Science communication

2021.04.26

Biodiversity Strategy has largely failed to protect marine species and habitats in the EU

Ambitious targets without the intended effect of increased protection, that is the Baltic Sea Centre’s conclusion of the implementation of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2020. Strict protection is called for, and needs to go hand in hand with restoration of degraded marine ecosystems.

Text: Marie Löf

In its recent open consultation the EU’s Commission called for feedback on the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for the period 2011-2020. In May 2020, the Commission published a new strategy for 2030, with one of the core commitments being to propose a legally binding instrument setting EU targets to restore damaged ecosystems by 2030.

Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre’s main critique is that, despite ambitious targets, the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 has failed to protect species and habitats in the EU. In the marine environment, protected areas have been significantly expanded since 2011, unfortunately without the intended effect – to protect species and habitats – due to the fact that there are often no or too weak restrictions on which activities that are permitted in these areas. 

A significant amount of activities like commercial fishing, dredging, construction, shipping and boat traffic occur in Natura 2000 areas, which have contributed to the failure to achieve the targets 1 and 4 in the Strategy. 

Environmental considerations required in the CFP

If the target for healthy and productive marine environments are to be achieved - and fishing can continue to be pursued in the long term as well - further measures must also be taken to improve coordination between environmental and fisheries policy as soon as possible. Otherwise, there is a risk that the important ecosystem services that the sea provides, and on which society depends, will be lost. 

The quality of protection is key. Management requirements must be strongly incentivized and monitored as per full implementation of the Nature Directives and Marine Directive.

Concerning EU targets for restoration

The Baltic Sea Centre emphasizes the importance of halting degradation and increase the protection of aquatic habitats. Focusing on restoration alone is not the solution, it has to go hand in hand with protection of habitats. In the marine environment, many coastal areas are heavily exploited, since human activities for a long time have reduced biodiversity and weakened the coastal ecosystems natural functions. In order to stop the loss of species and habitats and secure future access to important ecosystem services, urgent efforts are needed.

Cost-efficient to protect pristine areas

For marine areas that are still pristine, or less affected by human activities, it is very important to increase protection. Restoration of a damaged area or ecosystem is a much costlier solution than providing protection in the first place, and ecosystems might not always be easily restored.

Marine protected areas (MPA’s) should have a clearly defined management plan, designed to protect the relevant species or habitat and regulations of (potential) harmful human activities that threaten the aim of the MPA. In planning, buffer zones for MPAs might be necessary. Strict protection will be very important, as the present protection in MPA’s in many cases has proven inadequate, thus more areas with strict protection from human activity such as fishing and construction are needed. In this context, it is important to protect sensitive coastal environments. Further, protected areas should be interconnected to provide an opportunity for species and individuals to migrate between them, to preserve biodiversity and genetic diversity. 

Coordinated restoration with evaluated methods

When it comes to restoration, the Baltic Sea Centre wants to remind of the following steps.

  1. Ensure that the restoration methods used are scientifically evaluated and proven effective. 
  2. Create an information bank on the effectiveness and conditions of various measures by following up the effect of measures for a sufficiently long period of time. 
  3. EU should advocate for an increased coordinated work for restoration between countries within Helcom and Ospar. 

Read the full consultation replies here: 

Implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy 

EU nature restoration targets