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Strategy for the marine environment

This Directive establishes a common framework and objectives for the protection and conservation of the marine environment. In order to achieve these common objectives, Member States will have to evaluate requirements in the marine areas for which they are responsible. They will then have to draw up and implement coherent management plans in each region, and then monitor their application.


Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive).


This directive establishes common principles on the basis of which Member States have to draw up their own strategies, in cooperation with other Member States and third countries, to achieve a good ecological status* in the marine waters for which they are responsible.

These strategies aim to protect and restore Europe's marine ecosystems and to ensure the ecological sustainability of economic activities linked to the marine environment.

Europe's seas may be divided into four regions (with possible subregions): the Baltic Sea, the North-East Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In each region and possibly in the subregions to which they belong, the Member States concerned must coordinate their actions with each other and with the third countries involved. To this end they can benefit from the experience and capabilities of existing regional organisations.

Marine strategies at regional level

Member States must firstly assess the ecological status of their waters and the impact of human activities. This assessment covers:

  • an analysis of the essential characteristics of these waters (physical and chemical features, types of habitat, animal and plant populations, etc.);
  • an analysis of the main impacts and pressures, particularly as a result of human activities which affect the characteristics of these waters (contamination by toxic products, eutrophication, smothering or sealing of habitats by construction work, introduction of non-indigenous species, physical damage caused by ship anchors, etc.);
  • an economic and social analysis of the use of these waters and the cost of the degradation of the marine environment.

This initial evaluation will help to improve knowledge of European waters, thanks to instruments already used for other policies such as GMES and the programme commonly called INSPIRE.

Member States must then determine the "good ecological status"* of the waters on the basis of criteria such as biodiversity, the presence of non-indigenous species, stock health, the food chain, eutrophication, changes in hydrographic conditions and concentrations of contaminants, the amount of waste and noise pollution.

On the basis of the evaluation of waters, the Member States must define the objectives and indicators to achieve this good ecological status. These objectives must be measurable, consistent within a particular maritime region or subregion and tied to a definite timetable.

Member States draw up a programme of specific measures to achieve these objectives. These measures must give due consideration to their economic and social consequences. Member States must specify the reasons preventing successful completion of any of these measures (action or inaction of another State, force majeure, etc.). Before they are implemented, the measures decided by the Member States must be the subject of impact assessments and cost/benefit analyses.

Member States must also establish coordinated monitoring programmes in order to evaluate on a regular basis the status of the waters for which they are responsible and progress with regard to the objectives they have set.

Key elements of the strategies are reviewed every six years and interim reports are drawn up every three years.

A common framework for cooperation

The Commission is the guarantor of the coherence of actions by the Member States; they have to submit the details of the key elements of their strategies at each stage of their formulation. This information is examined by the Commission, which can give the States guidance on how to ensure compliance with the strategy and the coherence of the proposed measures.

Member States who are in the same marine region are required to coordinate their action. To this end the strategy recommends use of the cooperation mechanisms set up by existing international conventions. The international organisations established by these conventions provide their scientific and technical know-how and allow cooperation to be extended to third countries that are parties.

The Community approach also ensures coherence between the sectors and with other European policies, such as the or the , of which this Framework Directive represents the “environment” pillar.


The marine environment is a precious asset. Oceans and seas provide 99 % of the available living space on the planet, cover 71 % of the earth's surface and contain 90 % of the biosphere and consequently contain more biological diversity than terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. The marine environment is essential to life on earth (particularly as the main source of oxygen) and plays a key role in climate and weather patterns. It is also an important factor in economic prosperity, social wellbeing and quality of life.

Key terms

  • Ecological status: the overall state of the environment in marine waters, taking into account the structure, function and processes of the constituent marine ecosystems together with natural physiographic, geographic, biological, geological and climatic factors, as well as physical, acoustic and chemical conditions, including those resulting from human activities inside or outside the area concerned.
  • Good ecological status: the environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive within their intrinsic conditions, and the use of the marine environment is at a level that is sustainable, thus safeguarding the potential for uses and activities by current and future generations, i.e.:
    • the structure, functions and processes of the constituent marine ecosystems, together with the associated physiographic, geographic, geological and climatic factors, allow those ecosystems to function fully and to maintain their resilience to human-induced environmental change. Marine species and habitats are protected, human-induced decline of biodiversity is prevented and diverse biological components function in balance;
    • hydro-morphological, physical and chemical properties of the ecosystems, including those properties which result from human activities in the area concerned, support the ecosystems as described above. Anthropogenic inputs of substances and energy, including noise, into the marine environment do not cause pollution effects.
  • Good ecological status shall be determined at the level of the marine region or subregion as referred to in Article 4, on the basis of the qualitative descriptors in Annex I. Adaptive management on the basis of the ecosystem approach shall be applied with the aim of attaining good ecological status.



Entry into force

Transposition deadline for Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2008/56/EC



OJ L 164, 25.6.2008


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 24 October 2005, “Thematic strategy on the protection and conservation of the marine environment” [COM(2005) 504 – Not published in the Official Journal].

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 2 October 2002, "Towards a strategy to protect and conserve the marine environment" [COM(2002) 539 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

Decision 98/249/EC of 7 October 1997 on the conclusion of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (Paris Convention) [Official Journal L 104 of 3.4.1998].

Decision 94/157/EC of 21 February 1994 on the conclusion, on behalf of the Community, of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea area (Helsinki Convention as revised in 1992) [Official Journal L 73 of 16.3.1994].

Decision 77/585/EEC of 25 July 1977 concluding the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution and the Protocol for the Prevention of the Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by dumping from ships and aircraft [Official Journal L 240 of 19.9.1977].

Last updated: 31.07.2008
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