextricably linked. Biodiversity is a complex web of sometimes rare and fragile species which, if disrupted, can affect our availability of food, impact livelihoods and weaken our ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change. The Covid-19 crisis is having a dramatic impact on people’s health and is also a reminder that biodiversity acts as barrier against the spread of diseases from wildlife to humans. By protecting our environment, we inevitably help protect mankind.
Learn more about Oceana’s position here.
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Notes to the editor: Key ocean commitments under the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030