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A Marine Strategy Directive to save Europe’s seas and oceans


The Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Now, the name itself may not stir up too much excitement, but don’t cast judgement too quickly. This ground-breaking piece of European ocean policy has the potential to restore Europe’s seas to their former glory.

The only trouble is, not many people have heard of it, and of those that have, not all have got their heads around it! The ocean is not an easy thing to manage. It can’t be divided neatly by lines on a map. Marine life moves freely between country boundaries – making traditional land based approaches to management ineffective.

In fact, worse than ineffective – in the past these approaches have put intense pressure on our seas and biodiversity has suffered as a result. And, if biodiversity is suffering, so is the marine economy. A healthy marine economy needs healthy seas.

Things are changing though. And the Marine Strategy Framework Directive provides hope for the future and a way forward. It is the first of its kind to put the ecosystem approach at the very heart of the policy. There is a lot of information out there about the ecosystem approach, but the two most notable aspects for me here are:

  • It looks at the environment as a whole in a way that makes sense for the ecosystem
  • It makes clear how invaluable it is to involve the people that will be expected to follow any management decisions in making those decisions.
Handlining from a boat © Jiri Rezac / WWF UK Handlining from a boat © Jiri Rezac / WWF UK

Historically countries and marine industries around the world have managed their seas and activities in isolation from each other; this doesn’t work for the marine environment. Seas can’t be defined by arbitrary lines on a map – a fish won’t stop swimming when it reaches a boundary. By considering all activities as part of a single system, with all sectors integrated, the wider consequences of every decision or action can be determined and managed more effectively.

The old-fashioned, top-down approach of developing policy has proven countless times to be fairly ineffective. As human beings, we like to feel in control of our lives, to have a say in the direction it takes. So it only makes sense that we would want to be involved in decisions that will impact our working life – something we spend on average 48 hours a week doing.

A common seal, UK © Jiri Rezac / WWF UK A grey seal, UK © Jiri Rezac / WWF UK

Taking this away from us is disempowering and loses any buy-in. Even more worrying is that it excludes people from having to really consider a problem, and be a part of coming up with solutions. The result is that people become complacent. They don’t have a full grasp of the problem; they haven’t been party to the conversations that have led to a particular solution so they are not willing to accept this new infringement on their activities.

Turn this on its head; bring people in at the beginning and encourage them to take responsibility and ownership; to share their knowledge and experience; and you have a completely different outcome.

The Marine Directive requires each EU country to develop a marine strategy for their waters. When developing this strategy they must (by law) coordinate how they will manage their waters with their neighbouring countries. They must also engage with their ‘stakeholders’ at each step of developing the strategy.

Surfers on the beach, St Ives, UK © Jiri Rezac / WWF UK Surfers on the beach, St Ives, UK © Jiri Rezac / WWF UK

So, essentially we have the framework in place. The challenge now is to make sure that governments implement the framework effectively, and that people have the knowledge they need to get involved in shaping the marine strategy for their seas.

The WWF-UK led Celtic Seas Partnership project is supporting the delivery of the Marine Directive by drawing together people from across the Celtic Seas to set up collaborative and innovative approaches to managing their marine environment. It is working to put the people that use the sea at the heart of management and offer them the opportunity to influence how their marine environment will be managed in the years to come.

What do you think about Laura’s blog? Leave a comment.

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