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Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Food, Transport, Recreation, Biodiversity and Energy are all key resources provided by the marine environment, which denote the importance of seas and oceans for everyday life and for the economy. 

Europe’s seas and oceans are under pressure from human activities, resulting in the depletion of marine resources. Such depletion is not only affecting the natural environment but also our economy, and the need to conserve the marine environment is additionally important for supporting livelihoods of those depending on it. Sustainable management of the marine environment is thus essential to ensure that the resources it provides are available for the benefit of present and future generations.

The European response to this situation is the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).             

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive: an overview

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC), published in June 2008, establishes a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy.

With a goal to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in Europe’s marine waters by 2020, this Directive presents a framework for EU Member States to manage human activities in the marine environment in a sustainable manner. The Directive also promotes integration of environmental considerations pertaining to the marine environment into relevant policy areas. Within this context, the MSFD is considered to be the environmental pillar of the Integrated Maritime Policy.

The Directive calls for an ‘ecosystem-based approach’ whereby management of marine activities is driven by the prime intention to protect and preserve the marine environment with a view to attain Good Environmental Status (GES) in marine waters by 2020. Good Environmental Status is defined as: ‘the environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive … and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable thus safeguarding the potential for use and activities by current and future generations'.  Due to the transboundary nature of marine ecosystems, Good Environmental Status needs to be attained at a regional or sub-regional level thereby requiring coordination across countries within the same region or sub-region.

In September 2010, the EU adopted the Commission Decision on criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters 2010/477/EU. This Decision establishes a set of criteria and indicators for each Annex I descriptor to assess progress towards achievement of Good Environmental Status in marine waters.  

Achieving GES requires Member States to follow a plan of action stipulated by the Directive as follows:

• Preparation of an initial assessment of the environmental status of marine waters by July 2012;
• Determination of
good environmental status, and establishment of environmental targets and associated indicators by July 2012;
• Implementation of a monitoring programme for ongoing assessment of GES and targets by July 2014;
• Development of a programme of measures designed to achieve GES by 2015, to be made operational by 2016.

The above process should lead to the development of national Marine Strategies coordinated with neighbouring countries and consistent on a regional or sub-regional scale. National marine strategies are plans of action that must be reviewed every six years.

Implementation of the MSFD in Malta

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive was transposed into Maltese legislation through the publication of the Marine Policy Framework Regulations 2011 (Legal Notice 73 of 2011). The regulations establish the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) as the Competent Authority, which co-ordinates the strategic approach and policy direction for the implementation of the Directive. In accordance with these regulations other bodies may be designated as the competent authority for different provisions and different purposes of these regulations. Within this context, OPM has entrusted MEPA with the technical implementation of the Directive. In January 2012, the Office of the Prime Minister whilst retaining its role as Competent Authority delegated its tasks to the Ministry for the Environment.

Following the compilation of the Initial Assessment of the status of marine waters, the initial definition of Good Environmental Status and the establishment of environmental targets, Malta has developed a monitoring programme in line with the requirements of Article 11 of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

The MSFD monitoring programme should:

  • be geared towards the on-going assessment of environmental status; such ‘state monitoring’ should cover features, activities and pressures relevant for GES, including monitoring of parameters as per Annex III to the MSFD;
  • assess progress towards achievement of GES and set environmental targets as reported in the initial cycles of the MSFD and updated thereafter;
  • assess the efficiency of measures to be stipulated through the Programme of Measures to be developed by end of 2015.
  • investigate causes for failing GES and the degradation of state, and to answer specific questions;

Malta has developed eleven monitoring factsheets incorporating the thirteen monitoring programmes reported to the EU Commission in accordance with MSFD GES descriptors as follows:

These factsheets outline the monitoring processes to be applied for each theme or group of related themes, including monitoring parameters, methodologies and, where possible, monitoring areas. Although the development of the monitoring factsheets was primarily driven by the MSFD requirements, the factsheets integrate monitoring requirements emanating from various marine-related policies, including requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive, the Nature Directives as applicable to the marine environment and of the Barcelona Convention and its relevant protocols.

The development of the monitoring programme is an iterative process and the programmes as reported will be updated on the basis of improved knowledge throughout the MSFD reporting cycles.

A general report outlining the adequacy of the current monitoring programmes and identifying the need for further development has been drafted on the basis of the MSFD reporting questions:

Other relevant information

MSFD Initial Assessment, Good Environmental Status and Environmental Targets