Europe and Central Asia

Marine Protected Areas


    Across the European region, protection of areas at sea remains minimal, meaning that marine life from coral to fish and seabirds and whales are not receiving the protection that they need in an increasingly busy ocean.MPAs are considered one of the most effective methods to protect species in their most critical habitats, where they feed, breed and migrate.

    The slow progress in protecting the world’s oceans is often linked to the lack of detailed knowledge on where the most important areas are, and how to protect them. To assist with solving this problem, BirdLife has been working towards the identification, of marine important birds and biodiversity areas (marine IBA) for the last ten years, creating a global network of the most critical sites for seabirds, mapping of all these areas globally.

    Marine IBAs are used as the scientific basis for formally designating Natura 2000 Special Protection Areas (SPAs), repeatedly recognised by the European Court of Justice as the relevant scientific reference for the designation of these sites. BirdLife’s IBA inventory is also the internationally accepted benchmark.

    BirdLife believes that the full implementation of a marine Natura 2000 network is fundamental to achieve clean, healthy and productive (i.e. Good Environmental Status) of EU Seas and ensuring the sustainable use of the marine environment. We therefore believe that to achieve a successful spatial plan of the use of the seas of human activities (including fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, energy production etc.) the EU needs to know where, why, and how it needs to protect its marine areas.

  • Marine Natura 2000 network

    Natura 2000 is the centrepiece of EU nature & biodiversity policy. However, there are serious delays from Member States in identifying marine sites and even longer delays in developing management plans. Click here to see an interactive map of the whole network.

    Marine Special Protected Areas

    Special Protection Areas (SPAs) form part of the Natura 2000 network and are designated under the EU Birds Directive (1979) for the protection of 181 bird species, including seabirds, which are considered the second most threatened group in Europe. Despite this, only 2% of European seas are protected as marine SPAs.

    Achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) of EU Seas

    EU is required to achieve GES for all its seas by 2020, under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. It tackles all human pressures to marine ecosystems, such as underwater noise, litter commercial fishing and pollution. Find more on GES here.

    Spatial planning of EU Seas

    Every component of marine ecosystems (e.g. how it functions, key species and habitats) needs to be fully considered in decisions that affect the use of coastal and marine space. This integrated approach aims at putting an end to the current unsustainable sectoral approach to marine management, which has led to over-exploitation of marine resources and significant environmental decline.

    By 2021, EU Member States need to develop spatial management plans for their seas by integrating an ecosystem-based approach.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.