Promoting a Network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the North-East Atlantic
Map of proposed MPAs

Project brochure

Offshore MPA Toolbox

Useful references and links

Credit: Wildlife/ D. PerrineLaunched in spring 1999, the WWF project on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the North-East Atlantic Ocean is now operational. Its scope is confined to the OSPAR Maritime Area which reaches from territorial waters (12 nautical miles) to Exclusive Economic Zones (200 nm) and the High Seas beyond. The EU Common Fisheries Policy, the Norwegian Fisheries Policy and the Icelandic Fisheries Policy apply to respective parts of this area. The EU Habitats Directive and the establishment of Natura 2000 - a network of protected areas across the whole of the European Community - provide a first framework for the protection of coastal and marine wildlife. However, the protection afforded to the offshore, pelagic and deep sea marine environment in this context is extremely limited.

The designation, establishment and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is an important instrument to safeguard biodiversity and the integrity of ecological processes in the coastal and marine environment. MPAs can range from areas of strict protection to areas zoned for multiple use and must be managed to maintain the full range of biodiversity. At present, MPAs make up less than one per cent of the ocean's surface. WWF's priority activities for an effective global network of MPAs are to ensure that the network of MPAs is comprehensive and representative, to improve the management of MPAs, and to develop, strengthen and implement regional and global agreements and mechanisms for the establishment and management of MPAs.

Hence, the main objective of this regional project is to promote and help establish a network of MPAs in the North-East Atlantic in order to protect a representative section of its species, habitats and ecological processes. Such a network should encompass sites of both European and national importance, sites in deep water beyond territorial waters and sites within the 12nm territorial waters limit.

Credit: Wildlife/ D. BurtonSpurred by WWF's calls for action, Environment Ministers of 15 NE Atlantic States and the Member of the European Commission, committed themselves in Sintra, Portugal in July 1998, to "promote the establishment of a network of marine protected areas to ensure the sustainable use and protection and conservation of marine biological diversity and its ecosystems". They signed Annex V to the OSPAR Convention and adopted the Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of Ecosystems and Biological Diversity of the Maritime Area. This offers a new opportunity to provide the necessary protection for important deeper water or offshore habitats and features, such as seamounts, carbonate mounds, pock marks, hydrothermal vents, cold water coral reefs, fronts, eddies, upwellings as well as other areas important for seabirds, seals, cetaceans, turtles, sharks, deep sea fish and invertebrates.

In March 2002, the Fifth Conference on the Protection of the North Sea adopted the Bergen Declaration including follow-up action with regard to marine protected areas. North Sea Ministers agreed that "by 2010 relevant areas of the North Sea will be designated as marine protected areas belonging to a network of well-managed sites, safeguarding threatened and declining species, habitats and ecosystem functions, as well as areas which best represent the range of ecological and other relevant character in the OSPAR area." They further addressed "the application of the EU Wild Birds and Habitats Directives beyond the territorial seas of EU Member States to the limits of their offshore jurisdiction."

Five years after Sintra, the most advanced and comprehensive commitment to establish an "ecologically coherent network of well-managed MPAs in the North-East Atlantic by 2010" was adopted by the 2nd OSPAR Ministerial Meeting (Bremen, Germany, June 2003). The Bremen Statement refers to key new OSPAR instruments needed to deliver conservation measures on the basis of Annex V of the Convention and to implement the Biodiversity Strategy (reviewed), such as the OSPAR Recommendation on a Network of Marine Protected Areas, Guidelines for the Identification and Selection and/or the Management of MPAs, Criteria for the Identification of Species and Habitats in need of Protection, as well as the Initial List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats. Furthermore, the Joint OSPAR-HELCOM Ministerial Meeting adopted a joint work programme on MPAs in the North-East Atlantic and Baltic.

In the course of this project, WWF has:
- helped compile an inventory of existing MPAs;
- published a directory of offshore features in the North-East Atlantic;
WWF will continue to:
- promote showcase examples of OSPAR MPAs including a High Seas pilot;
- assist OSPAR in identifying the first set of MPAs by 2006 and building an ecologically coherent network of well-managed MPAs by 2010;
- provide pertinent information to EU institutions and member states with regard to the Implementation of the EU Habitats Directive in Offshore Waters up to the 200 nm limit;
- assist governments in finding the best possible route to establish and manage MPAs in their EEZs and territorial waters;
- and communicate the value of protecting offshore areas as marine reserves to the public and stakeholders.

Project Executant: Dr. Sabine Christiansen, Tel: +49 421 65846-28, Fax: +49 421 65846-12, E-mail:
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