The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030
The new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 was presented today. The Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre welcomes the strategy and its increased level of ambition compared to the previous biodiversity strategy for 2020. It contains a number of concrete actions to step up the protection of marine ecosystems in the EU.
MPAs – quality of protection is key
In line with the post-2020 global biodiversity framework objective, the strategy states that 30% of the sea should be protected in the EU by 2030, with integrated ecological corridors. This means an extra 19% for sea areas compared to the protected areas in place today. 10% of the area should be strictly protected. Additionally, fisheries management measures must be established in all marine protected areas according to clearly defined conservation objectives and on the basis of the best available scientific advice.
An increased cover of marine protected areas can potentially result in a stronger protection for marine biodiversity. However, many scientists have pointed to limitations in the current marine protection in EU. For instance, there is a significant amount of damaging human activities like commercial fishing, dredging, construction and boat traffic that occur in marine protected areas (MPAs). A study from 2018 showed that trawling was more intense inside EU MPAs, while endangered fish were more common outside them. The objective of 10% strict protection address this criticism, although it remains to be seen what the definition will mean in practice. Another recent study suggested that the narrow scope of marine Natura2000 areas limits their capacity to protect marine biodiversity. Thus, establishment of fisheries management measures may be a toothless action if they are linked to too narrow conservation objectives.
Restoration – consider reduced pressures as an option
Along with the increased ambition for MPAs, the strategy also sets out to present new targets for ecosystem restoration. It states that legally binding EU nature restorations targets will be proposed in 2021, including for the most-carbon-rich ones such as seagrass meadows and restoration of important fish spawning and nursery areas. This should in 2030 lead to habitats and species showing no deterioration in conservation trends and status and at least 30% reach favourable conservation status or at least show a positive trend.
This provides an important complement for ecosystems with extensive historical losses, for instance coastal wetlands along the Baltic Sea that acts as reproduction areas for many coastal fish species. A recent study led by the scientist Joakim Hansen at the Baltic Sea Centre shows that creation and restoration of coastal wetlands can in fact be an important measure to support coastal fish communities in the Baltic Sea.
There are also an increasing number of studies documenting how shallow coastal ecosystems can be restored by decreasing pressure from eutrophication and fishing, sometimes in combination with active restoration of lost vegetation such as seagrass.
Ecosystem based management – requires a science based manner
The Commissions will also propose a new action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems by 2021. Where necessary, measures will be introduced to limit the use of fishing gear most harmful to biodiversity, including on the seabed. It will also look at how to reconcile the use of bottom-contacting fishing gear with biodiversity goals, given it is now the most damaging activity to the seabed.
Healthy underwater habitats are a precondition for long-term sustainability of fisheries. But currently fisheries and the marine environment are managed more or less separately and often with different goals. Therefore, strong measures under the action plan and the stepping up of enforcement efforts are crucial. This needs to lead to decisions taken under the realm of the Common Fisheries Policy actively fulfilling targets of ecosystem-based fisheries management and being beneficial to fulfil commitments under the Nature Directives and the Marine Directive.
We see great potential for the biodiversity strategy to play a crucial role for both preserving and making the marine environment more resilient. But it has to be done in a smart, inclusive and science based manner. We look forward to the now subsequent specification of targets and measures to reflect this.