EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive

The European Union (EU) is the world’s largest maritime territory and marine resources make a significant contribution to each Member State’s economic prosperity and social well-being. The European marine environment must therefore be protected to ensure that it is healthy, productive and safeguarded for the use of future generations.
Many of the threats to Europe’s marine resources require cooperation and collective action to be tackled effectively. It is within this context that the Integrated European Maritime Policy, which aims to provide a coherent framework for joined up governance of the marine environment, has been developed.
The environmental pillar for this integrated policy is Directive 2008/56/EC on establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy - known as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD); it was formally adopted by the European Union in July 2008.
The MSFD outlines a transparent, legislative framework for an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities which supports the sustainable use of marine goods and services. The overarching goal of the Directive is to achieve ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) by 2020 across Europe’s marine environment.  
In order to achieve GES in a coherent and strategic manner, the MSFD established four European Marine Regions, based on geographical and environmental criteria. The North East Atlantic Marine Region is divided into four subregions, with UK waters lying in two of these (the Greater North Sea and the Celtic Seas). Each Member State is required to develop a marine strategy for their waters, in coordination with other countries within the same marine region or subregion. This coordination is being achieved through the Regional Seas Conventions, which for the UK is the OSPAR Convention.
Marine strategies are being implemented to protect and conserve the marine environment, prevent its deterioration, and, where practicable, restore marine ecosystems in areas where they have been adversely affected.
The marine strategies, developed by each Member State, contain:
  1. An initial assessment of the current environmental status of that Member State’s marine waters;
  2. A determination of what Good Environmental Status means for those waters;
  3. Targets and indicators designed to show whether a Member State is achieving GES;
  4. A monitoring programme to measure progress towards GES;
  5. A programme of measures designed to achieve or maintain GES.


In 2012, the UK produced Part One of the Marine Strategy, containing information on the first three elements of the MSFD. In 2014, Part Two which focuses on a co-ordinated monitoring programme for the ongoing assessment of GES, was published. Part Three outlines a programme of measures that will contribute to the achievement and maintenance of GES, and was published in 2015. The MSFD does not state a specific programme of measures that Member States should adopt to achieve GES, except for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The MSFD does however outline 11 high level descriptors of GES in Annex I of the Directive. With respect to the UK, key requirements of the Directive and associated timeframes are clearly set out.
The MSFD will be complementary to, and provide the overarching framework for, a number of other key Directives and legislation at the European and UK level. Examples include the EC Habitats Directive, the EC Birds Directive, the EU Water Framework Directive, the Common Fisheries Policy and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act. It will also help fulfil international commitments undertaken at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the OSPAR Convention.

JNCC’s role in the MSFD

As statutory advisor to Government, JNCC has a role in advising on aspects of the MSFD which relate to biodiversity and ecosystem protection. This includes in relation to both monitoring and assessment of the state of the marine environment, and the programmes of measures needed to achieve or maintain GES. At present this advice is focused on how the Directive might be delivered at UK and Regional levels. At the UK level, JNCC contributes to the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy, which is playing a key role in the monitoring and assessment aspects of the Directive. At the Regional level, JNCC works closely with Government to advise on the regional cooperation requirements of the Directive which will be delivered via the OSPAR Convention.
Further information can be found on JNCC's contribution to the delivery of biodiversity and underwater noise aspects of MSFD at:
Additional information about the the Directive and the role of Governments can be found at:
August 2015

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