Marine Strategy Framework Directive

European marine waters cover an area that is larger than the European land mass, with a coastline three times that of Africa. Many of the threats facing Europe’s seas require cooperation between Member States to tackle them effectively. The European Commission (EC) has developed its own marine policy framework in parallel to a set of international conventions that cover all marine waters. The MSFD was introduced by the European Commission to address the environmental quality of Europe’s seas, and came into force in 2008 with the overall aim to promote sustainable use of the seas. The main goal is to achieve or maintain ‘Good Environmental Status’ (GES) in the marine environment by 2020; this is based upon 11 qualitative descriptors:

  1. Biological diversity
  2. Non-indigenous species
  3. Population of commercial fish / shellfish
  4. Elements of marine food webs
  5. Eutrophication
  6. Sea floor integrity
  7. Alteration of hydrographical conditions
  8. Contaminants
  9. Contaminants in fish and seafood for human consumption
  10. Marine litter
  11. Introduction of energy, including underwater noise.

Ireland’s marine environment is one of our greatest national resources. Ireland’s seas are among the most biologically diverse in Europe. As an island nation, the sea has played a vital role in shaping our history, our culture, our way of life and our economy. Today, approximately 44,000 people in Ireland earn their livelihoods from the sea. This is set to increase in the coming years, as a result of increased maritime economic developments proposed by the Irish government in its marine policy strategy, ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth.’

As the range and intensity of human activities in Irish marine waters increase, so too will the associated pressures on the marine environment. It is vital that we understand how these pressures both individually and cumulatively impact on the integrity of entire marine ecosystems. Hitherto, the marine environment has generally been managed on a sector by sector approach, without taking into account a holistic approach to the management of entire marine ecosystems.

The introduction of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive marks the explicit recognition by the EU that the prevailing fragmented approach to marine management is no longer feasible given the context of increasing pressures on European marine ecosystems. The Directive therefore obliges Member States to develop and implement marine strategies with the aim of achieving or maintaining Good Environmental Status of marine areas by 2020. The Directive represents an innovative legislative instrument which will present both a challenge and an opportunity for Member States, including Ireland, to bring into effect the measures necessary to improve the quality of the marine environment, which is crucial to the welfare of the people of Europe.


Interaction with the Water Framework Directive 

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive shares a close connection with the content, objectives and regulatory design of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Both Directives overlap in coastal waters reaching to one nautical mile seaward from the Mean High Water mark. Coastal waters are already covered by the WFD, and the MSFD makes it clear that its provisions only apply in coastal waters to the extent that they address aspects of the environmental status of coastal waters not already covered by the WFD. The main ecological difference between the Directives is that the scope of Good Environmental Status under the MSFD is broader than that of Good Ecological Status under the WFD, as it covers a wider range of biodiversity. The MSFD takes a more integrated view of the ecosystem, whereas the WFD takes a deconstructive approach to the ecosystem, splitting it into its individual components and assessing the individual quality of each part separately.

More information can be found in the SWAN report hereThe Marine Strategy Framework Directive in Ireland: Requirements, Implications & Opportunities for Environmentally Sustainable Management of Our Marine Waters