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. 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.

Current Status

The MSFD is cyclical and Ireland is currently in the first phase of the second cycle which requires: re-assessing the state of Ireland’s marine environment including the impacts of human activities, determining GES, and establishing environmental targets. Future phases will require Ireland to further improve our monitoring programmes, and crucially, design and implement a programme of measures to effectively address the issues identified in the current assessment in order to achieve GES. Implementing a programme of measures is arguably the most important step but if we fail to correctly assess the situation at present, the measures may be misguided.

Read SWAN’s submission to the MSFD second cycle first phase public consultation here.

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.

Interaction with other marine policy

There are a number of marine policies currently in effect and under development in Ireland. See SWAN’s guide to marine policy consultations for an explainer.