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State of Europe's Seas

State of Europe's Seas

Europe's seas fail to meet two of the three goals under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, thus threatening future sustainability and productivity of these seas as well as human well-being.

The European Environment Agency's (EEA) report aims to assess whether Europe is meeting the goals of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The authors, among them scientists at Ecologic Institute, argue that the European Union is not on a path to fulfill its ambition of achieving sustainable use of its seas; despite being fully capable to do so using the current array of existing policies and knowledge. The report is available for download.

Europe's seas are an important source of food, raw materials and energy, and are home to a wide variety of marine biodiversity and ecosystems. Understanding the importance of these marine ecosystems, EU policy-makers established the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), in an effort to protect and preserve the marine environment and the resources it provides. While promoting ecosystem-based management, the three main goals of the MSFD are for Europe's seas to be healthy, clean and undisturbed, and productive. The report State of Europe's seas is available for download.

The main aim of the EEA's new report, the State of Europe's Seas, is to assess whether Europe is meeting these goals. Based on available data, the EEA concludes that while Europe's seas are 'productive', they cannot be considered 'healthy' or 'clean'.

The report goes further to identify the main sustainability challenges affecting Europe's seas, and how the EU is responding to these challenges. These include pressures such as physical damage to the sea floor (i.e. from bottom trawling), extraction of fish and shellfish, introduction of invasive alien species, eutrophication from nutrient input, marine litter, and other emerging pressures associated with climate change and human activities.

A significant part of these pressures arise from activities at sea, and are at the core of the EU’s Blue Growth strategy: the extraction and production of living resources, energy production, transport and tourism. Continuation of these activities without adequate management strategies in place threatens the productivity and resilience of marine ecosystems, and ultimately human well-being.

The report argues that the EU is not on the path to fulfil its ambition of achieving sustainable use of its seas; although it is fully capable through the current array of existing policies and knowledge. To ensure future sustainability of Europe's seas, it is necessary to align policy ambitions of economic growth with policy targets of securing 'healthy', 'clean' and 'productive' seas. This alignment will require fundamental shifts in the socio-technical systems that fulfil societal needs.


EEA, 2015, State of Europe’s Seas, Technical report No. 2/2015, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.

Johnny Reker (EEA)
Constança de Carvalho Belchior (EEA)
Eva Royo Gelabert (EEA)

EEA contributing authors:
Annemarie Bastrup-Birk, Trine Christiansen, Rasmus Dilling and Ronan Uhel

European Topic Centre for Inland, Coastal and Marine Waters (ETC/ICM) contributing authors:
Aldo Annunziatellis (ISPRA), Ana Jesus (JNCC), Andrea Palatinus, (IWRS), Argyro Zenetos (HCMR), Beth Stoker (JNCC), Birger Bjerkeng (NIVA), Caterina Fortuna (ISPRA), Claudette Spiteri (Deltares), Dag Hjermann (NIVA), Frank Thomsen (DHI), Gerjan Piet (IMARES), Giancarlo Lauriano (ISPRA), Giulia Mo (ISPRA), Hans Mose Jensen (ICES), Harriet van Overzee (IMARES), Jane Hawkridge, (JNCC), Jørgen Nørrevang Jensen (ICES), Monika Peterlin (IWRS), Nikos Streftaris (HCMR), Norman Green (NIVA), Periklis Panagiotidis (ICES), Sabrina Agnesi (ISPRA), Stefan Trdan, (IWRS), Stefanie Werner (UBA), Theo Prins (Deltares)

Other contributing authors:
Fiona E. Culhane and Lydia J. White (University of Liverpool)

Published In
EEA Technical report
220 pp.
Project ID
Table of Contents

Authors and acknowledgements
Part I
1 Towards ecosystem-based management in Europe's seas
1.1 Europe's seas and our interaction with them
1.2 The integrated policy approach
1.3 The Marine Strategy Framework Directive
1.4 Understanding ecosystem-based management
2 The sea's natural capital
2.1 The sea's natural capital and marine ecosystem services
2.2 The role of biodiversity in marine ecosystem service generation
2.3 Using the sea's natural capital
Part II
3 Are our seas healthy?
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Seabed habitats
3.3 Water column habitats
3.4 Marine invertebrates
3.5 Marine fish
3.6 Turtles
3.7 Seabirds and waterbirds
3.8 Marine mammals
3.9 Marine food webs
3.10 Are Europe's seas healthy?
4 Clean and undisturbed seas?
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Physical loss and damage affect seafloor integrity
4.3 Extraction of fish and shellfish
4.4 Introduction of non-indigenous species
4.5 Eutrophication
4.6 Contamination
4.7 Marine litter
4.8 Underwater noise and other forms of energy input
4.9 Marine climate change
4.10 Are our seas clean and undisturbed?
5 Productive seas
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Land-based activities
5.3 Extraction of living resources
5.4 Production of living resources
5.5 Extraction of non-living resources and disposal of waste
5.6 Transport and shipbuilding
5.7 Tourism and recreation
5.8 Man-made structures
5.9 Energy production — offshore renewables
5.10 Energy production — oil and gas
5.11 Research and surveys
5.12 Military
5.13 Are our seas productive?
6 The EU policy response
6.1 Setting the scene
6.2 Eutrophication — breaking the trends
6.3 Marine protected areas — an example of successful EU policy?
6.4 The long-term challenge of achieving sustainable fisheries in the EU
6.5 EU's marine knowledge
6.6 What we have learned from EU marine policy implementation
6.7 Finding long-term sustainable solutions — ecosystem-based management?
Part III
7 Assessing marine ecosystem services to better manage our use of the sea's natural capital
7.1 About this chapter
7.2 Framing marine ecosystem services
7.3 An EU-level assessment of marine ecosystem potential to deliver services
7.4 How can we improve EU-level assessment of marine ecosystem services?
7.5 Using knowledge on marine ecosystem service assessment across the EU to support EU-level initiatives
7.6 Valuing marine ecosystem services
7.7 The MSFD's 'cost of degradation' analysis
7.8 What does the assessment of marine ecosystem services at the EU level tell us about the way we use the natural capital of Europe's seas?
8 Our seas, our future
8.1 State and outlook for healthy, clean, undisturbed and productive seas
8.2 The transition towards sustainable use of our seas and the key role of ecosystem-based management

policy assessment, marine policy, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, EU environment, Blue Growth, biodiversity, sustainability, indicators, Europe