Skip to main content
Environment
Press release8 June 2023Directorate-General for Environment

EU Green Week: first ever EU-wide criteria for seabed protection

This week, EU Member States’ Marine directors have endorsed recommendations on the limitation of seabed damage and seabed loss.

Marine sediment analysis confirms effectiveness of pollution control legislation
Photo by: Damsea, Shutterstock

As the EU Green Week almost comes to a close, progress has been made in parallel towards the target of net zero loss of biodiversity. This week, EU Member States’ Marine directors have endorsed recommendations on the limitation of seabed damage and seabed loss. These were developed by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive Technical Group on Seafloor Integrity, co-chaired by the Commission, with experts from EU Member States. The recommendations help reconcile marine environmental protection with the sustainable use of the seabed, such as would be required for the EU’s clean energy transition and for achieving food security goals and therefore support the planning of human activities at sea. For a seabed habitat to be considered in good environmental status, no more than 25% should be adversely affected by human pressures and no more than 2% should be irreversibly lost.

The seabed provides the foundation of a healthy marine environment. Home to millions of marine species and habitats, it generates food and oxygen in our seas and oceans, and contributes to regulating the climate. Protecting the seabed is therefore essential to meeting the EU’s Biodiversity, Zero Pollution, Climate Adaptation and Food Security objectives.

In line with the objectives set under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, as spelled out in the 2017 Commission Decision on criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters these new thresholds apply to all marine seabed habitats and aim to avoid the concentration of harmful anthropogenic impact in some specific areas, such as along the coastline. EU Member States will need to take these thresholds into account as they update their assessment of the marine environment and therefore their programmes of measures according to the results of these assessments. These first-of-their-kind criteria for seabed protection are also a deliverable of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy and Marine Action Plan.

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said:

On world ocean day it is important to remember that a healthy seabed is a condition for human wellbeing and prosperity. The seabed is home to many marine animals and carbon-sequestering vegetation, but is under enormous pressure from human activities. Urgent action is therefore needed. These new criteria for seabed protection are an important step to help EU Member States ensure healthier and more sustainable use of our seas and oceans.

These threshold values are based on the latest scientific advice available. They were endorsed by EU marine directors at their meeting in Stockholm under the Swedish Presidency of the Council. To respect these limits, Member States will need to implement appropriate measures in their marine strategies, for example by putting in place spatial or temporal restrictions on human activities such as unsustainable fisheries, dredging, infrastructural developments and others.

Background

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) provides a framework for monitoring, assessing and implementing measures to protect marine life and reduce pollution. It aims to achieve a good environmental status of the EU's marine waters and sustainably protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. In order to achieve greater comparability and uniformity of results, the criteria and methodological standards to achieve good environmental status of the seas, as well as the specifications and the standardised methods for monitoring and assessing their status, have been more recently re-defined by Commission Decision (EU) 2017/848.            

The EU’s framework for marine environmental protection is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious worldwide, and agreement on this threshold shows its ability to tackle predominant pressures, in order to achieve good environmental status.

The European Commission has contributed to the discussions on setting these threshold values by facilitating discussions between Member State experts in the MSFD Technical Group on Seabed Integrity, which is chaired by the Commission and representatives from EU countries. The technical group was also supported by scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas.

The work carried out under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive also feeds ongoing work by Regional Sea Conventions to assess the state of their marine environment.  

EU experts had previously agreed on similar threshold for beach litter in 2020, as well as for continuous and impulsive underwater noise in 2022.

For More Information

Recommendations from the Technical group on seabed integrity threshold values

Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Good environmental status Decision

Marine action plan

Advice on indicators of seabed adverse effects provided by ICES

Underwater noise press release

Details

Publication date
8 June 2023
Author
Directorate-General for Environment

EU Environment newsletter

EU Environment newsletters deliver the latest updates about the European Commission’s environmental priorities straight to your inbox.