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The recovery of the European seas: 12 ideas for marine restoration actions

The European seas are in dire straits: currently, 65% of protected seabed habitats in Europe are in unfavourable conservation status.

By Biljana Aljinovic

In our new report, BirdLife shares 12 ideas for marine restoration activities. The marine environment provides up to two-thirds of the ecosystem services supplied by the planet’s natural capital, but is particularly vulnerable to the climate and biodiversity crises. The pandemic has not put these crises on hold, and they continue to need urgent attention and action. The European seas are in dire straits: currently, 65% of protected seabed habitats in Europe are in unfavourable conservation status. In the Mediterranean, 80% of the assessed fish stocks are overexploited and at risk of being depleted1In Europe, 200,000 seabirds are estimated to be bycaught in fishing gear every year2. Destructive fishing techniques have contributed to the vanishing of most of our seafloor and continental shelf’s rich biodiversity, as well as biodiversity in the water column. In response to global warming, distribution ranges of seagrass meadows and kelp forests are shifting, and in some areas, episodic losses occur following heatwaves.

There is a pressing need to halt the decline in biodiversity and restore lost ecosystem functioning and services at sea. The EU has established key legislation to ensure this happens, including the Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The updated EU Biodiversity Strategy will further include legislation to set legally binding restoration targets and these must reflect the urgency to restore degraded marine ecosystems. Also, with the new EU Recovery and Resilience Facility in place, now is a good time to consider options for building back better in the European seas and ensure that national Recovery and Resilience Plans (RRPs) financing delivers restoration of habitats at sea. Decisions taken now will have long-lasting impacts and will determine whether we will be able to secure a healthy, safe and resilient future. There is growing evidence of the benefits that marine restoration of seabeds and water columns can bring both for biodiversity and climate action. Marine restoration ensures the continuation and improved provision of marine ecosystem services, preserves the sea’s natural function as a climate regulator and supports the basis and conditions for blue economy in a sustainable manner.

Active restoration of seabeds should be implemented where carbon rich ecosystems were historically abundant (i.e. seagrass beds, shellfish reefs, etc.). This would emphasise the carbon sequestration benefits that marine restoration of such ecosystems can deliver, especially compared to terrestrial habitat restoration. A concrete pathway for restoration is needed and banning destructive activities in fish recovery grounds, nursery areas and carbon sinks should be a priority.

Research has shown that restoration and conservation efforts can lead to significant employment generation in various sectors – for active restoration of marine ecosystems this can mean increased economic activity in sectors such as marine construction while boosting fish production, improving water quality, and recovering threatened ecosystems3. Further long-term opportunities can also be created for tourism, which is among the sectors hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis. Restoration and conservation efforts also help rebalance the interests of coastal areas, creating employment and lasting assets while increasing the resilience of coastal areas against future challenges such as climate change.The recovery of the original state of the ecosystem can be done through active manipulation or passive natural recovery that allows the ecosystem to recover by limiting human pressure. Different forms of restoration will often need to complement each other to give best results.

Read our full reportThe recovery of the European seas: 12 ideas for marine restoration actions

1. FAO/GFCM (2019) Report of the twenty-first session of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Fisheries, Cairo, Egypt, 24-27 June 2019.

Image credits: Frank Mckenna / Unsplash

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