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. 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.
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, 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.
Currently Malta is working on the initial assessment, determination of Good Environmental Status and the establishment of environmental targets and indicators.The Initial Assessment
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive stipulates that the Initial Assessment of the environmental status of the marine waters should comprise the following three components:
• An analysis of the current environmental status of marine waters based on physical, chemical and biological features;
• An analysis of the predominant pressures and impacts on the marine environment;
• An economic and social analysis of the use of marine waters and the costs of degradation of the marine environment.
Within this context, the Initial Assessment will describe and assess the status of Maltese marine waters based on the existing data and information according to Table 1 of Annex III of the Directive. This includes information on predominant habitat types and ecologically important species groups occurring in Maltese marine waters, as well as chemical and physical characteristics of our waters and seabed.
Pressures and impacts affecting the marine environment will be analysed as per Table 2 of Annex III of the Directive. These pressures and impacts will be linked to human activities associated with maritime sectors including amongst others, fisheries, shipping, oil exploration and recreation.
The initial assessment will also cover the economic and social perspective of maritime sectors, while maintaining the link between the economic sectors and the pressures and impacts indicated in Table 2 of Annex III of the Directive. The socio-economic analysis will feed into the development of the programme of measures, hence Malta’s marine strategy. Good Environmental Status and Environmental Targets
The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive defines Good Environmental Status 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'. Member States should determine Good Environmental Status their marine waters on the basis of the Initial Assessment and in accordance with the qualitative descriptors in Annex I of the Directive.
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.
The Directive also calls for the establishment of environmental targets and associated indicators for their marine waters so as to guide progress towards achieving Good Environmental Status.